Grazie mille to our friends in Italy

Although a little late in posting, this blog about my trip to Italy is no less sincere, and comes with no less gratitude to all those who made it such a perfect and memorable time. With particular thanks to Irene, our Italy Director, for writing such a beautiful summary of our days spent with friends and supporters. Irene, Giulia and Antonello for their most incredible organisation and coordination of an unforgettable few days.

Thanks especially to all in our support groups who were so welcoming and kind – and for all you do, so very passionately, in helping bear bile farming to end.

And now, with a huge and heartfelt grazie mille to all, I’d like to turn this blog over to Irene, who summarises our whirlwind mini-roadshow so beautifully.

Things never turn out quite as expected. But when Animals Asia supporters are involved, the change is always for the better. We have waited for this roadshow for nearly two years. It was May 2010 when Jill last came to Italy to open a display of photos taken by renowned photographer Rocco Toscani at our China bear sanctuary – and a lot has happened since then. 

We have faced many challenges during this past year, with the economic crisis making things bitter for a lot of us, and the many unexpected natural disasters that have hit the country leaving thousands heavy-hearted. Times are changing in Asia too, with Chinese people calling for an end to the barbaric bear bile industry. As I write, I feel we are closer to meeting this goal than ever before – and the roadshow showed us just how much the people of Italy care.

First stop was VeganFest in the beautiful Tuscan countryside, where the outline of the surrounding mountains made us think of Tam Dao National Park – home of our bear sanctuary in Vietnam. 

VeganFest is one of the best-known vegan and eco-friendly expos in Europe – and our heartfelt thanks go to Sauro Martella and his wife Renata “The Bio-Countess” Balducci, two incredibly generous and thoughtful people, for inviting us and making us feel at home – but above all for making the festival the perfect meeting place for animal-welfare and humanitarian organisations from all across the world. This was a place where, for five exciting days, people could share ideas, views, and learn from each other’s experiences with compassion and empathy. I would also like to thank Tommaso Palazzolo for his professional assistance before and during the event, and celebrity chef Chicco Coria for creating his delicious, and 100 per cent vegan, specialties.

There are simply no words to express our gratitude to those who shared these precious moments, laughs and sometimes tears with us – and made it all possible. Thanks to the wonderful team of brave supporters who tirelessly volunteered day and night, in the heavy rain and under the burning sun – you did such a wonderful job, devoting time and passion to our cause. And thanks to each and every one of you – old friends and new – who simply stopped by, enjoyed Jill’s exciting presentation and cheered when during the evening she received the VeganOK Award for her extraordinary achievements in animal welfare.

Then we were over to the magical city of Florence and the stunning Palazzo Vecchio for a conference. 

Once again, I would like to thank everyone who attended. In particular, I would like to send my gratitude and admiration to Giorgio Ceccarelli, Founder and CEO of “I love papà” and “Figli Negati” associations, who came all the way up from Rome to honour Jill with the Mini Oscar 2011 in recognition of her services to animals and people in Asia. 

Giorgio also gave Jill one of his beautiful canvasses – specially painted to celebrate the occasion – which is now proudly displayed in our Education Centre in Chengdu. And thanks to friend and writer Stefania Schiaroli for calling off all her previous engagements in order to attend and have Jill sign a copy of her latest novel. Stefania is generously donating the royalties to us.

And what can I say about City Counsellor Tommaso Grassi? Thank you Tommaso for doing the honours with so much kindness, genuine passion and respect, for your professional organisation and for showing us the true colours of Florence. Tommaso honoured Jill with a beautiful plate on behalf of the City of Florence – her third award in just a couple of days.

There is a very special place in Florence called “La Fontana del Porcellino” (the piglet fountain) – right in the New Market. It is believed that whoever puts a coin in the piglet’s mouth and rubs his snout can make a wish and will return to Florence one day. Wishes should never be shared, of course, but we are very much looking forward to both wishes coming true. 

Many thanks to Giulia and Antonello who worked so hard to ensure everything went smoothly. And to Jill for being the inspiring woman she is – the beaming smiles and the superhuman capacity to deal with such a hectic agenda with grace and charm. 

And most of all our heartfelt thanks to our wonderful supporters, those who donated – either financially or in kind – to ensure our roadshow was a success. 

“You will always have what you have donated” – Marco Valerio Marziale, Latin poet 



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