Tessa Cornell is a recent graduate of Edinburgh Vet School and a recipient of The Donkey Sanctuary’s overseas travel grant, as part of which she is spending a month with our partner in Egypt, ESPWWA. During this time, Tessa will be learning about ESPWWA’s veterinary outreach and community education programmes, helping produce educational material on eye problems, and investigating the causes of eye disease in the donkey population. This is her second blog from the field.
Situated on the west bank of the Nile, Saqqara is home not only to the ancient Egyptian necropolis of Memphis, but more importantly, to a bustling village community with around 3,000 working donkeys. Here, the enthusiastic community education team of The Egyptian Society for the Protection and Welfare of Working Animals (ESPWWA) have implemented a programme to raise awareness of good donkey welfare. As Nourhan, Heba and Mahmaud explained, welfare issues in Saqqara are seasonal, with donkeys facing longer working hours during the harvesting months and an increased risk of eye problems during the summer due to fly-transmitted diseases.
The team described the process of introducing an education programme into a new area. This begins with acquiring an in-depth knowledge of available resources, which ranges from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and public buildings such as health centres and schools, to influential members in the community. This step ensures that the project receives sufficient support, publicity and venues to host their meetings and, importantly, enables the programme to progress and expand in the long-term. By using resources that are an important focus in the area, ESPWWA is forming relations with an impressively wide demographic, with the ultimate goal of improving communications between donkeys and their owners. Local service providers receive sufficient training to lead future meetings, enabling progression of the programme without ESPWWA’s continued input. This aspect of the process is vital for service sustainability, with the hope that Saqqara’s future donkey generations will be left in safe hands.
Our first stop was the library, where Nourhan recounted the interactive and creative teaching methods she employs to teach children about animal welfare and the importance of showing empathy towards working donkeys. I couldn’t help but feel disappointed that I wasn’t able to witness first-hand her plays and puppetry, which encourage her young audience to address important donkey issues in an enjoyable and effective way.
ESPWWA develops a different programme for each location, depending on the specific problems affecting donkeys and their owners, the resources available, and the intended audience. Participatory meetings with members of the community are vital to recognize local beliefs and practices and to design a project relevant to the local context. Here in Saqqara, our next appointment was at the local health centre with the charismatic Mr Adel, a prominent member of the community who speaks at the nearby mosque. In between glasses of 'asab' or sugarcane juice, the team proposed the introduction of talks for women and children. Mr Adel was quick to accept their offer and expressed his shared concern about the plight of the village’s rubbish-strewn waterways, which were attracting flies; this has a negative impact on the health of donkeys and people. Another positive channel of communication had been made, but Nourhan explained that “some villages need more work to make a change”, with the challenge being improving people’s long-established attitudes towards the importance of donkey welfare.
It is clear that Nourhan, Heba and Mahmaud have a huge amount of passion and aptitude for implementing creative, sustainable and effective community education campaigns, and quickly inspired in both me and Mr Adel the same enthusiasm for promoting improved donkey welfare.