The Gambia Horse and
Spring Newsletter 2010
Every time I think we cannot fit any more into our already busy schedules, our magnificent Horse and Donkey staff rise to the challenge and exceed all our (and their own) expectations! The 6 months since our last newsletter have been packed full of activities and events which demonstrate admirably the dedication and hard work of our team. I would like to congratulate them ALL on their achievements.
The annual show was a huge success, thanks to everyone who sponsored classes and donated rosettes and trophies. There was a large turnout of beautiful horses and donkeys and the judges had a very hard time making their decisions. I realised that the children and their donkeys are really bonding well when one little member of the donkey ball team came up to me with a trembling lower lip to show me his third place rosette. I congratulated him and he looked at me with great sadness and asked, "But why couldn't she see that he is the best donkey in the whole of The Gambia?"
We had a large group of volunteers to help us with the show, some of them brought their partners and everyone was kept very busy, some doing work with the show and the animals and others constructing an adventure playground for the village school in memory of our co-founder Stella and her good friend Alphajo Barry, the late Imam of Sambel Kunda. The playground has been in constant use ever since and is very popular with the children. Thanks to everyone who helped with the planning and hard graft of building it, especially Russell Harris who designed, planned and ensured it lived up to expectations and standards: what a genius he is!
January saw the arrival of more much appreciated visiting volunteer vets and a joint venture with another Gambian Charity Called the Fresh Start Foundation that does fantastic work with children in another area of The Gambia, WSPA (The World Society for the Protection of Animals) and Lush, the company who makes all the lovely smelling toiletries. We held a clinic in a new area where The Fresh Start Foundation works, forged links and made new friends. I feel it is vital for charities to work together. So much more can be achieved and each organisation can learn from the other for the benefit of all.
Sadly January also saw the outbreak of a really nasty 'flu' like disease which had most of the horses and donkeys in The Gambia coughing and ill. We found that if it was left untreated, the donkeys in particular, developed pneumonia and died. Almost overnight, the numbers of animals that we treat more than trebled and the cost to the charity in terms of drugs, fuel and wear and tear on the vehicles was astronomical. This outbreak, along with the nasty neurological disease which has reared its ugly head again, has severely depleted our resources and more than ever before, we need your help with fundraising. The Gambians and their animals have many challenges to face, but the last three months have thrown more than is usual their way. I would like to give thanks to all our supporters who through their generosity have enabled us to respond to outbreaks such as this, but it has severely depleted our resources and we desperately need help now, however small, to continue to run our centre and the mobile clinics in order to visit the lumos (markets).
Calum's Road - Work is Soon to Begin
The end of January cheered us up, as we stood in the dust and the heat for the long awaited arrival of The Calum's Road motorbikers. As their shimmering headlights appeared over the horizon a cheer went up and it seemed to continue for the next 20 kilometres. This valiant group of men had ridden their bikes all the way from Britain to The Gambia to raise money for our road. Their determination was such that despite advice to the contrary they had ridden through Mauritania where there have been kidnappings and murders recently. They raised an astonishing £40,000 for the building of the road. Not everyone who had intended to do the trip and who had raised money for us made the journey, but to me personally and to the many people in The Gambia who will benefit from this road, they will always be our heroes. Thank you so much to each and every one of you. Preparations have begun and the community is hard at work to make sure that their part is completed before the heavy machinery arrives. There will be a Ceilidh on Raasay on the 28th May, 2010, to celebrate their achievement and to hopefully raise more money and anyone wanting to join us for this event should contact Johnny McMaster.
I cannot mention Calum's Road in The Gambia without mentioning the Dutch road building firm Ballast Nedam. Since they were approached about our plans to try and build the road, they have entered wholeheartedly into the spirit of the venture and have given us so much help and support in the surveying and planning of the road and it is hoped that if they are able, they will give us considerable help to see it through to completion. Ballast Nedam staff work incredibly hard to keep their work on the main South Bank Road on schedule and the work they carry out for us is done in the little time they have left to them. In addition to this I know they do a lot of work for other Gambia charities in other ways. If ever there was a company which deserved praise for its help to the communities in which it works, it is this one. Our sincere thanks go to you all at Ballast Nedam and we wish you success with the South Bank Road.
