Dan Angeles is 70 years old. A grandfather of seven, he left the business world in his senior years and now spends most of his time advocating for health and keeping his eyes open for good investments.

Dakila Reynoso is eight years old. Currently in third grade, he enjoys playing retro video games and reading books (including almanacs!) when he is not studying.

Dan and Dakila may seem worlds apart, and in many ways, they are. But there is one characteristic that they share, and that is they both have a big heart for animals.

Friends, not food

As soon as eight-year-old Dakila and his family arrived at Rizal Park, he offered to stand in the Cube. Clutching a sign that read, “TRUTH,” he proudly stood next to the bigger, older volunteers holding the flat-screen TVs.

Dakila decided to go vegan in November 2016 when he was only six years old, after seeing a short film called Farm to Fridge at VegFest Pilipinas. “Because animals are friends, not food,” he says.

“Dakila was crying. His older brother was shocked. I was shocked, too,” dad Ryan recalls. “In the car on our way home, he said, ‘I don’t want to eat animals anymore.’”

That was the turning point for the entire Reynoso family, who ditched animal-based foods cold turkey and gave away everything they had in their refrigerator. When asked why he and his wife agreed to honor their kids’ wishes, Ryan replies, “In this day and age, we have a lot of options. Animals have feelings — what they feel, you also feel. We all know what goes on in slaughterhouses, but in that moment, the veil was lifted for us.”

Animal Lovers, Unite!

August 26th, 4 PM. A small crowd had formed at Burnham Green in Rizal Park, curiously watching a group of individuals clad in black as they affixed straps to some 32-inch flat-screen TVs. Minutes later, with the straps secured and the TVs hooked up to a couple of deep cycle batteries, it was show time.

That afternoon, animal lovers from different parts of the country gathered at the green for the first-ever Worldwide AV Meet Up, an event by international animal rights organization Anonymous for the Voiceless (AV). As the name suggests, it was an opportunity for volunteers to meet up in one of four host cities: London, Toronto, Melbourne, and Manila. But attendees were not there to schmooze and socialize. Rather, they were there to lend their voices to the voiceless: the billions of animals used for food and experimentation every year.

The central feature of the Worldwide AV Meet Up is a performance arts-style activity known as the Cube of Truth, in which volunteers form a human cube while holding a sign or a screen. Most of the signs bear only a single word: “TRUTH” or “KATOTOHANAN,” while the screens play videos about animal agriculture and vivisection. Volunteers outside the Cube, referred to as outreachers, explain the footage to interested bystanders and engage in conversation with them.

Dan and Dakila were among the 60 individuals who took part in the Cube of Truth that day, being the oldest and youngest volunteers, respectively.

No meat, No meds, No problem

Dan, who makes it a point to walk 10,000 steps each day, was first introduced to a plant-based lifestyle by his younger brother, Duke, a chef based in Las Vegas. After being asked to “veganize” some Filipino dishes by American physician Dr. John McDougall, Duke decided to try going without any animal products for three days, also at the suggestion of Dr. McDougall. He felt so good during those three days that he hasn’t returned to eating meat, dairy, and eggs since.

After six months, Duke’s doctor reduced the medications he was taking for diabetes, high blood pressure, and other ailments. After another six months, he was completely off his meds. Knowing that his older brother was a health enthusiast, Duke eagerly shared his experience with Dan.

Like Duke, Dan initially forwent animal-based foods for three days in May 2013. And like his brother, he hasn’t looked back since, thanks to the multiple benefits he reaped. “I had no more stomach problems. I felt lighter,” he says. “And because of that, I had more energy.”

In addition, he now rarely gets sick and isn’t worried about getting caught in the rain. At 70 years old, Dan does not take any maintenance drugs and is able to recover from colds and fevers in just a couple of days without taking any conventional medicine. “Just water and liquids,” he shares.

As Dan did more research about plant-based living, he came to understand that it is not just about food. “Veganism is not just a diet. It is the philosophy of being kind to animals,” he says. “We’ve been so cruel to the animals, but we can survive without hurting them.”

That is why, at his age, he still regularly attends events like the Worldwide AV Meet Up, where he talked with bystanders about the benefits of leaving animals off our plates. “I want to help, in whatever way I can. You have to expose [what’s being done to the animals]. Otherwise, how will people know?”

Kindness knows no distance either

Traveling the longest distance to be at the Worldwide AV Meet Up is Ram Villamor, a 26-year-old manufacturing employee who went vegan overnight after watching the award-winning documentary Earthlings in January 2016. Hailing from Tagbilaran City, Bohol, he booked his flight without a second thought once he found out about the event.

“Seeing people looking at the screen [I was holding] made me really happy. It made me do my best to not move a muscle for an hour,” he says of his experience in the Cube. “Even though it was tiring and my feet were starting to feel numb, it was nothing compared to all the horrible things that happen to animals.”

Different yet the same

Thanks to dedicated volunteers like Dan, Dakila, and Ram, the Worldwide AV Meet Up in Manila was a huge success. At the end of the nearly four-hour event, 255 bystanders went home with a new perspective on our animal brethren — a kinder one that sees them as individuals who think and feel like we do, and not merely as commodities for us to use.

Aptly, Dan’s surname means “angels” in Spanish, while Dakila’s name means “heroic” in Tagalog. They are proof that no matter how old or young you are, you can be an angel and a hero for the animals.

This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s December 2018 issue.