A passion for donkey welfare shared between The Donkey Sanctuary’s founder, Dr Elisabeth Svendsen, and Dr Bojia Duguma has made a lasting impact on donkeys and mules in Ethiopia.

In our 50th Anniversary year, we are looking back to how some of the connections the charity has made across its history continue to help donkeys around the world today. We caught up with Dr Bojia Duguma, The Donkey Sanctuary’s Country Manager in Ethiopia, to hear his story.

Dr Bojia Duguma is based in Ethiopia and has worked for The Donkey Sanctuary for more than 10 years.

Bojia’s family had owned donkeys - he has always been appreciative of the help they gave and continue to give to families like his across the country. On hearing about the work of Dr Elisabeth Svendsen, Bojia made a connection that would change not only his life, but the lives of thousands of donkeys in Ethiopia.

“I started reading about Dr Svendsen, how she was helping donkeys,” he says. “I had great belief in her, the work of the organisation was making a real difference, so when I had the chance I decided to join.”

Dr Svendsen had been visiting Ethiopia to assess the condition of working donkeys in the country since 1986, and to understand their importance to communities. The Donkey Sanctuary agreed to provide funding for a joint project with the College of Veterinary Medicine and Agriculture, Addis Ababa University.

Dr Svendsen in Ethiopia
Dr Svendsen in Ethiopia
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The first mobile clinic began visiting the surrounding area in 1994, and in 1999 a new donkey clinic was built in the grounds of the college – the same clinic where Bojia was recruited to begin his career with the charity.

Dr Bojia Duguma’s story

He says: “A few months after I joined, Dr Svendsen invited me to visit The Donkey Sanctuary in the UK to receive training on donkey medicine – because donkeys were not part of the course in veterinary medicine while I was at college.

“I visited the sanctuary in Devon, and here I was pleased to meet Dr Svendsen. The first time I met her, I said: ‘I have to say Dr Svendsen, you must be one of the most successful people in the animal welfare world. You treat the most marginalised, underrated animals which no one ever choses, and you named the charity The Donkey Sanctuary, not after your name but after the donkey. You must be so happy’. Her reply was: ‘Of course I am happy’.

“Everything was so friendly and warm there, and I was happy to meet her. I told her how I worked for her vision, and I shared her vision. My family had donkeys, lots of people in Ethiopia need donkeys but not much care is available, so I was happy to share her vision. She said ‘OK then, what do you want to share, and how?’ I said how I wanted to make changes back at the University in Ethiopia, to help change their vision so they could see why donkey care was important.

Dr Bojia gives advice to owner of two donkeys
Dr Bojia demonstrates wound treatment
Dr Bojia at Ethiopia mobile clinic

“To do this, I would need a post graduate degree so I could become an expert in this area. Dr Svendsen agreed, and offered me the chance to go to University in London. I was so grateful, and excited. This empowered me to be able to train students, guide research and speak about donkeys.

“I continued to work for The Donkey Sanctuary because of the promise, the vision, the seed she implanted in me when I first met her. Once I had finished studying, Dr Svendsen gave me the responsibility of establishing an office in Ethiopia in 2008, and I became country manager.

“Today, we have moved far from where it started at the university in central Ethiopia, to regional projects in the northern and southern territories. We’ve reached many thousands of donkeys and raised the visibility of donkeys nationwide – the vision is now a reality, and our reach continues to grow.

“You cannot think of donkeys without The Donkey Sanctuary, because of the vision of Dr Svendsen.”

A helping hand can reach across the world.