It was like any other hot, sunny April afternoon in Meshenti as fifteen-year-old Yibeltal Tegene and his three friends walked to school. As they neared the school, however, they noticed an odd shape on the dusty ground outside its fenced compound. The Grade 8 students realised that it was a donkey, presumably abandoned by its owner, lying listlessly. It appeared to be very ill, and painful wounds covered its back.
Instead of leaving the animal to suffer in pain, the youngsters decided to help the sick donkey. They gently led it to a sheltered spot inside their school compound and gave it some straw to eat and fresh water to drink. The four friends didn’t stop at that, though; they then contacted Donkey Sanctuary Ethiopia’s Amhara office to request urgent veterinary assistance.
As members of Meshenti Primary School’s animal welfare club, Yibeltal and his friends were simply putting the club’s philosophy into action. The school is in the Meshenti district, some 17 kilometres from Bahir Dar city in north-western Ethiopia. The Donkey Sanctuary Ethiopia has been working with the school since 2011 to impart animal welfare and empathy education to students of the club. The young members’ rescue of the donkey on this
summer day was a testimony to the staff’s efforts.
Yibeltal says that since being a member of the club, he has learnt a lot about the welfare of animals. “I now know well the five basic freedoms of animals and I treat an animal like one of my family,” he says. His teacher calls him ‘multi-talented’, because he educates other students in the school on the subject through poems, role play, stories and drawings. He also promotes animal welfare in his village, Tirater, where he lives with his parents and four siblings. The family makes a living from farming, and owns cattle, sheep and a donkey that helps transport farm produce and other goods.
“Before, everybody in our village had a negative image for donkeys. They neglected them, beat them, and overloaded them with no padding. As a result, the donkeys used to develop wounds and die young. But now things are changing,” Yibeltal explains. “With the lessons I got from school, I tell my family, neighbours and village community to use proper padding before loading, to provide feed and water during work, and to visit veterinary clinics when donkeys get ill and seek out vaccinations.”
Yibeltal and his friends’ intervention certainly helped the sick donkey they had found near their school. DSE’s vets diagnosed it with chronic respiratory disease and back sores caused by an ill-fitting harness. The donkey stayed on the school premises as it underwent a treatment of antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medicines, along with lots of TLC. At the end of two weeks, he was a healthier and happier donkey. According to Dr. Tewodros, project manager of DSE Amhara, if the students hadn’t helped, the donkey would have continued to suffer and the lack of shelter would have made it an easy prey for hyenas.
Surprised by the donkey’s rapid recovery, the school community named him Tarik, which means ‘history’ in Amharik. A kind villager who lives near the school has since adopted him.
As for Yibeltal and his fellow members of the club, they hope to spread the message of animal welfare further by connecting with students of similar clubs in other schools. “We want to reach the larger public,” says the passionate 15-year-old.