Driving with all ears and eyes on the road, Livingstone Masija, the Programme Manager at ASPA (Arusha Society for the Protection of Animals) expertly navigated the many goats, donkeys, children and chickens that filled the dusty dirt track into the hills to the south of Arusha in Tanzania. I’ve spent the past couple of days with ASPA and our time in the office has been balanced with time in preventing wounds the local markets and wells where the team works so I can learn more about the welfare issues they face and meet some of the donkey owners they work with. Today, I was joining the team for a community training activity in Nadosoito village.
The mixed community around Arusha mainly use donkeys for transporting grain, produce, charcoal and firewood to the markets and for collecting water. Whilst there are many good examples of where donkeys are provided with shelter, water and adequate food, almost all the ‘harness’ we saw (in reality, just rice-sacks tied to the donkeys with thin nylon ropes) were causing wounds on their backs and legs. We also saw several other signs of injury caused by working practices. When we arrived in Nadosoito (an area of around 5,000 people and 1,000 donkeys), a quick welfare assessment of the area revealed a similar story. One donkey’s back was so sore that the owner had put a ring of plastic around the donkey’s neck to prevent her from turning her head to rub the wound with her mouth. In many cases, there was no harness or pack saddle at all; instead, two or more heavy sacks were tied together and simply slung either side of the donkey’s back so that the ropes cut into the spine.
A group of 30 women from the community were waiting for us. Livingstone and Caroline (one of ASPA’s volunteer staff) had visited the community several times to build a rapport and to understand the issues at work, so today was a milestone in their work here: the day the women made improved harnesses. ASPA’s staff receives harness training, support and funding from The Donkey Sanctuary and are in an excellent position to bring about a significant shift in practice. After a quick recap of the advantages of changing the design, the women rolled up their sleeves and got stuck in to cutting the natural-fibre sacks to the right size, deftly stitching panels in the right places, stuffing them with straw and sewing up the finished product.
While the women stitched and stuffed, Livingstone and I took the chance to talk with some of the owners about their lives and the lives of their donkeys. One older woman told us about how she only had one donkey and was struggling to look after him because she had a bad leg. Another explained that she had bought a skinny donkey in bad condition and that it was now much healthier.
The day was a success. Pleased with the final product, one woman emerged from stuffing the sacks and excitedly told us about how she was keen to show off the design and how she was planning to see if she could reproduce it and sell them to other donkey owners. As well as supporting the women to do just that, the ASPA team will be returning to Nadosoito to monitor and make any design improvements needed.
Although the first efforts may not have been perfect, there was a definite sense of achievement in the air (as well as a large swarm of angry bees from a disturbed nest, but that is another story..!) and the women were enthusiastically requesting follow-up visits to learn how to improve. As we drove back to Arusha passing hundreds of donkeys returning from market with sores and rubbed skin, it was uplifting to know that the winds of change are starting to blow in this community.