Tikobane Trust was a recipient of a 2020 AKI Africa-Based Animal Welfare Organization Grant. Their project aimed to improve the welfare of working donkeys by making 100 humane harnesses, repairing (mainly re-padding) 150 humane harnesses that were in use for some time, educating the community on the need for proper harnessing, and training 100 donkey owners in seven villages how to make and repair humane harnesses. The grant project worked around Hwange National Park in villages where Tikobane has found that donkeys are particularly over-used and abused.
Ndlelende Ncube, Founder & Director of Tikobane Trust (pictured below), told us that a man is respected in the village by the number of animals he keeps. But cattle, goats, and sheep are the only animals that really count. Even government programs that deal with livestock focus only on those animals, ignoring donkeys and others. "Donkey welfare is not a subject talked about."
But Tikobane Trust talks about and promotes donkey welfare through their humane harness making and community donkey clinic activities.
To make the humane harnesses, Tikobane uses conveyer belts (3 meters of conveyer belt to make 1 harness). Each conveyer belt has 3 layers, which are stripped apart to make 3 separate pieces (picture below, it's hard work!)
Then veranda bolts and washers are used to join the conveyer belt straps to make the harness.
Soft cloth and cotton thread are used to make the padding material so the harness is comfortable when pulling loads (completed humane harnesses below).
Zimbabwe's coronavirus lock down made travel and finding accommodations difficult (plus there were budget constraints). Tikobane's solution: they decided to walk and camp overnight (picture below).
Interestingly, when the villagers came to visit them at their campsite for humane harness training, the donkey owners were surprised--to say the least. They said, "Are the donkeys this important that you guys have to sleep in tents for them?" The Tikobane campers attracted a lot of attention and many more donkey owners came to the training sessions!
The rainy season posed new challenges. Tikobane volunteers rely on solar for power, but with the rains it was always cloudy, making it difficult to charge their phones (needed to arrange the trainings and take pictures) and they found some roads almost impassable. During the rainiest month (November), they had planned to conduct three humane harness education sessions, but were only able to hold one education session. In the end, Tikobane made up those sessions in the drier months (photo below). Similar to the situation during lockdown, during the rains, Tikobane volunteers had to resort to walking because vehicles just couldn't get through the flooded areas.
Even with the challenges, Tikobane attained most of their goals. They made just over 100 humane harnesses and they repaired almost 100. They inspected many of the harnesses currently in use, and found most to be in good condition. They trained about 110 donkey owners about the importance of humane harnesses and how to correctly use them. And they trained many people, including several women, to make humane harnesses (2 pictures below).
Upon reflection, Ndlelende noted, that "working with these communities for the past few months has been insightful and challenging. One of the main challenges we faced was conflicts among the villages. When other villagers realized the improved state of donkeys in some villages, they thought the reason for them not being involved was because the other village said bad things about them. The lessons learnt from the project is to firstly understand community conflicts as they can improve or kill a project no matter how good."
In the end the coronavirus lock down was beneficial to Tikobane's work. Instead of gathering in large groups, they moved door to door (picture below) and this way, "we did not meet only donkeys and their users, but their owners, who were so much interested in the welfare of their donkeys unlike only those who use the donkeys but don't own them. We believe our message reached the correct audience."