About Us

We’re born with a wonderful tool for survival called Empathy. It’s a bonding agent that resides in our brains and social scientists around the world agree: the nurturing and development of EMPATHY is crucial to harmonious relationships and social equanimity whether between family members, friends, communities or nations.


The Humane Education Trust has a long history leading up to the development of Caring Classrooms. Led by journalist Louise van der Merwe, none of it could have been achieved without the dedicated support of funders. Very special thanks goes to all of them. In this regard, Dr Felix Schneier, Rosemary Miller and the National Lottery deserve special mention. What follows is a short synopsis of our endeavours:

The Humane Education Trust is founded for the purpose of bringing humane education into classrooms throughout South Africa.

A pilot project on the efficacy of humane education is conducted in 11 of the Western Cape’s worst-hit-by-violence schools, in a three-month cooperation with the Western Cape Department of Education’s Safe-Schools initiative. A documentary of this intervention, titled Caring Classrooms, receives international acclaim when it is launched at a humane education conference in Brussels, Belgium, later in the same year.

Phil Arkow, world renowned expert on the Link between Animal Cruelty and Human Violence, embarks on a lecture tour of South Africa.

An All-Africa Humane Education Summit is hosted in Cape Town and attended by teachers and animal welfare educators from 18 African countries. The keynote speaker is the Western Cape Education Department’s Superintendent General at the time, Ronald Swartz. The conference is also addressed by UNESCO’s Project Officer for Education and Peace, and by Phil Arkow, world renowned authority on the link between animal abuse and human violence.

The Humane Education Trust is invited by the National Department of Education to become a member of its NEEP Project (National Environmental Education Project), to integrate environmental education (including humane education) into the Revised Curriculum Statements.

The Human Education Trust presents its work at a world conference on humane education in London in June 2006, hosted by the World Society for the Protection of Animals, and, in the same year, presents its work to the United Nations Forum for Sustainable Development in New York.

The Departments of Education in Gauteng, Western Cape, Northern Cape, North-West Province and Free State officially approve and include readers and documentary DVDs authored and produced by Louise van der Merwe, as Managing Trustee of The Humane Education Trust, in their catalogues of resources for schools.

The new Curriculum Statements for Basic Education throughout South Africa are introduced and give multiple allocations to animal care and protection in Life Skills, Life Orientation and the Social Sciences, in Foundation, Intermediate, Senior and FET Phases. Schools from around South Africa place orders for Humane Education’s readers and DVDs and continue to do so.

The Humane Education Trust’s work receives recognition in The Global Guide to Animal Protection, edited by Andrew Linzey, Director: Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics and published by the University of Illinois Press.

The World Health Organisation buys our resource Friends Don’t Bite for world distribution in the fight against dog bites and rabies.

All 28 resources (readers and DVDs) developed by The Humane Education Trust are put onto the Gauteng Department of Education’s recommended list for libraries.

The Humane Education Trust embarks on a sample research project to assess the impact on learners of teaching the fundamental principles of animal welfare – namely ‘The Five Freedoms for Animals’ as endorsed by The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE). The outcome is met with enthusiastic support by education authorities at the WCED.

The Humane Education Trust’s work receives prominent recognition in a new book titled Animal Rights Education, by Kai Horsthemke, published by Palgrave MacMillan.

The Caring Classrooms online platform is launched offering greater accessibility to resources for teachers and learners.

As Managing Trustee of The Humane Education Trust, Louise van der Merwe has received the following awards:

  • Recipient in 2013 of the City of Cape Town’s Youth Environmental School Award “in recognition of an outstanding contribution and commitment to humane education and environmental awareness in the City of Cape Town.”
  • Recipient in 2011 of a winner’s trophy at the Feather Awards in association with The Female Tribe and 1st for Women Insurance Brokers.
  • Recipient in 2003 of Campaigner of the Year award presented by the International Fund for Animal Welfare/Animal Talk magazine.


Given that our society is plagued by the scourge of bullying, gangsterism, drug addiction, crime, child abuse, animal abuse, elder abuse, disrespect and depression, it seems logical to ask the question: shouldn’t we, as a society, be doing all we can to develop and nurture empathy among school learners?

This question is all the more relevant when one considers that just as much as empathy can be nurtured and developed to the benefit of society as a whole, it can also be eroded and extinguished – with consequences that degrade individuals and communities and plunge them into vicious cycles of abuse.

Empathy is like a dimmer switch. At level 0 learners will grow up to have great difficulty in relating to others. Their relationships will not work out and they will be deeply self-centred. At level 6, learners will grow up to go out of their way to be emotionally supportive towards other people and will help others in distress.

For an in-depth understanding of empathy education, take our online course in Human Ethics and Animal Rights, endorsed by SACE,  and earn 10 CPTD points at your own convenience.



Our purpose is to inspire a spirit of care and respect for all life through curriculum-aligned education.
We are committed to providing educators – from ECD to FET – with outstanding resources to assist them in the development of ethics, principles, and empathy as part of the everyday learning experience of children throughout South Africa.


Our vision for the Caring Classrooms platform is that it will help fast-track our young South African citizens into a new era in which we understand that power over those at our mercy does not make us greater. On the contrary, respect, consideration and care for those at our mercy – irrespective of shape or other differentiation – is where ethics and integrity in adult-life is founded.

Kindness, empathy and compassion towards all living beings are essential elements in the development of good character, and, rooted in a deep sense of justice for all who share the gift of sentience, they become game-changers in a world where hostility, mistrust and bullying are the norm.