Donkey tour de force
A turbulent three months of battling local prejudice against donkeys was transformed into an emotionally uplifting time in which a group of Australian tourists descended on Mannar to get ‘down and dirty’ with donkeys! They witnessed the start of our Donkey Assisted Therapy (DAT) program which brought together children with special needs with the gentlest of Mannar’s donkeys to improve the physical, emotional and mental wellbeing of these differently abled children. Seven days of exposure to the donkeys left an indelible impression on the visitors and an impassioned vow to support Mannar’s favourite mascot.
Magical mystical journey of the heart
Uniting Journeys, a travel agency of the Uniting Church in Australia, organised a two week tour extravaganza of Sri Lanka including a whole week dedicated to Bridging Lanka’s donkey welfare and other development programs in Mannar. Daily, the tourists fed and groomed donkeys, learnt about their care and handling and assisted the specially-abled children to overcome their fears to connect deeply with these lovable creatures. Tears were shed when tourist and parent alike witnessed the special bond forming between child and donkey. With courage, the children replaced fear with love for this derided animal. It was ironic that two marginalised groups – children with a disability and despised donkeys were bringing so much joy to so many!
On their evaluation forms, the tourists, without exception, stated that the most wonderful aspect of the tour was interaction with the donkeys, having the Donkey Sanctuary staff on hand and being a part of the special experience of seeing the differently abled children befriending the donkeys for the first time. They discovered the gentleness and beauty of the donkeys, saw what the DAT program could deliver and learnt a lot about these amazing creatures.
Thank you Animal Aid Abroad Oz & Donkey Sanctuary UK!
Animal Aid Abroad has lovingly supported our donkey programs for 12 months now. Without their financial support we could not afford to run our donkey care programs. Similarly, the Donkey Sanctuary UK is our great supporters. Recently their commitment and generosity towards our donkey welfare efforts were exceeded through their sending three experts to engage the tourists and provide all of us with the information and tools needed to establish the first donkey assisted therapy program in Asia. Tilahun, DAT Program Coordinator and Dr Yohannes, Veterinary Surgeon, both from Donkey Sanctuary Ethiopia, and our close friend, colleague and vet, Dr Ramesh from Donkey Sanctuary India, joined us for nine days. All three had beautiful spirits, tremendous commitment towards the welfare of donkeys and awesome expertise to boot! Unfortunately some of the female tourists fell madly in love with these handsome men which caused some friction with their spouses!
Donkey Clinic & Community Education Centre
The women of Thailankudiyiruppu including those from the widows’ association have decided not to give up the project and asked us to go ahead with submitting a building application to council for approval. We have drafted an MOU between the Pradesiya Sabha (council), the land owner, Al Hathir, and Bridging Lanka with the help of Arjun, our lawyer.
What is DAT?
DAT involves using donkeys in therapeutic work with humans. These donkeys can be included in counseling, teaching and education, rehabilitation, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, disaster relief, as conveyors of light-heartedness as well agents of anger reduction. Donkeys can also be used to comfort the lonely, the war-affected or those facing loss. For the differently abled, through contact with donkeys, they can learn life skills like confidence, self-esteem, communication and courage. Recent research points to the effectiveness of donkey therapy as a catalyst for improved physical, emotional and mental wellbeing for children, those with a disability and also the elderly in life giving ways.
The four pillars of the DAT program are to:
- Protect the welfare of the donkeys
- Protect the welfare of the participants
- Design individual thera-peutic plans
- Devise an enriching and holistic program.
The welfare of donkeys is directly related to the welfare of the children so is a paramount objective.
Drafting a DAT MOU
At a meeting with MARDAP Director, Sr Josephine, the roles and responsibilities of the three partner agencies – Donkey Sanctuary, MARDAP and Bridging Lanka were teased out, together with updates on the progress of the DAT centre construction and the recruitment of staff for the DAT program.
Ideas for Donkey Businesses
As part of the tour program, the tourists were asked to pool their ideas towards creating a financially sustainable donkey operation. They quickly started developing a business plan, and had a lot of fun doing so! The ideas ranged from donkey rides at Keeri Beach, cart rides, donkey tours advertised through Colombo-based travel agencies, an international donkey day, a donkey experience including rides, awareness workshops, a BBQ and donkey feeding sessions, getting exposure in Lonely Planet and choosing donkey ambassadors in Australia.
Long and boisterous business discussions
After undertaking a SWOT analysis, the team of tourists discussed how to increase the positive aspects and decrease the negative of their strategies. For positive development they resolved to form a working group and expand networks through churches and friends, create postcards and bookmarks for Christmas, print donkey calendars, prepare promotional stories and using Uniting Journeys to really promote this venture. To address the negatives, they suggested using small local ‘change agent’ groups to promote donkeys, focus on young people to carry the message and show donkeys in positive ways.
School awareness program
About a hundred Advanced Level students were released from their classes to participate in a donkey awareness program at Sithvinayakar Hundu College. Dr Ramesh, Tilahun, Dr Yohannes and Bridging Lanka staff wooed the students into transforming their negative views on donkeys At the event’s conclusion, two female students offered their assistance to make a difference and influence their families in adopting donkeys because they realised that caring for them could not be done by a few. The ‘can do’ energy was palpable.
Adopting Mannar donkeys
On the last day, six wonderful individuals adopted donkeys – Lencie adopted ‘Kavi’ because she fell in love with the a Bridging Lanka staff member ‘s 14 year old son with the same name; Helen adopted ‘Sheila’, naming the donkey after her mother; Sue adopted ‘Hotham’ named after a mountain in Victoria, Australia; Murray and Sophia adopted ‘Murray’; Cynthia adopted ‘Baby Cynthia’ and Helen from Tasmania adopted ‘Evelyn’ after her first grand daughter.
With the help of the Donkey Sanctuary staff, the donkeys were dewormed and microchipped (apart from ‘Cynthia’s as the foal was too young). The twelve donkeys at the temporary site now receive a more balanced diet of rice bran (from our widows’ rice mill), chick peas, coconut oil, vegetables and left over food from the staff lunches from the garment factory.