Educating West Bank youth to boost donkey welfare

Despite centuries of storytelling highlighting the donkey’s important role in the story of the Nativity, these downtrodden animals still find themselves in need of help and treatment on the streets of Bethlehem.


'The spirit of the animal lover is key': educating the West Bank

In the face of beatings, poor harnessing and a lack of veterinary care, our partners in the West Bank have been educating young people to give donkeys the support they deserve - with care, knowledge and compassion.

The Palestine Wildlife Society (PWLS) office sits perched on the edge of the fabled Shepherd’s Fields in the West Bank. It is beginning to boast a burgeoning collection of literature aimed at academics and young students alike, as more and more emphasis is being put on education.

Executive director of the PWLS Imad Atrash indicates that, without The Donkey Sanctuary’s support of the many talks and student lectures provided by the society, he could not begin to consider the change he is seeing in young people's perception of donkeys.

“We are focusing very much on the youth in the West Bank,” says Imad, as he shows us how their work is having an impact during a recent visit. “I chose to be close to the younger generation because I know that educating them to nurture the spirit of the animal lover is key.”

A thirst for knowledge is echoed by many young people PWLS reaches out to across the country. One student in a group discussion during a visit to Jericho told us: “I’m happy to know there are organisations in the West Bank for animals - especially donkeys. We need to learn more about donkeys and how to take practical care for them.”

Palestine Wildlife Society group
Palestine Wildlife Society donkey check
Palestine Wildlife Society workshop

From classroom to remote assistance: helping Deldel and Badar

“I don’t like doing all my talking in the classroom,” says PWLS education manager, Ibrahim Odeh. “It is important to take this into the field.”

And that, through the help of The Donkey Sanctuary’s supporters, is exactly how the PWLS is reaching young owners of otherwise-forgotten donkeys in some of the remotest hilltops in the Middle East.

On Bethlehem’s eastern slopes, beside the crumbling road to Mar Saba, a 12-year-old boy by the name of Badar flagged down a PWLS truck during our recent visit.

The boy, a Bedouin shepherd, tells Imad that he has seen his truck before and asks him to take a look at his animals. It’s clear his one-year-old donkey, Deldel (Sweetie) is loved, but life is tough for this donkey – spending long days in 30oC heat, with no shade and no water.

Imad removes the packsaddle from Deldel’s sweaty back and runs his hand along his spine. Donkeys have evolved not to overtly display pain, but when his back is touched in a certain sensitive spot, he flinches - a surefire sign that Deldel is quietly suffering.

Imad fits little ‘Sweetie’ with a fluffy noseband to cover the chain across his scarred nose, preventing further pain from the harsh tug of the lead. For the back pain, a close inspection of the saddle tells Imad that while the saddle’s design is good, the stuffing either side of the donkey’s spine has disappeared, leaving it exposed to the weight and constant pressure from even this youngest of riders.

Deldel shepherd donkey working
Deldel receiving welfare check
Deldel harness check in Bethlehem

Imad goes on to treat a small wound on Deldel’s nose using equipment from his Donkey Sanctuary-funded first aid box, and leaves Badar with the advice to re-stuff the saddle from locally-sourced material, and promises to return to check on his progress.

“This was a really great example of a section of PWLS’ work,” says Alex, our head of global programmes, as we bump along the bending streets back to Bethlehem. “The ‘Donkeys in Bethlehem’ project looks to solve the root cause of the pain - in this case the saddle - and educate the owner about the donkey’s needs. This is a far more sustainable approach for the donkeys.”

The Donkey Sanctuary works in collaboration with organisations on the ground to bring about sustainable and lasting change for donkeys. While the PWLS is engaging with the youth of the West Bank and assisting in training for veterinary students, there is hope that the future for donkeys in the Holy Land is looking much brighter.