• 06 Feb - 12 Feb, 2021
  • Alina Qamar
  • Interview

Ayesha Chundrigar, a Pakistani social entrepreneur, humanistic psychotherapist and journalist describes herself as “an ordinary person trying to do extraordinary things” but she is much more than that. Growing up in Pakistan, she saw the terrible situation the animals were in and she took action. Ayesha has rescued countless animals, brought communities together, built and strengthened collaborations between organisations, individual rescuers, and empowered people to take better care of animals and is now adding to her legacy by creating a series of educational videos and posts on social media.

Just one woman’s determination and passion to do something about the suffering she saw brought in existence Pakistan’s largest animal rescue service, Ayesha Chundrigar Foundation, a nonprofit animal rescue organisation based in Karachi. This is what it takes to make a difference in the world, and Ayesha has proved that when we act and do so out of compassion and with no personal financial gain, we can be an incredible force for good in the world. Here is our interview with Ayesha. Read on:

Icebreaker! Introduce us to yourself and explain us how did you enter into the world of animal care and rescue?

I’m just an ordinary person trying to do extraordinary things. That pretty much sums me up. Since I was a kid, I always thought I wanted to create a ‘dent’ in the universe, so to speak. And also, since I was a kid, I couldn’t bear anyone going through any form of suffering, human or animal. I was physically and emotionally very affected by the senselessness of suffering that we inflict upon each other. I couldn’t understand why we would make life so tough for the other, when at the end of the day, we are all cut from the same cloth, our hearts beat the same way and we all die at the end of it.

It was this way of thinking, my interest in philosophy and psychology, the human folly I would explore through books and literature that particularly drew me towards animals.

One of my favourite quotes is: “I will always be on the side of those who have nothing and who are not even allowed to enjoy the nothing they have in peace.” – Federico García Lorca.

Tell us the thought process behind the creation of ACF Animal Rescue? Was there a moment – or a slow build of events – that made you say, this is it, I’m going to start ACF?

In hindsight, essentially, now when I look back, I was organically to get here one way or another. Nothing was planned. It all just happened.

I tend to challenge myself every day. I like putting obstacles in my path in order to see how I can overcome them. It’s a very stoic way of being and I’m an avid follower of stoic philosophy. It builds you as a person and tests your character to become the best version of you.

So, when things, good things, were being handed to me on a silver platter, I kept asking, is this what I want? The glamorous lifestyle (which I do love, don’t get me wrong), the fancy job, the cookie cutter life, it was all right there for me but I knew I wouldn’t be content or at peace with it. I wanted to test myself. See what I’m made of. It’s very easy to talk a big game about dreams and hopes; it’s another thing to actually execute. I wanted to see if I can. Especially because I cannot delude myself and I was aware that I was becoming increasingly depressed and disillusioned at the state of affairs for animals in our society.

I realised early on, I can’t keep waiting for someone to save them. I needed to be that someone. That’s the thing about life. You need to be your own hero in your story. No one is coming to save you or take all your worries away. It’s terrifying but when you own that mindset, it’s exhilarating.

Beyond sheltering animals and running a very successful animal rescue, what else does Ayesha Chundrigar do to help the people in need?

I wouldn’t call it successful just yet. ACF is still a social entrepreneurial start up, even seven and a half years in.

I’ve been working in the humanitarian sector, so to speak, my whole life. I don’t like calling it that though. I just like trying to reduce misery and amplify empathy in whatever way I can. As a psychotherapist, I have worked in drug rehabs, with acid burn survivors, and people/children who have undergone intense trauma.

I thought the animal rescue was going to be a side hobby and I would be building my therapy career, maybe get into acting and so on. But when I stumbled upon the unbelievable level of animal abuse in the country, my focus became solely on making this something before I looked at my other interests.

Now I’m in the process of using my other interests and ‘talents’ (if I have any) to push my message of kindness to all living beings forward. I’m a lot older, wiser, seen far too much of what the world is and I’m ready to put myself out there to bring my cause into the limelight.

No one will take animals seriously until there’s a human face attached to them. And I’m ready to take on this new challenge now, one I’m not sure I can pull off but at least I know I would have tried every which way possible to help.

What is the best part and what is the most challenging part of running an animal rescue?

