Thursday 23rd October
Tenango del Valle is just beyond Santiago Tianguistenco. Its primary school seems idyllic. A playground bordered by beds of flowering bushes and lilies sits between two bright rows of classrooms. To one side is a grassy football pitch and a woody knoll. Beyond is a view to hillsides patched with agriculture and more distant mountain tops. At last we are going to see the education team in action.
Children’s education is relatively new for the Donkey Sanctuary’s international programme. We have always tried to extend the knowledge and understanding of donkey owners about their donkeys, for example about hoof care, or how good harness and cart design 'works'. This has been done at the treatment sites, and also, when opportunities present, through meetings with donkey owner groups. Engaging with children is seen as an additional way of taking good practice into the homes of donkey owners, and as a way of overcoming any cultural barriers to improving the care and treatment of donkeys. This obviously has to be done with care and sensitivity, but a good example is the promotion of donkey handling based on natural donkey behaviour over punishment based methods - the carrot rather than the stick. In particular we want to ensure that children have an opportunity to learn that donkeys are sentient and can feel pain.
The education team is Elena, a vet but now full time on child education; Avril, an education and community mobilisation specialist, and our new education co-ordinator; and Josue, the driver, logistician, and part-time puppet master. This is Elena’s second visit to the school, and Avril’s first. Two classes have been brought together for this session. They remember her first visit - which involved a puppet show. This time there is a talk about the different characteristics of donkeys, with lots of questions to the children about their own donkeys, then there is an activity to make up stories about donkey care using cut out figures.
Both before and after the class we talk to the teachers. It seems that despite its idyllic appearance, this school and the community it serves, like any other, has its social problems. We discuss the idea of animal assisted therapies - something donkeys, particularly in a community where they already have a role, might be ideal for.
The hillside above Tenango del Valle has pre-Spanish ruins. The physical education teacher walks us up to the site, which involves blunt step pyramid altar platforms separated by open spaces and dedicated ball game courtyards. The views are great and there is a wonderful sense of space. At 2,600 metres above sea level, it is still a top place for physical training which is why it is used by the Mexican boxing team, though nowadays, unlike in the past, the victors are not sacrificed to the Gods.
Friday 24th October
Our last day, we have a final meeting with Horacio. We all have lunch with Dr Aline. This project has been going for 24 years and continuity is one of the things that gives it strength. We fly out in the evening, with Mexico City a vast carpet of lights below us. It has been a good trip.