When we arrived at the village, we found a boy called Temesegen Mera leading his cattle to the river for water. He is a grade 4 student in the nearby primary school, one of the schools supported by our project where we have trained six teachers to deliver animal welfare and empathy education. Around 200 students are members of our Animal Welfare Club at the school and attend animal welfare sessions.
When we asked Temesegen what he has been taught in class, he described every little detail of animal welfare as if we had trained him ourselves! We were impressed by his knowledge and accepted his invitation to visit his home so we could see how his family manage their donkeys. His family has 17 members of all ages, from grandchildren to grandparents. When we asked them about their donkeys, his father Mr Mera told us that they have two – a jenny and its foal. The jenny has served his family for nine years and has had four foals so far, of which three have been sold and the remaining one is still with her.
Mr Mera said: “Our donkey means everything for our family; we need it to transport everything to and from home – particularly water.” He added: “To start a family and become a wealthy farmer you need a donkey, an oxen and an axe.”
His wife added energetically in simple words: “No donkey; no family! They are our existence and we depend on them.”
Mr Mera went on to explain that a few years ago, no one gave a second thought to their donkeys, that they had a negative image. He told us: “They neglected them, beat them, never took them to veterinary clinics and loaded them with no or little padding. As a result the donkeys used to develop wounds, become thin and die young. But now things are changing,” Mr Mera explained. “We use proper padding before loading, provide feed and water during work, visit veterinary clinics when donkeys get ill and seek out vaccinations. We treat donkeys like one of our family!”
When we asked him why things had changed, he told us: “Our son Temesegen has learned all about donkey management at school. After school he talks about donkeys, and reads stories and poems. He provides food and water for our donkeys, cleans the shelter, and approaches them without fear. He has made us aware of all the good things about donkeys and taught us to behave like we do now. More importantly, my family now realises how important donkeys are, especially for water: No donkey, no water; no water, no family. That is how I describe donkeys in my family.”