That’s easy. The best part is animals. The most challenging part is people.

Our job is not just rescuing and rehabilitating animals that have been through the most inexplicable, gruesome abuse. It’s also to change mindsets to get people to understand why what we do is important and vital for a civilised society.

The number of offices I have been laughed out of for requesting those brands and companies to support us, I’ll never forget. The amount of fun that’s been made of me, the insults and attacks on me doing something ‘useless’ that has no turnaround or profit and on my character for being too ‘weak’ and me being a silly, dumb girl, to ever see this through.

Everyone kept telling me I’ll fail and there have been crazy obstacles in ACF’s history where I could have just given up. Failure isn’t bad things happening. Failure is only if you give up when those bad things happen. So, I never actually failed. I powered through as I keep doing.

I kept educating myself and learning so people wouldn’t exploit or bully me or take advantage (which happened a lot).

Then of course, the extremely cruel people who abuse animals and who support it and enjoy it, who I have come face to face with and have had to really keep my cool in order to keep the bigger picture in mind. The injustices that animals face that boggle my mind because there’s just no justice. These are just a few of the difficulties to name a few.

We live for ACF’s Instagram feed. From dogs and cats to donkeys and monkeys, we can’t get enough of your residents! Why do you think social media is so important to ACF?

Our business model is designed around social media. We spread awareness through photos and videos of daily happenings, things we see, experiences we have.

Usually a charity or an NGO is something we see as far away from ourselves that we can help from a distance but aren’t really a part of on a daily basis. I wanted people to connect to animals so I started ACF with one Facebook page and 10 followers that were my family and friends. I started writing from the point of view of an animal I saved. Then posted a before and after photo of the change in the animal and that’s how our work slowly started gaining traction. We would be nowhere without social media.

I wanted ACF to be an immersive experience because it’s a labour of love, a community project, running only on the duas, kindness and support of those who see and appreciate our work. It also aids in keeping everything transparent which is vital for any non profit to succeed.

The change we see in society today towards animals has only come because of the awareness we were able to spread, be it the true nature of a happy donkey or the misconception about street dogs.

We use social media as a medium to keep teaching as we keep learning ourselves and that’s how we developed an entire community of supporters.

We all know that supporters and especially volunteers run the world. Tell us how people can get involved and help with ACF?

Come visit us! Fundraise for us. Get creative with spreading awareness about our work. Start feeding the street animals in your area leftovers and keep out clean water daily. It takes nothing to be kind to an animal. Keep the dialogue of kindness towards animals ongoing amongst your friends and family.

Do you have any big plans in the works you can share or upcoming events we can support? Also, tell us about your latest project, the ACF Mobile Clinic.

We are entering the sphere of wildlife. I don’t know the first thing about monkeys but I didn’t know the first thing about hundreds of dogs or donkeys living together either. Wildlife was always on the cards. I just had to build my way there.

We have started rescuing and rehabilitating abused and captive monkeys with the help of the government. Monkeys are a whole other ballgame. It’s fascinating to attempt understanding a specie I’ve never known close up. That’s the beauty of animals. They open up your world in ways you cannot fathom otherwise.

As far as the mobile clinic goes, the plan was always to have a mobile clinic that was separate to the rescue service and sanctuary. This mobile clinic will be used exclusively for donkey medical camps and rabies vaccination/TNR of dogs in all parts of Karachi. We are hoping to hire a separate team who only focus on this.

We have been doing these outreach projects for years now but only part time. We want to make it a full time project.

But I wanted to create more of an impact. The biggest thing missing in our society is empathic education and I kept thinking about what the fastest, most effective way would be to show by example and imagery without lectures or seminars or talks. Those are boring, our attention span overall is very little, and frankly, not really possible during covid. So I thought, let’s do a storybook on wheels. And create characters that look like us who all of us can relate to in one way or another and show their loving relationship with animals.

When people see our clinic out on the streets, or when we stop in different areas for our medical camps etc, there’s always a crowd and most of those kids/people don’t even have access to a TV let alone storybooks or basic education let alone understand the concept of empathy towards themselves, forget animals.

Just looking at this car will subliminally put the idea of kindness, and more so, kindness towards animals in people’s and children’s minds and it’ll get them to start thinking a bit differently about animals hopefully.