“People think I’m crazy when I tell them I work with donkeys, even old school friends," says Diana Msemo, the Donkey Officer at the Arusha Society for the Protection of Animals (ASPA) in Tanzania. “Donkeys were never taught about at college and people just don’t understand them.”
Funded by The Donkey Sanctuary, Diana has only been working in the new role at ASPA since June 2015 and donkeys are quickly becoming her life. Working alongside project manager, Livingstone Masija, she is learning fast about the nature and welfare of these animals, which are pivotal to the lives and livelihoods of many people in northern Tanzania. As she learns, she is also translating much of The Donkey Sanctuary’s welfare information into Swahili and has interpreted it to make it more relevant for the local situation in the area.
Her explanation of donkey behaviour was wonderful to hear. She said, “I love donkeys because they understand easily and it is easy to build a friendship. A donkey is able to ‘read’ a person well; most of the donkeys’ behaviour is just a response to how the person is treating them.” She told me that she sometimes asks owners to touch their donkeys and they refuse, saying that the donkey is ‘too furious’. When Diana is able to build enough trust to touch the donkey calmly within a few minutes, the owners are amazed. Diana said that in cases like this, she found out later that the owners had been beating their donkey, perpetuating a cycle of aggressive behaviour which only the owner can break.
When Diana was relatively new in post, she spent time with our colleagues at Donkey Sanctuary Kenya for training in assessing the welfare of donkeys, harnessing and forming community groups. Already, she is making impressive progress. She has really embraced the idea that the welfare of the whole donkey is central to all community work by framing everything she does according to the Hand, our simple tool for describing welfare. “The Hand is the key thing in every lesson I do. Everything about welfare comes back to the Hand, so I make sure people know how each conversation about welfare is linked to the bigger picture.”
I spent a day with Diana and was so impressed with how she engaged communities at an education session with a newly formed group in Likamba village as well as at a challenging market site called Kikatiti. This was my third visit to Kikatiti and whereas people hid from us in the first two visits due to a fear of being identified as the owner of a wounded donkey, this time members of the new group and other individuals came up to us to welcome us, show us their donkey, ask for help and just talk with us. The welfare challenges at Kikatiti are significant and very challenging to address; while the welfare hasn’t yet improved, the understanding of the problems has, trust is being built and I’m confident that ASPA are making rapid headway.
I asked Diana what her key message about donkeys would be. She said, “Donkeys are people’s salvation. If you have a donkey, it works for every single member of the family by being a tractor, bringing food for people, bringing fodder for other animals, carrying produce to market and even earning money to provide school fees for the children. Donkeys are your gold.” I couldn’t agree more.