Having worked in numerous small, rural communities around the world, I am always amazed at the generosity, hospitality and warmth extended to visitors.
A recent visit to Ethiopia was no different and I am humbled by the joy with which we were received by this small and vibrant community. Situated approximately an hour’s drive south-east of Bahir Dar in Ethiopia, we were in the small community of Feres Woga.
I was here with my colleagues from the International Department in the UK, along with members of the Donkey Sanctuary Ethiopia (DS Ethiopia) team, and Donkey Sanctuary colleagues from our other overseas programmes.
Our day started in the dark as we made our way through the morning bustle of Bahir Dar in the project vehicle, under the faint light of the moon and occasional dimly-lit street lamp. We navigated to the outskirts of the city, passed the point where the tarmac stops and the road turns to dust, as we continued our journey into rural Ethiopia.
Bahir Dar receded further into the distance behind us as dawn began to break, slowly illuminating our surroundings as the cool of the night surrendered to another hot African day.
The daily lives and morning routines of so many people were unveiled to us as we bounced along roads, passed through their lives and navigated loose, and seemingly unflappable, livestock. As our journey progressed, scenes of rural towns and villages disappeared as we were presented with spectacularly beautiful landscapes and bright green vistas which were full of life and peppered with piles of wheat and sorghum, shining golden in the morning sun.
The beauty of the landscape soon gave way to our destination; the small community of Feres Woga. The road access to the community was blocked by building materials (ironically, having been laid to aid the development of a new road into the area) and so we were forced to continue our journey on foot.
As we walked into the community, it was clear that today was going to be a memorable experience; within seconds we were greeted by a cross-section of the community – people young and old rushed out to meet us, excited and eager to share with us the work they are doing to improve the lives of their working donkeys.
Guided by staff from the DS Ethiopia team, we were then given a wonderful tour of the multifarious work being carried out in the area by The Donkey Sanctuary. The programme involves an integrated approach to delivering education and training to different levels and sectors of the community.
By targeting such a wide cross-section of people, The Donkey Sanctuary can ensure that our message gets delivered to a wide variety of people, and that all kinds of community members can benefit from new education and knowledge.
Our tour began with a lively demonstration at the local school to see how donkey care and welfare education is delivered to school children. The children were absolutely desperate to show us all what they had learned and you could feel the sense of pride they have for their donkeys.
From the school, we moved on to see how The Donkey Sanctuary supports the local veterinary clinic; posters showing our Hand-based welfare assessment tool were placed everywhere for people to see.
Following the vet clinic, we moved on to the harness workshop; here, DS Ethiopia staff train villagers in effective harness making. Local materials are used and training is provided so that local people can learn to make their own harness for their animals; this ensures that effective techniques and sound knowledge are placed within the community which can be used for generations to come.
Our visit finished with the wonderful opportunity to visit and interact with a group of donkeys and their owners. The donkeys were relaxed, healthy and happy, and of all the donkeys I have seen throughout the course of my international work, I can safely say that these were in the best condition!
We observed the donkeys being gently handled by their owners when they harnessed and loaded up their animals. The harness equipment was in great condition and made by the local harness makers trained by DS Ethiopia.
The integrated approach that DS Ethiopia takes to improving the welfare of working donkeys in Feres Woga is certainly working, and demonstrates how by delivering education, training and encouraging collaboration across all levels of a community, we can achieve genuine and sustainable improvements to the welfare of working donkeys.