Under the crisp, winter sky of Addis Ababa, the Donkey Sanctuary Ethiopia (DSE) team have spent the last 10 days together to share and learn from their successes in 2014 and to plan their activities for the coming year. Until a few years ago, the focus was on treating as many donkeys as possible but the team found there was a limit to the number of donkeys they could reach and the root causes of the welfare problems were not being addressed so they would see the same problems, often preventable ones, reoccurring. Over the past few years, the team have been shifting towards a more learning-based approach where community members play a more active part in their donkeys’ health, comfort and happiness. As well as structured training and education, every treatment is also a learning opportunity.
This is my first time meeting the 40-strong DSE team and I have been hugely impressed with the depth of conversation, reflection and passion for donkey welfare. As staff shared their plans with each other, the different teams (based in key areas in Ethiopia including Tigray, Amhara and the Southern Nations regions as well as in Addis Ababa market and various universities and agricultural colleges) have been discussing good practice and challenging each other to find ways to make a real difference to the lives and welfare of as many donkeys as possible.
One plan for 2015 is to finalise a handbook for teachers in Ethiopian schools. The book is full of activities and wonderfully detailed pictures to help teachers to build empathy and interest in primary-school children. Over the past two days, we have been joined by key teachers, head teachers and curriculum development officials from the Regional Education Bureaus to present the draft resource and to put heads together to firmly link it to the Ethiopian curriculum.
But, just as donkeys should be ‘free to express their natural behaviour’, the same applies to those on two legs. On Sunday, we all congregated at a local secondary school for a fun-filled day of football, tug-of-war and all-round entertainment. The staff were grouped into four teams according to their roles in the Ethiopian programme, ‘Admin’, ‘Support’, ‘Community’, and ‘Donkey’, and the first ever DSE football cup was underway! The dry, clear winter weather had left the pitch so parched that huge, cracks had opened up (some deep enough to lose a leg up to the knee) so keeping an eye on both the ball and avoiding impending doom wasn’t always easy (cracks weren’t just on the field either; most of the team, myself included, are currently suffering from extreme forehead peeling after an energetic day in the dry, winter sun!) The final – Donkey vs Community – was everything it promised to be: an epic clash of the giants. Goals were scored, cracks were leapt, yellow cards flew and exhaustion started to set in, but eventually the cup was clinched by the jubilant Donkey team, as well it should. Well done Donkeys and thank you to the whole of DSE for the warm, supportive and productive visit!