The International Vegetarian Union celebrated its centenary in 2008, and if anyone had said to me then that in a couple years I would be speaking at international veg congresses in East Africa and the Middle East, I would probably have said that we'd done nothing in either for the last 100 years, so why should it suddenly change?
But, by the time you read this, I will be on my way to Nairobi and Dubai to do just that. And this will not only be my first visit to Africa - it will be the first time in 102 years that any non-African member of the IVU International Council has ever made an official visit to sub-Saharan Africa.
It was only three years ago, December 2007, with generous help from donors around the world, that we held our first ever African veg congress - in Lagos Nigeria, West Africa. The photo below shows the IVU Regional Coordinator for Africa, Emmanuel Eyoh, also President of the Nigerian Vegetarian Society, raising his hands at the end of that congress.
My visit will be doubly significant as it will also be the first time that any non-African in IVU has actually met the man who has done so much for IVU in Africa. It will be an honour to meet Emmanuel after years of only being able to talk by email. Since that first event we've supported another Veg Congress for West Africa, in Accra, Ghana, in 2009 - see the photos below:
In December 2009 our member group MEVEG (Middle East Veg Group) held their first forum in Dubai, UAE, within MENOPE (Middle East Natural Organic Product Expo). Below is Meveg leader Sandya Prakash, now a member of the IVU International Council, giving a talk and meeting visitors:
Sandhya overlaps a little with North Africa, and was a delegate at the Middle East Animal Welfare Conference in Cairo, Egypt, a few months ago. Next week she will be leading the first full-scale Middle East Veg Congress, for two days on December 6 & 7 in Dubai, again as a part of MENOPE, and I will have the privilege of speaking at this highly professional event.
And it's not just in those regions that we have been making this extraordinary progress.
The first ever international veg congress in Indonesia was the 4th Asian Congress, November 2009, and that was soon followed by two more in Indonesia, for South East Asia in Medan, March 2010, then the hugely successful IVU World Veg Congress in Jakarta in October. Even that world congress had much stronger connections with the Middle East than we've seen before, the photo on the right, in Jakarta, is our good friend Arash Rashidi from Iran, and the five young men in his front row are all from Afghanistan.
And we supported the first ever international veg forum in China, in Xiamen, November 2009, to be followed by the first ever international veg congress in China next year, November 2011. The photo right is the IVU Regional Coordinator for Asia-Pacific, Susianto Tseng, at the forum in Xiamen, China - he is also Chief Operations Officer of the Indonesian Vegetarian Society, and the prime motivator for all the congresses held there.
In the same three years IVU has supported International Vegan Festivals in India and Brazil, along with several other events in Latin America, and most recently the India & SW Asia Congress in Bangalore. All these events have been inspired by Marly Winckler and Shankar Narayan, our Coordinators for those two regions, and we look forward to our newest member of the team, Sundara DeSilva, helping us to support similar events in Australasia.
So why has all this happened just in the last few years?
For IVU's first 100 years we did very little outside of Europe and North America and what we did elsewhere was mostly not very effective, often hampered by trying to over-control everything from Europe. This recent progress in the rest of the world has certainly not come from any sort of top-down command and control from IVU - we really do not have the money or power for that! We have simply tried to support events that local people have planned whilst giving them the space to implement their own ideas - and we have been very fortunate in finding the right local people who have been willing to put in huge amounts of effort for the global cause.
But most importantly they have been willing to do all this in close cooperation with others, they have put aside their own egos to share their efforts. All too often in the veg*n world we find individuals promoting their own rigid views rather than the movement as a whole, and IVU has had plenty of that in the past, but we have moved on and the results are becoming clear.
So I'm now setting off to Nairobi, Kenya - unfortunately the first East & Central African Veg Congress had to be put back slightly to December 18 and I can't be there for that, so I'm going to be giving some talks and interviews to help promote the congress during the few days I will be there. See www.ivu.org/africa/nairobi
On the way out I'll be stopping for a few hours in Dubai, heliping to promote the congress there, then on the way back I'll have 2 or 3 days there at the first Middle East Veg Congress - see: www.mevegcongress.com
More about those next week. Meanwhile, as I write this in England, it is snowing - the photo below is the view from my office window on Saturday, November 27, with long winter shadows across the snow - quite a difference from Nairobi and Dubai at this time of year . . .