Today’s blog is from the Gambia, where The Donkey Sanctuary funds All About Animals’ project to improve working-donkey welfare. Much of All About Animals’ work in the Gambia is about teaching how to make donkey-friendly harnesses since 85% of the wounds they encounter are caused by badly fitting or poorly designed harnessing. And as this blog shows, they are making a real difference…
Here at All About Animals in the Gambia, we hold workshops to help donkey owners understand their animals better, and in doing so improve the welfare of these hard-working donkeys. Most owners respond well to learning while they are doing something. Engaging people in practical training not only creates an association between what they are doing and what they are learning, it also provides a relaxed environment for informal discussions on behaviour – both human and donkey.
We were working at a rubbish tip one day when we heard a comment from a man with a donkey. “A donkey is a donkey – sometimes you have to beat them.” We immediately thought: “Oh, it looks like he’ll be spending a few days with us then!”
This man relied on his donkey for income by collecting rubbish. He really had no idea or interest in looking after his donkey and pushed it to the limit, not realising there was a much easier and simpler way – not only for him but for his donkey, too...
We talked to the owner and introduced him to harness making. This is always a good starting point as the owners are always eager to make their own. Each harness is measured and stitched by the owner for his own donkey (a lady who once kindly offered to make lots for us so we could just hand them out was missing the point entirely!). As we chatted while we helped him measure and stitch, he admitted he beats his donkey, so we asked him a question. “If you worked hard all day for your family, doing lifting and physically hard work, at the end of the day when you were looking forward to a nice shower, prayer and dinner and your wife greeted you at the door with a big stick and beat you, what would you think?”
The man thought for a moment.
“Would you be confused?” we continued. “Your donkey has worked hard for you all day doing his very best to earn you money to feed your family – and you beat him. He must be so confused and wonder what he is doing wrong!”
You could see the man thinking and his attitude to his donkey changing...
He spent three days with us making a head collar, breaching and breast collar, learning the importance of bathing his donkey and regular grooming – and now he is so proud of his donkey he wants it to be “the best looked-after donkey in the Gambia”!
Now, every time we visit the tip where he works, he comes over to us and we stop what we are doing to check his donkey. “Look at this!” we say. “Everyone come and look at this happy, healthy donkey!”
As we leave, though, we always shout out to him: “Is your wife still beating you??”
We visit this tip regularly, giving training and advice. Never in ten years has anyone just taken anything for granted. Although we expect 100% from the people we are helping at all times, we always give 100% ourselves, too. We tell them: “We are not Father Christmas, we don’t come bearing gifts! We are here to help and teach you.”
But on a recent visit, something happened that amazed even me. It was very busy at the tip – hot, smoky and we had 15 owners we were helping. Always at the end of the day each one comes and shakes my hand and says “jerry jif”, which means thank you. But on this day, nine owners came and put money into my hand when they came to say thank you so that we could continue to help other owners. Some gave 10 dalasis, some 25 dalasis ... I was stunned. These were people living in poverty, struggling to earn money for food. I will never forget that day or the generosity of those people to whom that money meant so much.