.... AT LAST
Working in Sri Lanka teaches us the virtue of ‘patience’. After two gruelling years of frustration, bureaucratic lethargy, untold obstacles and crippling progress, we finally got building approval for the Donkey Clinic & Community Education Centre from the Urban Development Authority and Pradeshiya Sabha.
When we finally received official acknowledgement, a wave of disbelief washed over us. Could this really have happened after such prolonged difficulties? But it had. We have the evidence! Thanks Engineer, Vimal, and Architect, Sumangala, for final amendments to the drawings prior to approval!
The blow-out in time meant that we had to seek a funding extension from The Donkey Sanctuary UK for building construction – which Stephen Blakeway, Director of International Operations, approved until the end of March. We sincerely thank Stephen who has believed in us and been a source of great inspiration. We also thank Sally Price, International Programme Development Consultant, who has provided sound advice along the way and Harriet Pottinger, International Administration Officer, who ensures that the systems work for us.
Before the building has even been started, we have already put in place some sustainability measures. Our wonderful partners, Animal Aid Abroad (AAA) Australia, are already providing a monthly financial contribution toward the sustaining of the clinic operation. The funds will ensure the clinic has professional veterinary staff to run an effective operation so that Mannar’s donkeys receive the best of medical care.
In addition, the future manager, Alhathir, has started an agricultural farm which grows fruit and vegetables, with a percentage of the income to go toward the ongoing maintenance of the clinic and community education facility.
The pressure is on to design and develop a unique donkey cart suitable for Mannar’s heat and rough road conditions. A simple drawing and wire model became the focal point of discussions between our Mannar staff and a gifted designer and craftsman from Kalpitiya.
The donkey cart prototypes - two-seater and four-seater models – will be used for tourism purposes and also to be featured in a forthcoming video at the official opening of the Donkey Assisted Therapy facility.
The gifted designer is the partner of Helena from Kalpitiya, originally from the Czech Republic, who brought an injured donkey to Mannar for treatment in August last year. She is a sold-out animal lover who spent five days with us in Mannar. At the time she mentioned that her partner could possibly make a donkey cart and would check with him. He was keen!
We began to explore earnestly donkey cart designs from around the world. We were also on the lookout for carpenters from Mannar to build the vehicle when we unexpectantly received a text message from Helena saying, “I haven’t forgotten your cart!”.
We quickly arranged to go to Kalpitiya to meet Helena’s partner and discuss the project. Upon arriving, an attractive design had already been developed! We were overcome both by his enthusiasm as well as the attractive cart design – to be made out of bamboo!
We found another donkey near our office with a tin can wrapped around its leg, like a bracelet. Although it seemed like the donkey wasn’t in a lot of pain, the Bridging Lanka ‘fashion police’ thought it was better for the donkey’s image to have the accessory removed.
Staff members, Kelvin and Alhathir, enticed the donkey into the office compound, tackled the animal to the ground, held it down with much force and cut the can. After the op, the donkey lay still and calm, allowing us to stroke its fur. After five minutes it stumbled up and happily wandered off!
The Police rang informing us that a donkey had been struck by a vehicle. It was Saturday night and staff had returned to their distant villages for the weekend. A number of local vets were contacted but alas they were all out of town. We gave the suffering donkey food and water which it devoured. The poor animal’s legs were badly injured and it seemed as if there were serious internal injuries. Two days later a local vet administered the agony-releasing needle.
DAT building update
One of our Australian Bridging Lanka directors, Mr. Ponnuthurai Prabakaran, visited Mannar for two weeks to see our projects first hand. With him we visited the DAT site at Murunkan.
MARDAP officer, Mr. Chrishanthan, arranged for an electrician to come along so together we could plan the wiring works – where the lights, fans, switches, plug points and external lighting would go. We also discussed possible paint colours for the building. The day of completion was certainly getting closer!
WSDoM (Welfare Society for Donkeys of Mannar) committee meeting
We reconvened the monthly WSDoM committee meeting after a long time at the MARDAP centre. We discussed a number of our donkey activities but the main topic of discussion was the official launch of the DAT Centre.
The launch was scheduled for either March or April and dependent on the availability of the chief guests including the Minister of Wildlife or the Chief Minister of the Northern Province.
Sr. Josephine again promised that before March all the building work would be completed.
On that special day, Bridging Lanka will release a new donkey video promoting modern and positive sides of Mannar’s donkeys. Nishanthan Anthonipillai will be the camera man and director. It is planned to feature the new donkey cart in the video as well.
The site of the DAT Centre at Murunkan also houses one of MARDAP’s special schools. The children from this school will be the primary participants in the DAT program. Children from the Mannar based school will also come to the Centre for their own sessions with our talented donkeys.
This month we paid the Murunkan children a visit, distributed toys and shared some Christmas cheer with them. Our Director, Jeremy, made the kids happy by dancing with them. The children soon joined in. We’ll have to combine donkey and dancing therapies!
Sheila in pain
Nicholas is a committed, hardworking animal-lover and one of our staff. He works every day from 10:00am to 12 noon. His responsibilities include feeding our donkeys, grooming and taming them and keeping the area spotless.
One day he came on duty at our shelter to discover a disturbing sight. Someone had climbed over the high boundary wall and tied the hind legs of our Sheila donkey together with a rope. He was shocked and alarmed and raced to our office where he found Alhathir (future Manager of the Donkey Clinic and Community Education Centre).
Both instantly ran back to the shelter and removed the rope which had cut deeply into her flesh. Sheila’s suffering was obvious. It was a difficult operation to untie the rope because of the extent of the injury and not wanting to cause additional pain.
We applied medicine and tried to calm the distressed donkey. Sheila was heavily pregnant with two months to the delivery date. We believe that this dreadful incident contributed to Sheila’s foal being a premature and still birth. It was exactly 12 months previously that Sheila had given birth to Kelvin donkey!
Kelvin tried to contact Dr. Harshini our close friend and government vet. Sadly we discovered she had been transferred south to Rathnapura. He then called Dr. Ramesh Kumar from Donkey Sanctuary India for advice. Dr. Ramesh asked Kelvin to return to the vet office and find someone he could instruct over the phone on how to treat Sheila.
Kelvin met the replacement government vet, a new Sinhalese doctor, and had to start from scratch in explaining about our donkey programs. He kindly came to the shelter, examined Sheila and gave her an injection. Sheila quickly recovered.
We still don’t know who did this cruel act and what motivated them to do so. Our community awareness work is definitely not over yet!
Misfortune into money
Some time ago, Kelvin asked a local company to print a series of donkey postcards for sale to tourists. When he went to pick them up, the company had printed A4 sized colour prints not postcard sized! It was their mistake so they reprinted the job for us. Kelvin returned sometime later to see that the printers had framed the surplus A4 prints and were selling them for Rs 800! They were doing better sales than our postcards!
North-South connection via donkeys
Bridging Lanka runs a youth program, “Life Matter in Mannar” with Initiative of Change (IofC). The program aims to coach youngsters in leadership, moral and ethical behaviour, dealing with social issues like ‘love failure’ and also addictions. Most importantly it plugs reconciliation between Tamil, Muslim and Sinhalese communities.
IofC organisers brought six university students from Ruhuna and Peradeniya Universities for three days to undertake various community programs.
It was the first time the students were introduced to donkeys with the powerpoint presentation pricking their curiosity. However they were spell-bound when they encountered the real thing!