Imagine walking the length of 225 football pitches every day for six months in hot, dusty conditions, carrying on your back a load equal to your own body weight over half that distance. That’s what the donkeys and mules working in Rajakhera, India, must do in the brickmaking season between December and June each year, as they carry bricks from fields where they are being sun-dried to the furnaces where they will be baked. Like them, millions of donkeys around the world labour in taxing condition in brick kilns and construction sites, forming a workforce that remains invisible and largely unvalued.
On the morning of Wednesday 28 September 2016, several of us at The Donkey Sanctuary will be swapping our work boots for walking shoes as we head from the site of our current hospital at Trow Farm to the state-of-the-art new premises under construction at Brookfield. The walk is symbolic in many ways, not least because through it we wish to highlight the hard work that millions of donkeys do every single day to help build cities brick by heavy brick.
In countries such as India, Egypt and Nepal, they are used in the brick-making process in conditions that are harsh for both people and animals. On the periphery of Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, they help transport cement blocks, bricks, sand, cement, wood, corrugated iron sheets and water to construction sites, carrying up to 120 kgs per trip. On the Kenyan island of Manda, cart donkeys are used to transfer coral building blocks from quarries to the port, from where they are carried by traditional dhow boats to Lamu island for construction.
The Donkey Sanctuary collaborates with partners in these and over 25 other countries to alleviate the suffering of the hard-working donkeys and to educate the communities that depend on them for their livelihood. In doing so, we draw upon the three core ethos that underpin our mission - compassion, collaboration, and creativity. Our teams train owners to make better harnesses and carts using cheap, locally available materials, educate them on humane handling and welfare practices, and provide support to wounded or sick animals. Our efforts have benefited thousands of working donkeys globally, but there’s much more to be done still.
Our walk on Wednesday is a small step towards highlighting donkeys’ contribution to humanity and a pledge to keep working towards Dr Svendsen’s vision of a world where they live free from suffering and their contribution to humanity is fully valued.