Horse and Donkey 'regulars' are familiar with the concept of Calum's Road but new supporters may not appreciate the importance of this road to the community. When Heather's sister, Stella, who was the co founder of this charity, was returning to UK for treatment on what was her last journey on Christmas Day 2007 she asked Heather to ensure that the tasks she had not managed to complete in her lifetime could be completed after her death. The road was one of them. The condition of this road causes countless injuries to the animals that use it as well as causing great hardship for the community. Heather made her promise to her sister and received inspiration from the story of Calum's Road in Scotland which was sent to her by Professor Max Murray, a Trustee of the charity and a lifelong family friend. Max writes below...
Calum's Road in The Gambia - "A Dream from the Isle of Raasay"
Reflecting on the amazing safari and contribution of the Calum's Road Bikers to the road in The Gambia, we realised that it is nearly 2 years since the seeds of inspiration were sown by Ron MacKay, a man from Kingsburgh in the Isle of Skye just across the water from Raasay. Kingsburgh is the village to which Flora MacDonald took Bonnie Prince Charlie 'Over the sea to Skye' and where she stayed for a while after her marriage.
Ron sent us a book telling the tale of Calum MacLeod who, single-handedly, against all odds, built with a pick, shovel and wheel barrow, his road on Raasay. As you know it was called Calum's Road. It was built through rough hilly terrain; it was nearly 2 miles long and took him 15 years. Ron, Calum MacLeod, and Heather and Stella have several characteristics in common, including, unbreakable determination and vision. We would like to acknowledge Ron's contribution to the concept of Calum's Road in The Gambia and for helping Heather and Stella to further fulfil their dreams for The Gambian people.
Pan Africa Conference - Better Management, Improved
Over the years we have worked closely with an organization called TAWS (World Association for Transport Animal Welfare and Studies.) This is a small organization of mainly retired vets who are willing to share their not inconsiderable knowledge, experience and wisdom with charities such as ours. Professor Ramsay Hovell, the founder of TAWS, has made several visits to The Gambia to give advice on making practical, affordable harness out of locally found materials and has carried out research on how to improve the design of the locally built carts to make them better balanced and easier to use for the horses and donkeys.
When TAWS suggested the possibility of holding a Seminar in The Gambia to coincide with the graduation ceremony of our students we gave them our full support. After considerable planning between our organisations and as a result of generous sponsorship from Mrs. Gina Jeffries, with help from Merial, Dechra and Stromsholm the seminar took place at the end of March. It was a huge success, with over 80 delegates attending and 35 of those were from overseas and represented some 12 different nations.
Presentations were given which demonstrated the considerable effort that goes into finding the root causes of the problems and the many ingenious ways of improving the situation for the animals and their workers. It was very interesting to hear of the valuable research that was going on and to see the work that is happening in other countries with similar problems. The social networking was as important as the delivered message and it was such a positive occasion with all the various organisations meeting and working so closely together. We have always felt it is important to work with and learn from other organisations and we have all learned valuable lessons. There was a wonderful sense of camaraderie between the organisations present and our thanks go to TAWS, The Donkey Sanctuary, SPANA, WSPA, The Nigerian SPCA, Animal Care Gambia and Gambicats as well as The universities of Liverpool, Glasgow and London Veterinary schools, The Gambian Veterinary Council and the drug company Merial as well as the wonderful sponsors mentioned above for their valuable participation and contribution to the success of the seminar.
Some delegates continued their trip with time spent at our Centre at Sambel. Seeing and experiencing rural Gambia and the problems we encounter was appreciated by the delegates. Opportunities to understand some of the issues with the carts and the harness, so important in The Gambia, where horse power is the means of transport and mechanical farming, were given to the group. Some expected a formal learning experience but it was a lot more fun than that, with practical experiments with the carts to demonstrate how simple changes could improve performance and some horse and donkey skeleton painting to show the necessity for harnesses to be correctly fitted.
Rachel is one of those success stories that we dream of!
This lovely bay mare was rescued in December from a place near to Banjul. She was abandoned in a field, but still tethered to one place so was unable to go in search of her own food and water. Her coat was long and staring, her eyes dull, head hanging low, and her body was emaciated. She was a little wary of us but when she saw us coming with a bucket of water her eyes lit up and she whinnied and whickered. We can only guess when she was last offered water, but she drank over 20 litres of water in our presence!
We were able to give her some immediate treatment which helped her through the time during which we were negotiating her move to Sambel Kunda. Fortunately, her owner agreed to us taking ownership of Rachel, so we loaded her up into a small truck for the eight hour drive to Sambel.
