A few years ago Alex Mayers and I hosted a harness workshop in Tanzania for several of our African friends. Quite a few charities came for the training, from Tanzania, South Africa and Zambia. These groups represented several NGOs that The Donkey Sanctuary has helped with funding and training over the years.
Running the workshop for the first time were Sanctuary Kenya harness guys, Amos and Nicholas. It was a real multi-purpose event as they were being assessed as trainers whilst we all worked to get the information across to the participants.
On the course we met Aaron, a really likeable character with so much respect (calls me Father) originally from Zimbabwe but currently living in Zambia and working as a harness maker for Mwamfumba. He fitted in well there, the group is down to earth, practical and very low budget. To reach villages in a visit later that year we hitched rides, walked or used the bus where possible. Africa is full of people such as these. They are a real joy to work with as their enthusiasm and commitment cannot be constrained by hardship, lack of amenities or for that matter by any of the normal barriers that people come up with not to do something.
Another guy who is key to this story is Richard. You just cannot fit such a big personality into his five foot nothing frame. It is constantly bubbling over, breaking free and getting him through all obstacles.
A couple of years ago I visited both Richard in Tanzania and Aaron in Zambia. Richard had just made his first cart under our watchful eye and Aaron was developing a ploughing harness. During the short visits I learned that each wanted the other's knowledge, so some swift action by our team got them together for a week in Zambia. Richard went home with a plough and Aaron stayed with a cart and harness. OK, sounds simple, but this was the first breakthrough in a long held dream - to train people up in their own countries so they can help their neighbours.
A typical donkey and cart seen in South Africa
Moving up to date, Aaron started to work in Zimbabwe helping the Lupane Youth Group improve the welfare of donkeys in their area. I was asked to go along and assess the work back in July which was my first trip to this beautiful but tragic country. I met Alfred, the main man in the youth group. He had found a welder and work had started by the time we, Samson (Aaron's boss) and I arrived on the bus from the border. I saw local carts like the one in this photo above being used quite a lot, so was looking forward to seeing what Aaron had come up with. Well, the building was fun, members of Lupane women's group were also helping out, and we had a lot of people passing by including local elders and chiefs, all good stuff, but we were on a strict deadline. We had three days before a big chief and elders' meeting, involving all the big men from several villages in the area. We had a welding machine held together with string, a very dodgy looking electrical supply and our welder man decided to get paralytic on the second day leaving me and a young lady from the youth group in charge of welding the accumulated pile of second hand pipes Alfred had ferreted out of every corner of the village! Nice woman, she wanted to be a boiler maker, which I thought was great. Good job she was a natural at welding - we had a lot to do!
After three days we had our cart, a well-balanced little ‘scotch cart’ (in the local vernacular, that seemed to cover just about any cart I saw). Ours was lightweight, pulled by one donkey and to be honest I was worried that its small size would put people off, after all they were used to being able to carry any amount of cargo they wanted.
Aaron making donkey carts
On the third day we presented Aaron's cart to the committee where it found universal enthusiasm to my relief. Aaron and Alfred never had any doubts, they just laughed at me and said it would be OK.
So, that was July. The cart was finished and I moved on. That night I got a text. Fifty-six carts ordered in the village! OK, so that was when they thought somebody else was going to foot the bill, but they have five more ordered and have made one other to date. Aaron? Our partners, Lilongwe SPCA recently invited him to Malawi, he went last year on the bus, has gone again. He sent me a message over the weekend to say "Nearly finished a batch of eight carts and harness!"
The very reverent harness guy Aaron, I am privileged to know people like this.
This, to me is really getting to the core of our vision all those years ago - training Africans, Indians, Americans, Asians, whatever. Training them, supporting them so that they can carry on spreading the word and helping donkeys and people across their own lands.
Aaron, Lilongwe SPCA and The Donkey Sanctuary; proud of our partnership.