One of the guiding principles of Roots and Shoots, a global youth programme, is that knowledge leads to compassion and compassion leads to action. I recently spent a day seeing first-hand how the Tanzanian chapter of Roots and Shoots makes this a reality.
Driving through the beautiful rolling plains of western Kilimanjaro, it is clear to see why donkeys are so indispensable here. Water is not piped to remote villages here so donkeys perform an essential duty to close the gap between the boreholes and people’s houses. They are also used to take goods from far across the sweeping plains to the regional markets, contributing vital income to the people who rely on them. However, for the poor donkeys, good harnesses do not prevail and wounds to the spine are common. They are sometimes attacked or beaten by people who misunderstand their behaviour. Even when journeys are short, handling is kind and loads are light, donkeys struggle with their nutrition in the dry season. Tackling such a variety of welfare problems requires a dynamic approach; this is where Roots and Shoots comes in.
The Roots and Shoots programme is part of the Jane Goodall Institute and there are now 10,000 clubs in 140 countries. The Donkey Sanctuary is supporting Roots and Shoots in northern Tanzania to tackle the welfare of thousands of donkeys in the area through grassroots activism in schools and community groups. One of the clubs we visited today was at Tinga Tinga Secondary School, a boarding school bringing together children from across Tanzania. The club members were keen to demonstrate their understanding of welfare and demonstrated what they knew about donkey-communication using a lovely glove-puppet which they named ‘Saint’. As well as training the club matrons and patrons to raise awareness of donkey welfare, Roots and Shoots have also trained local community group members to tackle harness problems; it was a real treat to visit a watering point with Logutu, a local Maasai leader, talking with a group of Maasai donkey-owning women about protecting their donkeys’ spines. On the hot, dusty day, I also watched with delight as a donkey cooled her muzzle in the borehole water with a look of absolute bliss on her face!
We also visited the Roots and Shoots club at Boma Secondary School and Lerai Secondary School to learn more. The clubs don’t just learn about donkeys and their welfare; through their activities, they build their compassion and this leads to the group choosing an action project to bring about a change in their communities. So far, action projects have included the children arranging meetings with village leaders, visiting markets to assess donkeys and talk with owners, planting grasses to feed the donkeys that wander into their school grounds, teaching owners how to make and apply natural insect repellent from local plants and teaching owners to keep wounds clean with salt water. It was a delight to hear from several teens who have taken the courage to share what they know with local owners with near-immediate effect on the welfare of their donkeys.
Currently working with over 1,500 children in 23 schools this year, Roots and Shoots are building up an upsurge for donkey welfare and they are indeed living up to that guiding principle about knowledge, compassion and action. As they share their stories and successes through their global network, their message about the value of donkeys also spreads to other chapters around the world. As one girl said today, ”We should be so grateful for donkeys but instead we put them in harm’s way. Each one of us can make a difference”. Well done to all the children who are acting for the donkeys of Tanzania!