She arrived safe and well, but very tired. After allowing her some days to settle in we got to work on her bad teeth and feet, and put Ngara (one of our staff) in charge of extra feeds for her.
Since then, and with big thanks to Ngara, Rachel has blossomed into a beautiful mare. She is now a real fuss pot and comes straight over for a good rub if she sees you walking through her paddock. Her now smooth and shiny coat is glistening red in the sun and her once sunken, dull eyes are alert and bright. She is almost unrecognisable as the horse that we brought to Sambel in December.
She now has a bright future ahead of her, helping a family to earn a living, with GHDT monitoring her for the rest of her life.
Our Students Graduate
On the 20th March, tutors, sponsors, friends and family of the animal health students for whom we provided scholarships, gathered at the Gambia College for an awards ceremony. The guest speaker was Professor Chris Proudman of Liverpool Veterinary School. It was vets from Liverpool who designed the curriculum for us and who provided most of the teaching staff, vets in practice very kindly filled the gaps in the teams for us.
We were extremely proud of our students and what they had achieved and it proved to be a very moving ceremony. We were so lucky to have such an enthusiastic group of students and we hope to work with them in the future. Our sincere and heartfelt thanks go to all the people who enabled this course to take place, that includes the staff from the University of Liverpool, the private sponsors, WSPA, The Donkey Sanctuary and the RCVS Trust, we are delighted that they could join us and share such a memorable day.
We are grateful to the Gambia College for providing such a wonderful ceremony and for their kind hospitality.
A Volunteer's Experience of Visiting Sambel
After a 6 hour flight, an overnight stay, a 3 hour wait for a ferry, a 6 hour car journey, 2 x 45 minute boat journeys, the journey to the small village of Sambel Kunda in West Africa can only be described as epic.
A 2 storey house caters for the groups of volunteers that visit throughout the year. Overlooking the balcony are 2 large paddocks where the donkeys and horses have a good run around and leg stretch before the sun gets too hot (30 degrees would be considered a cool day!) and a short walk away is another yard for all the stallions.
Twenty two of us have left the cold behind to come to Sambel Kunda to offer help in any way it's needed including a vet, veterinary nurse and a small team whose sole purpose is to build a playground next door to the local school. I'd come as prepared as I can be with lots of teaching notes, visual aids and lots of laminated pictures to show the children.
The first week of our stay was dedicated to the Horse and Donkey show. We spent the first few days sorting out the tack that had been kindly donated by people in the UK. We put up marquees, bunting and notice boards and on the night before the show, we already have competitors arriving. There are no luxury horse boxes here; some people have to get their horses and donkeys across the river and some have walked for 2 days to get to there.
Show day gets off to a flying start with the centre inundated with competitors. Some horses and donkeys have just a thin piece of rope round the neck or through their mouths, so this is swiftly removed and they are sent off to their show ring sporting a new soft head collar. With such a large group for this year, there's plenty of help for judging classes, stewarding, running the tack stall, first aid stall and manning the veterinary tent. The vet is busy all day treating various injuries, giving wormers and advising people to visit the dentist and/or farrier who are also on hand all day. We see lots of horses and donkeys in beautiful condition, we have a fabulous write up in the main Gambian newspaper and the Donkey Club boys get to show off their new game of 'Donkey Ball' to a huge and excited crowd.
It takes another day to put everything away and then it's on with the general running of GHDT. Not only is there plenty to do at the GHDT site with daily wound checks on various animals but they also travel round 10 local schools teaching children about the care of horses and donkeys and travel out to lots of markets each week to treat any sick or injured animals.
Going out to the local Lumo's (markets) is where the harsh reality of the Gambia hits you; the days are long, hot and extremely dusty. People queue to see the vets and staff and we see everything from a horse with a septic tendon sheath, a horse with a badly swollen and broken penis, maggot infested wounds, burns, sores from poor harness, rubs and sores from tethering, abscesses, lots of horses with heavy worm burdens and levels of emaciation I have never seen. It sounds horrendous, but once you are there in the thick of things, you quickly get past the shock and have to just accept the reality of the place and get on with the job of treating them, making them as comfortable as possible and giving advice to follow before sending them on their way.
