DAT Program after the experts left
Following guidance provided by the wonderful Donkey Sanctuary India and Ethiopia staff, we started the Donkey Assisted Therapy program for MARDAP children twice a week. We selected four of the best behaved donkeys with the best temperament for the program - Saya, Sheila, Murray and Kavi. In the sessions we saw the children were happy to be with donkeys. However, the teachers started to feel reluctant to come close to the donkeys. Because of this, the children also started feeling less comfortable with the animals than previously. In response, we spoke with the MARDAP director and asked whether we could conduct an awareness training program for the teachers, to which she agreed. But another difficulty has emerged. Due to heavy rain, Mannar went under water and so did our donkey shelter. Unfortunately we have temporarily postponed the DAT program until the waters recede.
DAT Center Building
In order to progress construction work of the DAT Center at the Murunkan site, a planning meeting was arranged with MARDAP Director and staff and Bridging Lanka reps. A Mannarin Marumalarchi (renaissance of Mannar) Trustees and also engineer, Mr. Vimaleswaran, provided clear instruction about what still needed to be done, materials to be purchased and deadlines to be met for the building to be completed.
Commitment beyond the call of duty
We are indebted to David, a tourist from the UK who found us on the website and undertook the most profound and committed donkey caring work to date! David is a lover of animals and travels the world to be of use to them. He oozes a deep affinity with animals and clearly demonstrated this with our Mannar donkeys. David volunteered every day – in the sun - for three weeks, from 9 o’clock in the morning to 4:00 or 5:00 in the evening - spending time taming, feeding, watering and grooming the donkeys.
David’s dedication and determination paid off in that he successfully tamed three donkeys that the rest of the staff were finding very difficult to tame. He accomplished that feat in record time too! Bridging Lanka staff threw him a farewell party in honour of his selfless service to donkeys. David proved a great support for Kelvin and Robin. Thanks David for your wonderful help.
Developing our temporary site
Due to the heavy rain our donkey shelter flooded and our donkey activities there, stopped. To address this perennial issue, we asked Dr. Ramesh from Donkey Sanctuary India and our engineer, Mr Vimaleswaran to design and cost improvements to the site. They suggested raising the level of the low-lying areas, building an open air shelter with concrete floors so that the differently abled children could attend the DAT program both in times of heat and sun and also in the rainy season thus creating a more safe and secure surrounding. We are in the process of searching for funds. In the meantime, to kick start the work, we had delivered a truck load or rubble as site fill. This initiative will cost approximately AU$2,000.
Within two days a wet season’s worth of rain pounded Mannar leaving most of the urban centre flooded. The temporary donkey shelter and even the Bridging Lanka office were not spared. Donkeys and humans alike waded through their living spaces in search for drier and higher land. Not a good situation, but what to do?
Donkey maintenance brigade
Kelvin, Karnan and Roysdan from Bridging Lanka organized a working bee (shramadana) to clear sections of the grounds which had become bush and thorn infested. This will provide more space for both donkeys and the MARDAP children, create a safer environment and be a more attractive place for tourists and visitors.
Donkey clinic - the ongoing saga
The fightback was on! It was now all systems go towards establishing the donkey clinic and community education centre. James and Jeremy visited Fr. Roxan Croos, parish priest, Thoddavelli (village near Thailankudiyiruppu, the proposed site) to ask for a letter of support for the building application. While he was very happy to support the project, to satisfy him of community support, he asked us to get residents to re-sign a petition. In response we arranged another meeting so residents could re-register their support. This was followed by house to house visits for those who couldn’t attend. Over 20 signatures were gained from a possible 35. Some men and one woman refused to sign the petition because they had been warned by powerful parties not to do so. They felt intimidated and feared retribution if they did. Irrespective of the threats and possible consequences, it was the women of the village who clearly stood their ground and lent us their support.
More hoops to jump through
For gaining building construction approval, the petition, mentioned above, would meet one of the criteria set by the Secretary of the Pradesiya Sabha (PS - council). The next would be collapsing multiple land deeds into one deed with one owner, followed by a survey of the land – now all completed.
Even more important was developing a formal Agreement between the land owner, the PS Secretary and Bridging Lanka (BL). Alas, things never go smoothly. After developing a final draft of the agreement and only needing a lawyer to review and sign off on it, the task of finding an available lawyer proved most challenging. At the eleventh hour (before Jeremy left Sri Lanka), a lawyer was found and all parties signed the agreement.
Despite the many trials, this was a special moment of reconciliation. The land owner (Muslim), the PS Secretary (Catholic), the BL director (Christian/Buddhist) and two witnesses, one a Muslim cleric, the other a Hindu woman and passionate supporter, signed the agreement in front of the attorney at law (Catholic) - a magnificent moment of bridge-building and Bridging Lanka’s raison d’etre. And, this was another significant step closer to submitting our Donkey Clinic Centre building application!
A Lencie-inspired celebration
The Bridging Lanka staff and volunteers had a right royal celebration thanks to the generosity of Lencie Harding, one of the Australians from last month’s Mannar Donkey Tour. Her request - to ‘treat’ the BL staff as a gesture of her thanks for organizing the seven-day donkey tour - was taken seriously. A more than good time was had by all. The night ended in a spontaneous hug and a demonstration of love and unity.
Linking Colombo to the welfare of Mannar’s donkey
Three meetings were held in the capital to influence agency agendas towards our Mannar donkeys. The first was with the Department of Wildlife Conservation; the second with the Sri Lankan Girl Guides Association and the last with the Species Conservation Centre. Jeremy was accompanied to all the meetings by Visakha Tillekeratne, another Bridging Lanka director.
Wildlife Conservation: Dr Tharaka Prasad, Director, encouraged us to write to the Minister of Sustainable Development & Wildlife to bring him up to speed with our donkey work as he is currently showing keen interest in Sri Lanka’s donkeys.
Sri Lankan Girl Guides Association: in its 2016 program plan, the Girl Guides Association has chosen to adopt as one of its projects, the Mannar’s donkeys. This will also include fundraising activities. Firstly a group of 10 guides will come to Mannar on an exposure visit to better understand and participate in the existing donkey programs. Dimanthi Gunawardhana, National Secretary, and Director, Differently Abled Girl Guides, Mrs. Mahiya Rafeek will also accompany the girls.
Species Conservation Centre: Pubudu Weerarathna, Director, outlined what he would like to do to support our donkey ventures:
- Establish a Monitoring Group for the Mannar donkey programs comprising a representative of the Mannar DS office, Wildlife Conservation Dept, Animal Production & Health Dept Public Health Inspector and Environmental Police;
- Organise a re-count of the donkeys in the Mannar urban area with the involvement of members of the Young Zoologist Association, Dehiwala Zoo;
- Consider a research initiative to test the effectiveness of donkeys in elephant/human conflict situations;
- Visit Mannar on a regular basis to monitor the donkey programs.