I thought I had worked with some big groups of children in my teaching and training days but Wednesday’s school visit last week in Nairobi was a new personal record – an audience of over 1,700!
I recently joined The Donkey Sanctuary’s international team to work with the overseas projects’ community partnership and education work and am visiting our project in Kenya to explore their current and past work, to learn from the teams and to start building the relationships that will be essential in the future.
Josiah and John – two of the Kenyan staff members working on school-based components of donkey welfare – took us to Nakeel Primary School, one of the biggest in the country, to show us the important work they have been doing with school children. The delight of extra visitors from the UK, however, meant that the Kenyan team’s well-planned lesson with one of the Year 6 classes was lost in the excitement and instead the head teacher insisted on a ‘presentation’ to the whole school – a grand total of over 1,700 children!
Josiah and John rose to the occasion; we all climbed on top of the cement base of the school’s flag to give us a little extra height and they coaxed the students into a circle around our flag-topped island. Josiah gave a warm and clear introduction to our visit, calling on the children’s memories of past classroom activities, then we all had the chance to give a fun introduction to ourselves. But, after giving an engaging message about empathy, it was John who stole the show by leading a rousing chorus of his own donkey song – ‘Punda Poa, Kazi Poa’ (‘Happy Donkey, Happy Owner’), entertaining the children with his inimitable style and plenty of sound effects and expressions.
Without keeping the children too long in the sun, the mass-audience was dismissed and we took a brief visit to a classroom to meet some of the older donkey-owning children who will soon be involved in setting up an animal welfare club at the school. We also saw a colourful, engaging mural showing solutions to local donkey welfare issues that the children had designed and for which The Donkey Sanctuary Kenya had provided the paint.
On our way back to The Donkey Sanctuary Kenya office, we visited a market site where Amos and Tobias – two of the Kenyan staff working on improving local harnessing – introduced us to community members who use donkeys to transport water from a pump at the market to local households and businesses. Amos proudly showed us some of the improved harnesses in use and, as there were some donkey users there who hadn’t yet received training, we could clearly see the difference the softer bands, improved fitting and better cart use has made.
As if to demonstrate the relationship that Amos has built with the community, two donkey users shared a story with him of a case they had heard about the previous night where donkeys had been stolen and killed for meat in the area. Amos gave the men information on how to report the crime and took a note of the details so that The Donkey Sanctuary Kenya team could work with the local community to explore the problem and find ways to prevent such crimes in the future. The team have had success mitigating similar problems elsewhere with ideas such as finding places to keep the donkeys secure at night and creating partnerships between community members so that someone watches the donkeys each night.
After my first few days working with The Donkey Sanctuary Kenya team, I already have a huge amount of respect for their hard work and enthusiasm. Despite the challenges they face, they are developing quality projects across the country, taking into account individual circumstances and local problems, and as they try new approaches (such as school clubs, lesson ideas and community-facilitated solutions to theft), they are checking the impact these have and ploughing what they learn back into the project. And if that doesn’t excite you and get your heart rate up, try singing and braying in front of 1,700 primary-school children!