Harness Maker Farid Shawky has been working at the Egyptian Society for the Protection & Welfare of Working Animals since 2006. Before that he was working with his father as local harness maker.
In 2008 we were looking for local harness makers in El Saf brick kilns when I met an elderly man called Salah. I was with Chris Garrett, International Harness Consultant for The Donkey Sanctuary. At that time we knew that the hitching point where the cart is attached to the harness was the main cause of wounds in all the kilns. We told Salah but he was not interested and threw away the piece of paper that Chris had been drawing out the problem on. I met him again later in his shop and asked him why. A high hitching point means that the collar is lifted up, causing breathing problems, and the cart is pulled from the saddle, causing terrible wounds. I explained it again to Salah and asked him if he accepted that there are a lot of wounds in the brick kilns. He admitted that though he had seen the blood on the harness that came in for repair he did not see the donkeys. We never did convince Salah before he died a year later.
His two sons Salem and Mohamed had worked with their father but only knew how to do the basics. Their father did all the skilled work. When he died they decided to finish with the trade. That was in 2010. At the time Egyptian Society for the Protection and Welfare of Working Animals (ESPWWA) with Chris were about to run a harness training workshop. My father was booked to help with collar making. We persuaded Salem and Mohamed to come on the course, which they did. As a result of that, and with renewed confidence, they decided to carry on with the business. At that time they were supplying harness to15 brick kilns. They also attended two other courses in 2012 and 2015. Today they supply quality harness to 135 brick kilns of the 150 at the El Saf site. They also supply harness to about 7 kilns at Aswan 750 km away and Saohak 500km away. In 2008 around 70% of the brick kiln donkeys had harness wounds, today that figure has dropped to around 30%.
It wasn't just the actual wounds that were causing problems. Repeated attempts to get the load reduced from nearly 2 tonnes had failed. With the improved harness the donkeys pulled the load easier and faster. Carts began to back up, arriving faster than they could be unloaded. The workers themselves solved that problem by putting fewer bricks on the cart. We accept that 30% wounds is still bad, but thanks to people like Salem and Mohamed we are making progress. Good harness also proved to be good economics. Though it costs more to buy it lasts three times longer and ESPWWA is allowed into every brick kiln in the El Saf kilns area compared to 25 in 2008. Salem and Mohamed continue to expand their customer base and the range of harness today.