In the 1960s two shoe salesmen are sent to a pacific island to see about the possibility of selling shoes to the locals. After a week the first salesman sends back a telegram to the boss, “Bad news boss, the locals don’t wear shoes”. A couple of days later the second salesman sends a telegram to his boss, “Great news boss, the locals don’t wear shoes”. It’s a story of uncertainty, optimism, potential and perspective, and that’s pretty much how I felt when I boarded the plane for Kenya on Sunday evening.
In 2011 I visited Donkey Sanctuary Ethiopia to deliver four days of behaviour training and a year later the same for Donkey Sanctuary Kenya (DSK) and this would be my first trip back since then. The aim of the trip was to spend a few days delivering some behaviour training to the harness teams from Ethiopia, Egypt, Mexico and Kenya, to get some feedback on what’s been happening and plan how best we can all progress our strategy of making behaviour at the core of our work with donkeys wherever we work, so I had totally no idea what to expect.
Having arrived at 6am, I made it through the Nairobi morning rush hour in time to meet the 20 strong team, and it was if I had never been away. Warm welcomes abound and after a short time to catch up, the three and half hour mini bus ride to Nakuru gave me some time to reflect on the work of the Sanctuary.
As I watched Kenya and the Rift Valley unfold before me, not the Kenya on a holiday safari brochure, but the Kenya that the teams from DSK work in daily. As we travelled it struck me that it was not only the donkeys we passed that were carrying heavy loads but also many of the Kenyans themselves carried heavy loads of produce, food, firewood, water, goods for sale and building material carried on motorbikes, on their backs, in hand carts - men, women and children carried heavy loads too. They seemed to be sharing the load with the donkeys.
It made me think how The Donkey Sanctuary shares the load too. Teams of staff in the UK care for donkeys on farms and in homes, creating a base of safety for donkeys in need but also creating the inspiration for our fundraising department to do their work. Press and events teams that communicate with our essential supporters who are moved to raise funds to support the work of The Donkey Sanctuary. Then there are the teams from accounts who manage and look after the funds we are given. Human resources who recruit the people we need to do all these different roles and who support all our staff to do their work.
In my mind the connections continued to grow - vets, projects, maintenance teams, supporter services, on and on everyone sharing the load. But it grew further to our international department and to their work with teams in Kenya and the rest of the world. Finally all this work and support reaches amazing teams in Kenya and around the globe and they go out and share the load with communities, schools, colleges, universities and individuals, all connecting to donkeys and mules.
But what then? Well, when I later started to hear stories that through improved donkey welfare and understanding some communities were earning more money and using that money to build a better communities, to pay school fees for their children and improve the lives not only of donkeys but of people, I realised that we all have a hand in Africa. The funds we raise and the resources we have all contribute to donkeys and people we will never see or know. It is perhaps too easy to forget the bigger picture when your head is down working but the work of all our teams and all our supporters makes a difference to donkeys and to people and that is something to be truly proud of and to remind ourselves of. By sharing the load across this amazing organisation and network of supporters we achieve things that no one individual could achieve. Thank you to all our supporters, because without your support and funds none of this would happen.
In part two of this blog I will share what our teams have being doing over the last three years with those four days of behaviour training.