“Century after century, donkeys have been working in our community without receiving care or treatment – we didn’t really consider the donkey, we just thought of it as a hardy animal that can survive all conditions without care.” This is what a Maasai leader told me during my first visit to Loiborsoit village.
My name is Johnson Lyimo and I am the president of Meru Animal Welfare Organisation (MAWO) in Tanzania. MAWO receives funding from The Donkey Sanctuary for our community work to improve the lives of donkeys. This includes education programmes on donkey welfare, harness training to help communities produce their own donkey-friendly harnesses and donkey clinics.
When we first visited Loiborsoit village, I thought it would be difficult to talk with the community about the needs of donkeys and how to care for them as a Maasai is always said to be thinking about cattle. They may be always happy to hear about cattle, but would they listen to what we said about donkeys?
As soon as I got up to speak, I had my answer. After introducing myself, I thanked them for coming to the meeting before speaking deeply about how donkeys play a big part in our rural economy. And I remember when I mentioned that if there is no donkey today, there is no life for people and cattle tomorrow, I heard a small voice saying: “It’s true…”
As I continued, I reminded them about how important donkeys are to them during the dry season and pointed out how donkeys have been forgotten in welfare. Then, when I showed them pictures of how donkeys suffer, the Maasai elder stood up and said: “We have nothing to say except to ask huge forgiveness from our God – and thank God today that he has sent you to save the donkeys’ lives… we are ready to work with you!”
The Maasai leader told me he was glad we had come to his village to explain about the needs of donkeys and how to care for them. He explained: “We did not know that what we have been doing to donkeys was not humane. I was shocked to hear we had visitors that needed to meet with us to discuss donkey issues. Now, I call you the Donkey Lord as you are the first person to tell us about donkey care – even though we have being using donkeys since the beginning of time. Today was the first time I have heard that donkeys need deworming, eye care, foot trimming and good harness.”
Two months later we returned to Loiborsoit village and everyone was happy to see great improvements in the donkeys and how their health had changed. The Maasai were so pleased with the help we had given them that my family and I received an invitation to receive special thanks from the Maasai leader. It was a lovely occasion and we all dressed in traditional Maasai clothes.
But I couldn’t stop there – I wanted to achieve more. So we have since held several harness workshops with Maasai leaders and women from the community and have trained them on how to make a quality harness, as well as how to train others in producing them in the future to make this group self-sufficient. Thanks to funding from The Donkey Sanctuary, MAWO was also able to donate enough harness material to get them started and a donkey cart to enable them to fetch and sell water, help with community ceremonies and clean in their small town.
We are now working hard to promote this group who are making harnesses daily in order to save other donkeys in the community. Through the Maasai community radio, MAWO has introduced a special programme for donkey-welfare awareness and in it we talk about this group and their harnesses. And I have made a calendar highlighting their activities to promote them to the wider community.
I have given my life to save donkeys and I believe I can change their lives from worse to best. Don’t ask me to repeat my Maasai name… but I do know how to greet people in Maasai language now!
To learn more about MAWO’s work, please visit the Meru Animal Welfare Organisation website.