Tewachew Sheferaw, 28, was once considered a burden to his family and the community. Having suffered polio as a baby, his legs are withered and he finds walking long distances and most farm work very difficult. His fellow residents in the village of Gurbite in Ethiopia believed he would always be dependent on others to survive. Living in a shack with his younger brother, every day he worried about where his next meal was going to come from.
“My life was at stake,” he says. “I had no job. My younger brother was a school student so it was difficult for us to make money for our daily bread.”
But life took a dramatic turn for the better in 2011 when a visitor came to the village to talk about donkeys. Nahom Wagaw is a harness maker for The Donkey Sanctuary Ethiopia. He came to Gurbite village to show how using pack saddles can prevent back sores and to train local people to make them. Tewachew and three others decided to join the harness training. It was a life-changing day.
“I used to see many donkeys with back sores in our village because people weren’t using pack saddles. I thought making pack saddles would be a good way to help donkeys and could solve my jobless situation,” he says.
The Donkey Sanctuary Ethiopia’s Amhara team have found a significant reduction in wounds in areas where donkey-friendly pack saddles have been introduced and training given. In Fereswega district, where Tewachew lives, wounds have reduced from 30 percent to 10 percent in the last five years.
Recognition of the important of pack saddles hasn’t just benefited the donkeys. For Tewachew, business is booming. Every day he makes 2-3 pack saddles for donkey owners across the district, which he sells for 25 birr each (around 85 pence).
“After Tewachew became a harness maker and started earning money, his status in the village changed,” says Dagne Yiradu, Community Partnership and Education Officer for the Amhara team. “The people in his village give him much more respect.“
In his past life, Tewachew couldn’t contemplate starting a family, but his new status changed that. According to traditional customs, his parents arranged a marriage for him with a woman from a nearby village. He built a house, which they share with his younger brother, and there’s always food on the table.
“My physical disability will never stop my ability to make pack saddles,” he says “I want to expand my business and see all donkeys in Fereswega with no back sores.”