#YEEinterview: Oliver Callejero

There is an essential connection between animal welfare and environmental protection. Plants, animals and the whole ecosystems must thrive together. Climate change not only impacts our lives and our economy, but it also alters the life of plants and animals. In today’s interview, meet Marc – the co-founder of Oliver Callejero, Catalan NGO aiming at protecting animal welfare and spreading awareness about the importance of adoption. Thanks to a growing professional network of the City Council, local vets and inspiring volunteers, the hard-working team behind this NGO manages to rescue abandoned cats, helping them to recover and giving them a chance to start a new life with loving families. 

Who is Marc Gené Nogales? Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

My name is Marc Gené Nogales, I was born in Andorra 24 years ago and grew up in Barcelona. Since the first years of schooling and throughout high school, I have been highly involved with NGOs, such as animal shelters, public dining rooms and especially the education of the young Catalan generations, working with values such as integration, respect, personal growth and community action among others.

I started working at 16 to keep up with the household, but I managed to finish my studies and collect some savings which I used to finance a trip to Australia, a life project that I had in mind since I knew how to skate and surf. Besides that, I really wanted to see what I was made of, completely out there by my own. It didn’t turn out to be the best experience ever, but after all, I didn’t go on holiday, it happened as I wanted and I worked doing stuff as diverse as one could imagine. 

I came back to Spain as a brand-new person, and with a wider perspective. While preparing for college, I got a job offer in the United States as head of the extreme sports department in the Independent Lake Camp. Again, I was abroad having the best summer of my life with friends and learning from a multicultural environment. Back from the USA, I decided to start a degree in International Relations at the Open University of Catalonia. I’m now attending my last year. 

A lot has happened since I started to study, but to sum it up: I carried out an internship in the Parliament of Catalonia as a policymaker.  I joined, as Marketing Strategist, HummusTown, Roman NGO helping the integration of Syrian Refugees both socially and economically.  I escalated inside a Catalan enterprise finishing my stay there as a Director of Development. I got an internship with the multinational Wurth, in the Spanish headquarters. I co-founded a blog about Sustainable Development

I almost ended up working with an NGO in Romania about topics of social inclusiveness but because of COVID-19, I couldn’t go through with the process. Right now, I am working as head of sector in Leroy Merlin Spain, in the Young Talent Program. Last but not least, I co-founded the NGO Oliver Callejero. 

How did you come up with the idea of Oliver Callejero?

Some years ago, my mom saw a cat colony next to our house, and I had seen some too around the city: some of them were controlled by the council (counted and sterilized) but many more weren’t. Besides the direct impact of the cats, the habitats that they were living in were facing a decrease in the number of birds and the green areas were affected by the excrement of the sick ones. 

We both decided to take action because cats are domestic animals and it was really sad to see them sick and famished. My mom took care of the logistics as well as the contacts and I handled all the procedures, combining both resources and the volunteers. Among other things, we managed to establish a net of what we call “safe spaces” regarding the most professional veterinaries that are affiliated with our purpose and offer our adopted cats a handsome discount on their services, which has made our work way easier.

I established all the bureaucracy, such as the affiliation contracts for the vets and volunteers, the adoption contracts, and all the paperwork related to the steps following the evolution of the cat as an individual and of the colony as a group; in this way, we manage to see progress in our work and keep track of what to improve. We redacted a constitution and presented all the paperwork, it was returned sometimes because of some bureaucratic mistakes, but after literally half a year coming and going with the Generalitat (Government of Catalonia), we managed to get certified and received a subvention by the government.

The NGO has a focus on all animals and all nature, but we will specialize in the biggest threats on our reach, in this case, the cats. As an interesting story, Oliver Callejero comes as a shocking name to some people. Oliver makes reference to the first cat that died under our watch: it was just a newborn and due to his mother being sick, he was too, but he couldn’t take it and passed away his first night; we honor him this way.

Which is the biggest challenge you have faced (or you are facing) since setting up this NGO?

COVID-19 hasn’t been easy on us: as an NGO that hasn’t been around for a long time, our funds have been tight from the beginning and the plan to set a really small office for paperwork has been postponed indefinitely.

