It is a great honor for me to receive this Lifetime Achievement Award from the Women's International Film & Television Showcase, it only saddens me that my husband, Tony Blanco, cannot be with me to share this moment, as he would be as honored and proud as I am.
I congratulate you on the beautiful initiative to support and celebrate the dedication, passion and integrity of women in film everywhere, and I thank TheWIFTS Board for considering me worthy of this precious award. I am very sorry to be unable to receive it in person. Thank you!
THE WOMEN'S INTERNATIONAL FILM & TELEVISION SHOWCASE
JULY 2nd 2016
Passion & Integrity Commerce & Creativity Equality Not Hierarchy
Gemma Ashford is the recipient of TheWIFTS Otilia Animal Advocacy Award for establishing Baan Unrak Animal Sanctuary in Thailand. In the early years, Gemma worked selflessly utilising her own resources and relying on the support of volunteers who grew to know of her work. When her own resources were depleted she returned to the UK, and did fund raising for the Sanctuary, with local managers and volunteers working in Thailand. Funds allowing, Gemma tries to get back to Thailand as often as she can.
Gemma Ashford is a trained Photographer and Actor (Canterbury Christ Church University and The Central School of Speech and Drama) and runs her own Photography business doing Weddings, Portraits and Documentary Film based in London.
Gemma founded the Baan Unrak Animal Sanctuary organization six years ago after she went to Thailand to teach at a local school and saw the plight of the animals on the streets.
Gemma's care and compassion for animals started when she was seven, and became a vegetarian, many years before she first visited the remote border town of Sanghklaburi in 2004.
As a humanitarian volunteer working with refugee Burmese children, Gemma arrived in Sanghklaburi in 2004. She started feeding the village dogs, eventually taking into care Tiger Lily, a puppy found dying on the street. "I never wanted a dog," is her often lament when faced with another insuperable issue, "and now look, I have fifty."
Gemma says it with a mixture of humour and despair, knowing full well the implications of not caring for the animals that she has saved. "They were outcasts, and all I did was to feed them," but they became like family to Gemma, instantly bonding and always being there, patiently waiting for her arrival.
Other dogs soon followed and with some land given to her by The Baan Unrak foundation, Gemma built a small house and fenced in a large area of garden that eventually became the Baan Unrak Thai Animal Sanctuary.
Since then, and following many twists and turns of fate and individual generosity, the sanctuary and clinic Gemma created now homes and cares for the large population of local animals and pets.
Gemma faces her most challenging role….
At the times of the typical sanctuary emergency - running out of money - which is typical of many small charitable organisations that struggle for finance, but with so many needy cases at hand, without Gemma's help the animals in one particularly remote region of the Far East would have remained in the dark ages.
Now, ten years later, after countless challenges, when Gemma fought on alone - learning simple veterinary practices, or travelling five hours by bus to the nearest (local) vet, The Sanctuary, as it has become, is now populated, not just by dogs and cats and other needy animals, but by visiting volunteers and sparingly paid staff - operating, quite literally, through the animal clinic set up by Gemma and her veterinary volunteers.
"Yes," Gemma says, "at the most difficult moments my training as an actress at Central School of Speech and Drama really came in useful," with an ironic smile, and this is my most challenging role by far… is finding the finances to build on the new site the facilities we need to ensure these animals have a sanctuary."
Gemma Ashford's business is based in London, and she sometimes travels throughout the UK and sometimes abroad for work. She uses all her spare time to fund raise and promote the charity.
About The New Site & A Wish List Of Urgently Needed Funds
The new site is within about ten miles of the existing site and is to be constructed on land that has been gifted to the organization free of charge with a continuous lease of fifty years by the Baan Unrak Foundation.
The site is about two acres of uncultivated land with road access and with a Baan Unrak foundation settlement nearby that deals with refugees and dispossessed mothers and children from Myanmar. This community model is almost the same as our existing operation and is tried and tested.
The construction challenge is of known variables and will consist of providing the usual range of services - water, electricity, drainage, etc., plus two single story buildings of indigenous concrete construction to house a clinic and a place for volunteer workers. We will also be constructing a set of enclosures to house our (unadopted) street dog and other animal population.
The aims of the project are the same as the ad-hoc project that Gemma set up originally and has now outgrown its original base in nearby Sangklaburi. Setting up the new sanctuary gives us the opportunity to capitalise on the existing knowledge base, thereby eliminating systemic problems that have arisen over time and making the whole operation more efficient.
Construction is based upon sub contract local labour managed and regulated throughout by our local and trusted agent in consultation with our current organiser and our executive committee.
The site survey that has been done denotes a suitable area of land adjacent to a country road and in connection with existing Baan Unrak structures. This site survey will be recommissioned as a precaution by an independent surveyor on behalf of any benefactor that may wish to provide support and finance for the project, as will any plans that we have. We would however point to the clear distinction between local ethnic construction and Western construction models. Although there is no suggestion that local construction is inherently less safe, the precaution of using single story construction with concrete piers suits the local terrain and soil types and provides the safest structure to combat the elements.
Construction costs: Phase one: Providing services - electricity, water and drainage for the new clinic and volunteer house - costs: GBP 6500; Phase two: Structure one - clinic, 300 square feet single story concrete structure consisting of three rooms: GBP 14000; Phase three: Enclosures - Wire mesh enclosures set around a central yard, fixed to pinioned iron posts set in concrete: GBP 17000; Phase four: Structure two - volunteer house, 800 square feet single story structure providing living accommodation for twelve volunteers (inc manager and vet) GBP 20500;
Pictures of the existing facility and some plans for the new one illustrate what the committee are trying to achieve. There is a fundraising effort in progress and various committments from other agencies to help with the costs of equipping the clinic and volunteer house. This an exciting project resulting from the wonderful work Gemma does.
The Sanctuary is always in need of people who can assist them, especially veterinarians and vet nurses for their sterilization projects and animal treatments. They also need: volunteers to walk, groom, and clean the dogs and cats (as well as birds, cows, deer, and even pigs and rabbits!) who are staying there; volunteers to help them with fundraising, website updating, and volunteer recruitment; flight volunteers who can accompany animals to their future home (yes, Gemma has sent dogs to the UK for adoption); and volunteer translators who can translate information from English into Thai and Burmese.