Most tourists visit Bahir Dar for its setting on the southern shores of Lake Tana, the largest lake in Ethiopia and the source of the Blue Nile, and because the town makes for a convenient base to explore the monasteries and churches on the lake’s islands and shores. I’ve chosen instead to spend a few days observing the incredible work of The Donkey Sanctuary Ethiopia (DSE).
“Women and donkeys like to be beaten”, “Women and donkeys are doing as they have been told by men”, “Women and donkeys are the same” – these are some of the proverbs elicited at a workshop on gender myths conducted during research by The Donkey Sanctuary on the socio-economic value of donkeys in central Ethiopia. Each saying demonstrates the inexorable link between donkeys and the women who rely on them and how discussion of gender equality should also include donkeys.
With rugged hills and mountains, Dansa village in Hintalo Wijerat district, 9 miles from Mekelle city in Tigray region, is the home of 250 donkeys in 300 households. The community in Dansa village relies heavily on subsistence farming. Every Monday and Friday many donkey owners in Dansa village transport vegetables and fruits to markets in Mekelle town. Due to uneven hilly topography, donkey owners in the village have to fasten a strap to a pack saddle looping under the tail of their donkey to prevent the load from slipping forward. In the past the strap was a rough thin rope which caused a wound under the tail, known as a crupper wound, on many donkeys. Based on an assessment we did two years back in a focus group discussion with donkey owners in Dansa village, 97% of donkeys had crupper wounds.
It was really difficult getting these senior managers to stay in one position long enough to take a photo, they were too interested in talking to each other and the donkeys! They headed to our headquarters in Devon recently for training and to exchange ideas about improving donkey welfare across the world.
When The Donkey Sanctuary Ethiopia first visited Bera Tedicho village in Ethiopia, residents hardly noticed the suffering of their donkeys. Every day donkeys were overloaded, beaten and forced to work even when they were injured or sick without basic veterinary care. There were even people who intentionally wounded their donkeys because they believed the pain would make the donkey easier to control.
I met 17-year-old Tadesse Tefera during a trip to Remeda primary school in the SNNPRs region in Ethiopia. He is so enthusiastic about donkeys, it really impressed me. Teenagers in Ethiopia usually share the responsibilities and tasks of their parents. Many are in charge of a variety of household and farming activities in addition to going to school, especially those whose parents are farmers.
Tewachew Sheferaw, 28, was once considered a burden to his family and the community. Having suffered polio as a baby, his legs are withered and he finds walking long distances and most farm work very difficult. His fellow residents in the village of Gurbite in Ethiopia believed he would always be dependent on others to survive. Living in a shack with his younger brother, every day he worried about where his next meal was going to come from.
Demeku didn’t have the brightest of starts to life. She was born in Ethiopia earlier this year at a time when parts of the country were reeling from a severe drought. Barely a month after her birth, her mother fell critically ill. With no fresh grass due to the drought, her mother had resorted to eating thorny plants that blocked her oesophagus and made it difficult to swallow food.