Following on from hearing all about the issues with working donkeys in Veracruz’s busy urban areas, the team took us out to meet two ladies who were the first to sign up for the new project in Veracruz (see earlier blog: Supporting donkeys in the modern world).
Firstly we met Maria, an elderly lady, and her nine-year-old donkey named Panchita; they have been a working partnership for the past seven years.
Maria’s grandparents worked oxen – this is how she knew that animals were good for working. Maria’s neighbour taught her how to drive a donkey and cart so that she could buy her own to earn a living.
Maria and Panchita go around the city and collect rubbish, cardboard, iron and bottles, which she sells for recycling. When she sells it, she buys food for her donkeys and herself, but she said that prices are very low at the moment. Maria only gets 3 pesos (15p) for every 1kg of bottles she collects, and less than 1 peso (5p) for 1kg cardboard. At the moment the price for iron is low and they are getting only 2 pesos (10p) for 1kg, so she is holding onto the iron until the price increases.
In order to earn enough money for food, Maria works six days a week from 6am to midday. She feeds the donkeys on corn, and in the afternoon she shares scraps of her own food with them. We were flabbergasted to see the amount of bottles she had to collect in order to earn just a few pennies. Her work is so labour intensive and she receives so little in return, it is a very hard way of life for an elderly lady.
One year ago Panchita sustained an injury to her leg whilst out working; Maria treated her with traditional medicine, which involved weaving a bracelet of donkey hair tied loosely around Panchita’s fetlock. So that Panchita could rest and recover, Maria bought another donkey called Muñeca (Doll), who is four years old. Muñeca cost 500 pesos (£25), which was a massive amount for Maria, but she told us that it was a small price to pay to ensure Panchita’s recovery. Now that Panchita has recovered, Maria alternates the donkeys every week so they are not over-worked.
Maria was really proud to tell us a story of when Panchita helped her neighbours in their hour of need. The neighbour’s child was very sick and needed to go to hospital, so they asked Maria if they could borrow Panchita to transport her, and she was happy to oblige. She explained to us that Panchita quickly took them to the hospital and knew to stop right outside the doors, and then waited patiently whilst the child was treated. Maria believes that this is because Panchita is a mother and she could feel the angst the family was experiencing.
We asked Maria about the new project in the city and she said that she is very happy about it, as she does not believe in people hitting their donkeys and she is hopeful that the project will teach better methods.
It was a pleasure to meet Maria, she showed great compassion towards her donkeys and clearly had a very strong bond with them. Every time she walked away both Panchita and Muñeca called out to her to come back.
For someone who has so little in life, Maria was a very positive and inspiring woman, always happy to help others and willing to adapt to the new changes the government are implementing.
We waved goodbye to Maria and went to meet Argimira and her donkey Panfilo. Panfilo is 25 years old and has been owned by Argimira for the past 12 years. She bought him when her children were young and she needed to provide for them. She earns money by collecting soda cans for recycling. We asked Argimira how she felt about her donkey and she replied: “He is like my husband – I love him, he carries my stuff, he is loyal and he does not have another woman!”
Argimira took us down to the river where Panfilo was having a break from his morning’s work. She believes the project is a positive step as people can ask for help and advice and she also gets to meet lots of other donkey owners.
These two women were the first people to sign up to the new scheme and for us it was incredible to see the impact that the DS-UNAM programme is having – not only on the welfare of donkeys, but also the help and support it provides for their owners and the local communities. As well as offering support and advice, we are bringing people together and paving the way for a brighter future.