We arrived in Veracruz to unbearable heat and humidity, which led to a very restless night’s sleep. At first light we headed out for some breakfast where we were treated to traditional music and dancers to start the day.
Veracruz is one of the most ancient cities in the Americas; it is where horses first entered the country. Horses and donkeys have pulled carts here for many years, both for social and domestic use. The city has started growing and there is now a clash between the urban and rural ways of life; an example of this is seen with the horses and donkeys pulling carts alongside and in-between busy traffic on the roads.
Our plan for the day was to meet with students and a lecturer from the local university who are part of a project trying to tackle this problem. They explained that the last local government implemented rules to forbid working animals in the urban area. These animals are used to pull carts and collect rubbish and recycling, for which the owners then get paid. These rules are impossible to apply as many of the people who live in the city rely on their animals to survive.
The new local government is trying to work out a way to follow the rules, whilst also taking into account the people’s needs and the animal’s welfare. They approached the DS-UNAM programme to help with this project, resulting in a collaboration between the government, the university and The Donkey Sanctuary.
In order for this project to progress and get the funding it needs, the social issues have to be at the forefront, with the animal welfare taking a secondary position.
The university students working on this project are studying social and economic subjects. They have carried out a census to find out more about the people who work with these animals. The census found that the vast majority of the working-animal owners are marginalised, very poor, vulnerable and elderly. There are also many owners who are single-parents supporting their families.
Now the census has been evaluated and a project has been developed that will tackle these issues whilst supporting the working-animal owners and providing social security for them.
The project requires all current working animals to be issued with a passport and to receive regular health checks. Since no new passports will be issued, the owners will have to replace their retiring working animals with motor vehicles. Any animals found without a passport will be stopped from working. All the owners enrolled on to the project will receive social security and assistance from the government to help them to integrate to a new way of life. The health check clinics also offer the chance for everyone to work together.
The university has calculated that there are between 80-100 carts in the city using horses, donkeys and mules, and so far 65 cart owners have entered the project.
It has been really interesting to learn about these issues. It is not the sort of thing you would even consider in England, so this trip really opened our eyes to the problems faced by the overseas teams. After hearing about the working donkeys, we were very much looking forward to going and meeting some of these donkeys and their owners, which will be the subject of our next blog!