The Power of Compassion in Action – A Cow in Rwanda

In July 2019, Seb and Brighde were lucky enough to take a group of 53 vegans to Rwanda (over two trips), a place that is close to our hearts. Traveling with our guests is such a joy.  It’s obviously great being with like-minded people who also happen to share a love of vegan food, but seeing our travelers’ sensitivity and empathy towards those that suffer is next-level special. This story is one that should be told. It demonstrates one of our travelers’ kind hearts and the compassionate heart of the local people of Rwanda.

One morning, one of our jeeps went past a young man whose job was to take cows to graze around the local area. One of our travelers saw a cow who appeared to be suffering from a leg deformity. This cow was having to walk on of its knees.  As you can imagine that this was very difficult for the cow and she made slow progress. The ‘cowboy’ must have been impatient as he was hitting her to make her go faster to cross the road.

One of our travelers, who witnessed this was really shocked and upset.  She decided all by herself that she wanted to do something to try to help this cow. She contacted the management of the hotel where we were staying and asked if it would be possible to get a vet to come and take a look at this animal to see if something could be done.   They said that yes, and that a vet would come early the next morning!

I bumped into this lovely traveler at breakfast (I always get up early to make sure that breakfast is just right) and she told me what she had witnessed the day before. We walked together to meet the hotel manager, whose name was Gilbert, and also the vet that he had called the night before. Our traveler recounted what she had witnessed the previous morning. The vet, whose name was Jean Claude, was very concerned and he assured us that he wanted to help this animal. He said that he was the Rwandan delegate for a task force of East African vets that were trying to educate people on animal welfare.  We had struck gold with this vet!

After 10 minutes of looking for the cow, we found her. It was hard to look at her without wincing, especially when she walked. There was no obvious wound however her lower front left leg was not straight. It was bent at the knee almost at a right angle towards her body which meant that every time she had to put her weight on the knee rather than the hoof.

Jean Claude examined her and came to give us his medical opinion. It appeared that this cow had broken her leg in the past and as it had not been treated, callous had built up and possibly contracted the tendons and as a result, she could not get this leg straight anymore. He also explained that the cow was ready to breed again. He said that he saw signs that this cow had been injected with hormones so she could be impregnated again. We were horrified at this thought. The idea was that this deformed cow would have to go through the challenge of pregnancy, birth, and being a mother (her previous calf was still with her). Also, the idea that the cow could be mounted by a male seemed unfathomable given her state. Both of us were very upset at what it was we were seeing and imagining what this animal would be going through if we didn’t do something. We tried to explain our reaction and sensitivity to the situation to Gilbert and Jean Claude. We explained that, as vegans, we find it very hard to see any suffering whether the victim is human or non-human. That seeing this suffering made us want to take action and become vegan in the first place and of course, try to help when we witnessed suffering or cruelty.  Jean Claude did not know what veganism was but the Gilbert did (because he had been the recipient of a million emails from me in the months leading up to the trip).

We slowly walked back to the hotel feeling powerless that there was little else we could do. Owning cows is a way to show you have status and wealth in Rwanda.  Our traveler was so grateful to me that I had been there with her, that she named me “Brighde, my armed soldier.” Yes, this traveler was very sweet and had a heart of gold!

Our traveler then asked Gilbert to contact the owner of the cow, and asked him if he was willing to sell the cow.  She felt she had to do something right away to take the cow out of the situation she was in.  Our traveler knew that she did not have much time to come up with a plan since we were departing the hotel the very next day.

Sometime later, Gilbert approached us and said that the owner of the cow was willing to sell the cow.  Gilbert then said to our traveler that if she bought the cow, he would help to take care of her for all of her life.  It was right there when, our traveler and Gilbert, without even knowing each other for more than a day,  made an agreement that would last for years to come.  They agreed that they will work together every day, from that time on, to better the lives of their suffering cow.

That was the moment that a feeling of compassion united the life of two people.  Gilbert said that this experience was sure to be a lasting one for the people around the area. A seed had been planted that animals are worthy of our compassion and that through this experience, he understands more about our motivation to be vegan. He understood that veganism is about compassion and that we as vegans are trying to limit the harm we do to non-human animals. We were very touched by this sentiment and shared his new understanding with us. We learned that the people of Rwanda, despite having few laws to protect animals do care and that when their eyes are opened to suffering that they will show compassion to those without a voice. Our traveler vowed to Gilbert that he would never be alone in his and that he will have all of her support in this venture and for as long as it lasts.


After contacting our traveler to see if she could send me photos, she was able to give me an update on how this whole project was progressing.

​Both Gilbert and Jean Claude are actively working on this case. Jean Claude, our wonderful vet and now friend, has checked the cow’s health and despite the bad conditions in which she has been kept, she only had some ticks and she has been treated for worms.  He agreed to continue to visit the cow periodically and to keep providing his much-needed and valuable medical guidance and treatment, to make the cow’s life the best one it can be.

Our traveler emphasized that she was impressed and humbled by the strong commitment of Jean Claude the vet, to be so involved in this journey – the care of our beloved cow.- His constant attention to detail and medical advice are simply extraordinary.

A beautiful big stable has been built with the advice of Jean Claude to make getting around as easy as possible for her. Cowboys are bringing grass to her instead of her being taken out to pasture.

She has been given the name Gilma – A combination of Gilbert (the name of the hotel’s General Manager) and Maria (the lovely traveler who showed great compassion to this animal).

Gilbert, Jean Claude, and Maria, three people whose lives would have never been intertwined, are bonded forever by the power of compassion in action.

Some quotes from our friends in Rwanda to our traveler who has been receiving updates and will continue to support the cow from back home.

“I thank you so much because you are the one who wakes me up emotionally.  I will try my best to give her the affection she deserves. I will also thank you for sharpening my mind to think beyond and protect nature and all the creatures around me. I come to know that the animals have the same feelings as humans.”

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