Another issue is related to the fact that we host rescued cats in houses of volunteers, who offer to keep them until they find a home. There, the cats get ready for adoption, but sometimes is difficult to get people to adopt them, so we need more awareness on the importance of adopting a cat, instead of funding an industry that feeds on the breeding of animals, of which, many of them are illegal and lead to atrocities.

Personally, I am in one of the hardest times in my life, I barely have time for myself; I have not enough time to do it all as good as I wish, but luckily, I have amazing people by my side that has supported me all the way. I also depend on my own income to study, a situation that forces me to be vice-president, so the NGO doesn’t depend on me to keep functioning. I have to admit, being the vice-president has been tough because of my age as well: some people seem to have a hard time to understand that someone so young can be as valid as an older person. Fortunately, with time, those on the other side of the table come to realize that I am deeply invested in the project and in the fulfillment of the goals of the NGO, no matter how young I am. 

Which kind of reactions/feedback have Oliver Callejero received?

We mainly got a positive outcome from the community and the city itself; youth has been especially invested in the project. I have to say that it has proved easy to engage people, probably because the topic is relevant for many. Nevertheless, we also received critics: some people have told us that we are just increasing the abandoned cat population because now we give them medicines and food. We always prove how, if there are no more abandoned cats, we are decreasing the population throughout the capture of the animal and their sterilization. It is really rough to get an adult or mature cat to get adopted so we just usually leave them where we found them, but sterilized, so they can’t reproduce, but we are looking at a 20-year lifespan, so it takes time.

Overall, the opinion of the community has been great, it just took some time for them to get to know us better. At the beginning, the Council wasn’t really paying attention to what we do, but after some months of work and progress, we managed to get important meetings that have been leading to a direct cooperation between the Council of the city and Oliver Callejero.

What´s next for you and Oliver Callejero?

We are excited for the upcoming months, we are in talks for a joint project with the Council to make a private shelter for cats and animals that are abandoned, since there are very few in the surroundings and the ones that are present are overcrowded. Furthermore, we are building a net with the different NGOs with similar goals to ours in which we share information, resources and even volunteers when are needed most. 

Our latest proposal is to form a small network of new talents in veterinary: those that just graduated and get validated by the ones with the experience can treat our animals. This has a double advantage: they volunteer for us, helping our job in taking care of cats and they gain field experience.

I don’t know what it is of me in the future but I hope it brings me challenges and opportunities to know the best of me, so I expect great things to come. I am really interested in doing a master about International Development to further my knowledge.

Which advice would you give to the young people like you who want to be more active in protecting and promoting animals’ welfare?

Don’t be afraid to step up, let me tell you that the hardest part is the bureaucracy. Get involved with passionate people, people that care, those who have the contacts, the willpower and the ideas that will shape the future of the NGO. Focus always on consensus and logic, follow your heart but don’t let it dominate your brain, is important to think in cold, this is a challenge because you get involved emotionally, and most of the times is hard.

I believe this is the most important because you will face crisis, sometimes you will feel that you can’t pull through, but right there prove to yourself how many fights you have on yourself to change the world. Now this is the hard truth, protecting and promoting the wellness of animals is painful, seeing them suffer the consequences of other people’s irresponsibility, but they never stop to give unconditional love, so you learn not to give up from them, and you do it because of them.

Thank you very much Marc for chatting about this brilliant initiative. Thanks to all Oliver Callajero passionate team of volunteers too.  YEE empowers youth tackling every kind of environmental issues, and a parcel of our job in preserving nature is also protecting all the living beings that thrive in our Planet Earth. It is our responsibility to help them and take care of them. Marc, as a dynamic and proactive lover of nature, is a wonderful example of the challenges faced when founding an NGO, especially when you lack time and financial resources, but how rewarding it is in the end. Thanks again for being our source of inspiration today. Good luck with your future!

Don´t forget to check out Oliver Callejero Instagram. If you would like to collaborate or simply discuss about these topics, drop Marc an email at r8magoz@gmail.com or reach out to him on LinkedIn.

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