Me and donkeys go back a long way. As a kid I had “Ed” (see picture) who I used to take with me everywhere. In fact I still do! Even from an early age, there was something about donkeys. Their warm temperament, the inherent cuteness, but also the realisation of how they get used and abused.
Life, as we all know, has a habit of throwing us curveballs. I’d been working non-stop for twenty years with the last five years being particularly frantic. An idea started to form in my head about taking a year out. This would enable me to travel and volunteer. Volunteering for The Donkey Sanctuary was a no-brainer. I had started adopting Billy-O (see picture) a few years ago and always enjoyed my trips to the Sanctuary. A place to take your mind off the modern pressures of life.
So I started the year with a three month jaunt round the world. I got to see donkeys working in Peru (see picture) who were well looked after. I also saw donkeys in Mexico treated appallingly. It really broke my heart and I felt helpless. At the end of the day I can only do so much, but at least closer to home I feel like I am making a difference.
Since March I have been volunteering at The Donkey Sanctuary. Quite simply it is a fantastic experience. My main role is that of supporting the children when they are riding. The effect of donkey assisted therapy is amazing. Seeing children come out of themselves and enjoying their experiences is simply priceless. Every day always has its fair share of highlights. When not in the arena I also help in the yard and the fields. I was also lucky enough to MC at the Summer Fair. Quite often I say to people it’s not just a donkey sanctuary, it’s also a human sanctuary!
More recently I have been to Kenya on Safari. I confused my fellow travellers by being just as obsessed with the donkeys (see picture) as the Lions and Leopards! Donkeys are essential to many families, carrying a variety of goods and materials. Like with my experiences in Mexico, I saw a lot of donkeys in distress and again had that feeling of helplessness. It is not all doom and gloom because The Donkey Sanctuary has teams in stationary and mobile clinics across the world and these are making a big difference. This takes the form of medical aid and education, plus training in harnessing, farriery and donkey care.
So all in all, this year at The Donkey Sanctuary has been a wonderful experience. This first spell of volunteering has come to an end, but it is only very much the start. In the future I will continue to offer my time and support. I am so lucky to be part of The Donkey Sanctuary family. The journey is just beginning.
By Andrew Sneddon