When it comes to donkey welfare, it pays to advertise. At least, that’s the case in a busy shopping area near the brick kilns of Badli, a village west of New Delhi, just across the border in Haryana state. Thanks to our team’s work with the local community, pictures and messages promoting donkey welfare are displayed on walls where donkey owners are bound to see them.
In May last year I visited some of the Badli kilns with our Delhi-based team. I remember the tall chimneys of the firing areas and the slight smell of burning in the air, the stacks of orangey-brown bricks piled up on the hot bare earth, and the workers with their bright clothes and their hands and feet caked with brick-dust. For a while I watched them at work, loading the panniers on their donkeys’ backs – the donkeys standing still, patient and quiet, as the workers skilfully positioned and balanced the unfired bricks in the pannier. Then the donkeys would plod along the pathway to the firing area, with a kiln worker - often a young girl or boy - walking behind them. A few minutes later they would reappear, the donkeys walking faster now with their empty panniers, ready to do the same journey, again and again and again.
I also remember being really impressed with the friendly, trusting relationship our team had built up with this brick kiln community. Our veterinary and community education staff have been visiting these kilns since early 2010, helping the workers improve their donkeys’ welfare. As well as treating donkeys themselves, they’ve trained the owners to clean and treat wounds, make and use their own antiseptic ointments, and ensure that their donkeys’ hooves are free of stones and other obstructions. They make a point of getting to know everyone involved: the donkey owners themselves, the kiln owners and supervisors, and the teachers working in the outdoor brick kiln ‘schools’ for the children of donkey owners. They organise regular meetings where everyone is encouraged to give their views.
Having been to Badli myself, I was particularly interested to hear about the wall displays from our Delhi-based Community Development and Education officer, Saswati Nanda. She told me the idea came up during one of the community meetings last summer, towards the end of the brick production season. The group were talking about ways to promote donkey welfare more widely, rather than just among the people our teams meet face to face, and someone suggested displaying donkey welfare advice in a public place where plenty of donkey owners would see it. The shopping and market area in nearby Badli village was an obvious location, so our team set up further meetings with local residents and businesses in the village.
The kiln community themselves decided what the message boards should be telling people: basic donkey welfare advice based on the ‘five animal freedoms’, and guidance for donkey and mule cart drivers. (Many of the Badli kilns use mule-drawn carts to carry the bricks, instead of panniers on donkeys’ backs). The boards would also carry information about the Donkey Sanctuary India and its work. They found excellent locations for the message boards – on walls next to two farriery businesses, which donkey owners often visited. The farriers agreed to help explain the messages more fully and advise people on how to put them into practice, and received training to help them do this.
The first board went up in February, and over the next couple of months the farrier reported an increase in customers to around 10 a day, instead of between five and seven previously. That meant more donkeys were benefiting from hoof care, and their owners were also receiving education on other welfare matters during their visits to the business.
In April the second board was put up, warning against overloading carts and giving advice on how to distribute and balance the load properly. The team also made extra boards featuring photos of the farriers themselves, which they were very proud to display outside their shops.
This initiative is a good illustration of the way our teams work. By involving the donkey owners from the start, they motivated them to come up with an idea, and carry it out. The farriers are already well-known members of the Badli community, and they’re providing a service we wanted more donkey owners to use. So it’s a win-win situation – for the farriers, the donkey owners, and of course the donkeys themselves – a simple idea that makes the donkeys’ future a little bit brighter.