This new school year has already brought quite a challenge for Anna Vershkova, who attends Channing school in Highgate. Anna, 15, is a passionate vegan activist and jumped into action when she was informed at the end of the school year that going forward it would be compulsory for all school children to buy and wear specifically leather shoes. Over the summer Anna wrote a 3 page letter to her headmistress discussing why she had issues with the school uniform code.
At first, her primary concern was the animal ethics of leather. However, after some digging, Anna discovered that the leather industry has many more well-kept secrets. The workers in the industry are exploited and they work in unsafe conditions with carcinogenic chemicals; the environment suffers when the leftover tanning chemicals are dumped in rivers, which have an impact on wildlife; and a considerable amount of leather on the market comes from cats and dogs killed in China! The facts Anna found out from her research made her even more concerned. She feared that all of her school friends were going to go out and buy leather shoes they didn’t want to wear and there was nothing she could do about it. Worst of all was the realisation that they would do it without knowing about any of the horrors of the leather trade.
Bravely, Anna also spoke to her head teacher about the exploitation of dairy cows as after they stop producing enough milk to be profitable they are sent to slaughter, and often end up as leather. However, this did not make much impact when Anna met with her head to voice her concerns.
After Anna ‘s meeting with her headmistress she took a survey of her peers to find out how comfortable they felt their school shoes were and found that the majority of her peers found their school shoes uncomfortable and would walk more if their shoes were more comfortable. Anna concluded through research that how much students walk on a daily basis contributes to their mental and physical health. One in four people experience mental health issues at some point in their lives and with 50% of adult mental illness beginning before age 15 it’s an important factor to take into consideration!
So, when her teachers didn’t listen, Anna used the information gathered in her survey and created a well-researched and well-thought out petition directed at the governors of the school demanding that the “polishable leather school shoes” rule in the uniform code be officially altered to include non-leather and fabric shoes. The petition detailed Anna’s concerns, and advised that many students are made uncomfortable by the rule because of their religious and ethical beliefs, and are put into a difficult situation either going against their beliefs or having to hide their non-compliant school shoes from teachers. Anna gathered the support from 100 pupils, and won over the governor’s support with her excellent campaign!
Through her committed and persistent activism Anna has successfully ensured that non-leather vegan shoes are an option that everyone can choose – and educated her teachers and peers about why they are important too! Cheers to you Anna!