Kathryn from The Gambia Experience visits the new Gambia Horse and Donkey Trust centre near Mandina Lodges, to learn first-hand about the charity’s work.
Gambia Horse and Donkey Trust was founded in 2002 by the late Stella Marsden OBE and her sister Heather Armstrong, with the aim to reduce rural poverty in The Gambia through improving the health, welfare and productivity of working animals.
With the new centre opening last year near Brikama, it’s within easy reach of the main resort areas, and therefore easier for tourists to visit. More importantly, and quite intentionally, it’s also close to the University of The Gambia and The Gambia College, allowing frequent training visits from the local students. Some of these students are lucky enough to gain some practical experience, by spending a few weeks at the centre.
When I learnt that the new centre had opened right next door to Mandina Lodges, where I would be spending part of my honeymoon, I wanted to make time for a visit. I’d heard of the trust when I first started working for The Gambia Experience more than 12 years ago and had always admired the drive and commitment of their founders, staff and volunteers. Until now, their only base was in a remote village up country, so a visit had never before been practical.
By coincidence, over breakfast at Gatwick as we waited for our flight, I overheard the couple on the next table talking about The Gambia. My ears pricked up as my curiosity as ever got the better of me. When I heard they were heading out to The Gambia to volunteer at the new centre, I introduced myself, and met Jan, a volunteer vet from Hampshire and Marie, an equine nurse from Derbyshire.
A couple of days later we found ourselves saying hello again.
Our visit to the Horse and Donkey Trust
On the second day of our time at Mandina, we headed over to the Horse and Donkey Trust's new centre and were welcomed by Musa, one of the local members of staff. He was eager to tells us more about their work. He was originally from Serrekunda, the largest city in The Gambia.
We learnt how volunteer vets, equine dentists and farriers work from a mobile clinic travelling around the country, treating animals, and training local farmers in equine care. Most avoidable injuries or diseases are caused by lack of knowledge rather than wilful neglect. After all, buying a donkey is a huge investment for a Gambian and it’s in their interest to keep their animal in good health. The charity estimates that “a healthy working animal can increase a farming family's income by up to 500%.”
When a donkey or horse is found that’s in need of the Trust's assistance, if it can’t be helped there and then, it’s taken to the centre for ongoing treatment. The owners of course rely on the donkey, so another is lent to the family to fill the gap.
Since the trust was formed, they have distributed more than 5,000 donkeys all over The Gambia. Musa explained that a check is completed each month, to make sure the animals are being well cared for and are in good health. Unlike horses, donkeys are well suited to life in The Gambia.
As well as educating the farmers, the trust also visits schools to educate children, typically between the ages of nine and 12, as traditionally young boys are the careers for the family’s animals.
We had not been at the Trust very long before I spotted Jan and said hello. He knew I wanted to write about the trust and he was eager to show me around, whisking me away from the others to show me the conditions under which they worked. As Jan explained “the veterinary dispensary has masses of some products and very little of others.” Both his passion and his frustration were palpable as he showed me around the virtually empty building, with no operating tables and little equipment.
When I returned to the others, my husband Neill was in deep conversation with Mike, a volunteer farrier from the UK, here to train staff in farrier techniques.
Neill had found the visit fascinating, and he wasn’t the least bit disappointed to have spent a small part of our honeymoon with the donkeys, horses, staff and volunteers at The Gambia Horse and Donkey Trust.
Jan and I have kept in touch and you can read a guest blog post about his experience volunteering at the centre on The Gambia Experience’s blog, Volunteering at The Gambia Horse and Donkey Trust.