By Sue Griffin, The Donkey Sanctuary trustee
Improving the conditions of animals and mules often means working through the local community, and the Donkey Sanctuary Ethiopia has developed a strategy for change based around model community projects.
We visited Fereswoga, a village located 30km south of Bahir Dar in the Amhara region in north east Ethiopia.
This is a dry and dusty region, with agriculture being the dominant economic activity. The Fereswoga community has around 1,184 households and 2,460 donkeys and mules. The donkeys are used mainly as pack animals and mules used to pull carts.
Donkeys transport grain from farm to market, and are used to transport water from water points for household use – there being no other way of accessing water.
The main problems for donkey welfare in the area include harness and work related injuries, and injuries or illness resulting from poor feed and shelter and poor animal healthcare by owners. Underlying all of this is that donkeys have a low status within the community which means they are often the victims of mistreatment.
The Donkey Sanctuary has been working with the Fereswoga community since 2011, and we made the bone shaking journey from Bahir Dar to see progress to date.
As a trustee, I can see the model community project is well thought out. It is very clear in what we want to achieve, and consists of four parts which clearly all make a significant difference.
As you might expect, we provide primary donkey healthcare. We have trained two government healthcare practitioners on equine medicine, and provide veterinary equipment and medicines to the local area. We have also designed the holding area for donkeys awaiting treatment to ensure it contains access to shade and water.
When we began work in the community 26% of our activities were related to harness wounds, which has now been reduced to 6% in 2015. A great success.
How has this been achieved? We have set up and trained ten local harness makers to make humane packsaddles for donkeys which they sell into the community. The local harness makers in this area are all people who have suffered from polio, and are themselves marginalised in the community.
So a wonderful benefit of our work to improve the conditions of donkeys has been the integration of those otherwise isolated and ignored into the heart of the community.
To make the changes sustainable, we work with the local community Animal Welfare Committee which consists of the community leaders including the religious leader, the government vet and the leader of the local community. The local leader was an impressive man who clearly had seen the benefits to the community of good donkey welfare.
Finally, as you might expect, sustainability in this model works best when the children of the community learn about animal welfare before poor habits become ingrained.
Animal welfare education in the primary school works via the local club. We train the teachers who provide sessions and provide the animal welfare club with books and materials.
The Principal of the school had seen the difference these sessions made to students and was a strong advocate of the benefits to students – in fact membership of the animal welfare club is now seen as a mark of achievement and success to pupils in the school.
The Donkey Sanctuary Ethiopia has clearly created a model which provides a direct benefit to donkeys and mules.
These improvements can only be sustained by the contributions of our fantastic supporters, and as trustee I can see clearly that the money we all donate really does contribute toward our vision of a world where donkeys and mules live free from suffering and their contribution to humanity is fully valued.