It was like any other hot, sunny April afternoon in Meshenti as fifteen-year-old Yibeltal Tegene and his three friends walked to school. As they neared the school, however, they noticed an odd shape on the dusty ground outside its fenced compound. The Grade 8 students realised that it was a donkey, presumably abandoned by its owner, lying listlessly. It appeared to be very ill, and painful wounds covered its back.
So often when I work with behaviour it is such a brief connection in the life of an animal or person and then I hear no more. It might be an email enquiry about a kicking donkey from the USA, a phone call about a nervous donkey in France, advice to a member of The Donkey Sanctuary welfare team or a visit to one of our farms to help with a problem, or may be spending time with a participant on a behaviour course who has a problem with their donkey. I always presume no news is good news, but I often don’t know how things turned out or if I made a difference.
Amid clouds of flour dust, heavy sacks of flour are loaded straight onto a donkeys’ back, still hot from the mill. The workers notice the hot flour burning the donkey’s skin, but for most of them, this is taken as a par for the course. It’s a hard day’s work for everyone in this busy part of Mekelle, capital of the Tigray region in northern Ethiopia.
A donkey lies on the muddy ground in obvious pain, her abdomen swollen like a balloon. A small crowd of people gather around, unsure what to do.
This was the disturbing sight our CEO David Cook came across during a recent visit to a clinic funded by The Donkey Sanctuary in Ethiopia to help the donkeys working in Merkato - one of the largest grain markets on the African continent - located in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa. Donkeys provide a crucial means of transport here, carrying heavy bags of grain between wholesale and retail customers.
Like many people in their village, life was once a daily struggle for 42-year-old Tucha and his wife 37-year-old Yeshi Keskas as they battled to raise nine children in the remote village of Bekejo in Ada district, tucked away in Ethiopia’s Rift Valley.
“As a husband I have great responsibility for all family issues, especially economic welfare,” he says.
What is the best way to start my first visit to Ethiopia since 2008.... of course it is a 14 hour round trip to a wonderful agricultural college in Alage some 225 km from Addis Ababa. Accompanied by two of my colleagues from the UK together with five of our Ethiopian team we travelled in two vehicles from the hustle bustle of the big city right out into a very rural part of the country in the Rift Valley
The town of Bela-Bela (meaning ‘boiling-boiling’ in Tswana language) in South Africa takes its name from the hot springs around which the town was based. The town’s baths have now been replaced by agriculture as the mainstay of the local economy and the town is growing on the back of the maize (locally known as ‘mealies’) and other products grown in the area. This growth means more construction and, where rivers once flowed near town, people dig sand to transport to construction sites using donkeys for making cement.
It isn’t every day that you get donkey-welfare advocates from ten different nations in the same room. This week, The Donkey Sanctuary has brought together 32 people representing key organisations from South Africa, Lesotho, Mozambique, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Cameroon and the UK. And what a week it is turning out to be!