My name is Sue Burt and I am a supporter of The Donkey Sanctuary from Australia. Last Christmas I visited a donkey clinic in Ethiopia and was so moved by the experience I wanted to share my story.
It all started with Eeyore a very long time ago - my love of donkeys that is. Although the children’s book character was perceived as rather gloomy and pessimistic, I had a soft spot for him and felt there was something quite special about him. In my view, donkeys are underestimated and underappreciated and are, in fact, incredibly special if you take the time to get to know them. The Donkey Sanctuary in Sidmouth came to my attention in 2012 when my sister, who lives in England, took me for a visit when I was over on holiday from Australia. So started my love-affair with donkeys.
In January 2012, I travelled to Ethiopia. While there I saw more donkeys than I could ever have imagined – very hard-working donkeys who were stoically supporting their owners in their subsistence-farming lifestyle. Sadly, many of the donkeys were lacking the care and attention they deserved but in developing nations, people are usually fighting hard to maintain a life for themselves, let alone worry about the animals that serve them. In a country of over six million donkeys (second only to China in global donkey numbers), the country is both donkey heaven and donkey hell – they’re very valuable to the farmers but can be terribly mistreated.
Then, on my last night in the country’s capital Addis Ababa I happened to spot a Donkey Sanctuary 4WD vehicle. I returned home to Sydney knowing that I wanted to return to Ethiopia to see more of this fascinating country, as well as find out more about what The Donkey Sanctuary is doing there.
Last summer, I again joined my family in Sidmouth. We visited the Sanctuary many times over the two-week period and I renewed my annual adoption of Little Vijay. On returning to Sydney, I started to plan my second trip to Ethiopia – and was determined to incorporate visiting The Donkey Sanctuary Ethiopia this time round. This is not something offered to the general public – the teams that work internationally are incredibly busy and time is precious. However, after much planning and liaising with both the UK and Ethiopia offices, I was thrilled to be granted a day with the Ethiopian team.
And so on 20 December 2013, I again flew out to Ethiopia and on landing in Addis Ababa, headed straight to The Donkey Sanctuary Ethiopa’s office. There I met Dr Bojia Endebu, The Donkey Sanctuary’s Country Representative in Ethiopia, and we arranged a visit to the Merkato Clinic the next day. Although veterinary care is just one of the interlinked approaches of The Donkey Sanctuary’s international efforts, I was keen to see this type of work first hand.
Merkato is one of Africa's largest markets – it’s the size of several suburbs with different areas for different merchandise and heaving with vendors and buyers. Our driver and guide from Eureka Ethiopia Tours hadn’t had a request like this before and were curious to know why I wanted to find this donkey clinic, as it’s not on the usual Addis tourist circuit!
Arriving at the bustling market, I was thrilled to meet the clinic staff, who so lovingly and respectfully provide veterinary help to visiting donkeys as well as educational guidance to their owners. Making sure their owners understand how to care for their donkeys is key to their work so that welfare is maintained once the animals leave the clinic – after all, prevention is better than cure!
Chala Chaburte, the man in charge, was a most generous host. As he proudly showed me around the small compound, he told me about the various ailments presented at the clinic. A whole library of photos provided evidence of the many donkey ailments they treat including hyena bites, back sores, birthing problems, growths and overgrown hooves. I felt so sad seeing these knowing the team can only treat a very small percentage of Ethiopian donkeys – so much donkey suffering doesn’t even reach the Ethiopian clinics and it brings tears to my eyes to think about this. But the team does not just focus on providing free veterinary care. Its sustainable approach is to ensure skills that are key to donkey welfare, such as farriery, harness making as well as veterinary care, are accessible across the country. They do this by giving advice to owners and training locals so that more communities can become self-sufficient in the skills necessary to maintain donkey welfare in the long run.
Donkeys have a difficult life in Ethiopia, or at least it appears that way from my western viewpoint. I have such heartfelt admiration every time I see a donkey supporting its owner, whether it’s in the daily transportation of litres of water from well to home, looking like a walking haystack, pulling a cartload of goods or people, or transporting slabs of salt in the Afar region in the far north-east of the country. Donkeys are key to the rural Ethiopian way of life.
Thanks to the great work of The Donkey Sanctuary Ethiopia in various locations across the country, treatment and education is becoming more widely available through local service providers. It’s a long and slow process but change has to start somewhere. My dream is for a kinder life for donkeys in Ethiopia.
Through the collective generosity of many of us who adore these faithful and trusty animals, this great work can continue and over time will benefit the quality of life for working donkeys and, in turn, for their owners too.
I’m returning to England in this summer and will again be enjoying another two-week family holiday in Sidmouth. I’m already looking forward to my visits to the Sanctuary and its lovely green fields with donkeys who’ve been rescued from a life less fortunate, then having lunch or afternoon tea in the Hayloft! But as I walk around and see all the donkeys enjoying the lush green grass of Devon, I will spare a thought for their less fortunate relatives in Ethiopia.
If, like me, you would like to ensure this important work continues, you can help by making a contribution at www.thedonkeysanctuary.org.uk/donate - every little amount really does make a difference.