Like many people in their village, life was once a daily struggle for 42-year-old Tucha and his wife 37-year-old Yeshi Keskas as they battled to raise nine children in the remote village of Bekejo in Ada district, tucked away in Ethiopia’s Rift Valley.
“As a husband I have great responsibility for all family issues, especially economic welfare,” he says.
The turning point came when Tucha met staff from The Donkey Sanctuary in Ethiopia’s Debre Zeit programme. One of their goals is to improve donkey welfare by training community members in good harness making. Having talked to them, Tucha began to see his family’s troubles in a different light.
“As we were suffering from lack of jobs and a shortage of food, the donkeys in and around Bekejo were also suffering from back sores and wounds,” he says.
That was in 2010 when Tucha was among six people in Ada district trained to make welfare-friendly harnesses.
“The people in my village didn’t use pack saddles,” he says, explaining why the donkeys were in a bad state. He decided to start making comfortable harnesses to sell to donkey owners in his village. “It was also a way to solve my jobless situation. It gave me courage.”
Custom trickled in slowly at first, but gradually Tucha has become a go-to for donkey owners and handlers in the neighbourhood. Tucha is now making more than 80 pack saddles a month, and his harnesses are now sold in three local markets up to 25km away.
Used correctly, welfare-friendly pack saddles make a huge difference to the lives of donkeys as the straw padding helps protect against wounds and sores caused by rubbing.
Tucha’s life has changed too. With his earnings, he has been able to buy land and build a new house. Most important of all, he can now afford to pay for his children’s education. His wife and three of his children are helping run the business.
“Now there is food on the table for my family, and donkeys are not suffering from back wounds,” he says proudly. “I have become a better business person and I’m helping donkeys.”
Now Tucha wants to expand the family business to nearby districts.
Instead of the crestfallen man who struggled to make ends meet, Tucha is now a pillar of his community looked up to as a man of knowledge and skill.
Since 2010, The Donkey Sanctuary in Ethiopia has trained 16 harness makers in the district, and Tucha doesn’t want the work to stop there.
“I want to advise more people who are interested in taking part in this business,” he says. “I want to see more harness makers like myself and my family across Ethiopia.”