The charity is very well known in the area so sometimes on the way back from Lumos people would call and ask us to stop in to their compound on our way through, which we willingly do. There is currently a neurological disease affecting many horses and donkeys. It is not yet known what causes this but it's very often fatal. I saw one such case with a little bay horse that had been down on the ground for 3 days before the owners called the GHDT staff. Generally speaking Gambian's don't believe in euthanasia on religious grounds but when they could see how much this little horse was suffering, they agreed. It was a distressing experience and I fought every ounce of my being not to cry for him. But I was blown away by how professional and swift the GHDT staff were in dealing with the situation. They have received superb training from UK vets and they come in to their own in situations such as these. In order to learn more about this disease they had to take samples from various parts of his body, which is a job no one enjoys, but without these samples, they don't have a hope of finding the cause.
During this trip, I quickly realised that all the things I had prepared to teach and show children were just not suitable. Even things that are so basic for us here in the UK, like providing 'Fibre, Friends & Freedom' are not appropriate. Gambians can't offer an environment where their horse or donkeys have friends as they have a working animal, not a pet and they often struggle to support the one they have. They can't offer the animal freedom; when they are not working they are usually tethered to a pole within the family compound. The males are generally all stallions and there are no fields. In terms of fibre, they offer them what there is available, which is a hay so coarse that you snap each piece like a twig.
My experience in the Gambia has left me questioning so many things that go on in the UK. For example, if injuries like the ones we saw were sustained in the UK, the horse would be put to sleep without hesitation. As mentioned above animals are rarely put to sleep in the Gambia. Not only do they recover from their injuries; they recover extremely well and go back in to work, even from broken legs. It makes you think that perhaps we are too disposable with our horses here. Amazingly, they also recover from these injuries with little medical intervention including pain relief. The charity relies on vets volunteering from the UK and often has to manage for several weeks without one present. They also rely on drugs donated from the UK, so once they run out there's nothing else to offer.
There are 2 people I met who cannot go unmentioned. The first is Heather Armstrong who runs the charity, a woman for whom there is no commendation high enough for what she does. The second person is Anna, an Angel on earth if ever there was one. I have been humbled to tears during this trip; by the people I met and worked with, by the spirit and will of the horses and donkeys and I'm so very proud to have been part of this project if only for a very short time. By Joni Caswell.
Developments on the Neurological Disease
Once again, in December and January we started to see an increase in the number of neurological disease cases. This is a devastating disease and has affected the donkeys even more than the horses. For our staff in The Gambia it was very hard as they knew that once the animal started to show the symptoms, death was inevitable. The research we had carried out last year had raised more questions and identified a number of diseases that we didn't even know that we had in The Gambia.
Vets from the University of Liverpool had given a great deal of their time and they were joined by a scientific team based at Glasgow University and an equine neurologist from Edinburgh University. It very soon became clear that we would need to find funding for the research for although the vets and scientists were giving their time and expertise for free, air tickets, laboratory tests and the necessary equipment still had to be paid for. We are immensely grateful to The Donkey Sanctuary for coming to the rescue with a grant to help us to initiate research. Further funding will be needed. It is incredible to think that thanks to the efforts and initiative of one remarkable lady, Dr. Elizabeth Svendsen, donkeys all over the world, and through this generous grant that includes The Gambia, are receiving the help they need.
It is early days yet, but it is thought that a disease called trypanosomiasis which is caused by the tse-tse fly may be a major contributing factor in this disease. We have always been aware of this disease, but we saw it in a different form previously.
We are extremely grateful to Professor Max Murray, Patrick Pollock, David Sutton, Liam Morrison, Jean Rodgers, Caroline Hahn and the Veterinary Laboratory Agency for the help they are giving us to try and find the cause, prevention and or treatment for this disease.
It is not just the animals who suffer, people's livelihoods depend upon these animals. If the family loses its horse or donkey, the children may have to leave school or go without vital medical treatment because the family cannot pay the fees. These animals are vital for the economy of The Gambia and not only do they work hard, they also provide manure for the land and they do it without destroying the planet!
Bits and Pieces
Au revoir and THANK YOU to Anna.
It is with great sadness that we say 'au revoir' to Anna Saillet who has been volunteering with us for the last two years and has managed to make herself totally indispensable! Anna has helped Horse and Donkey move forward and has been part of the exciting developments that have taken place in the last two years. Her energy, capacity for hard work and compassion are extraordinary and she will be badly missed.
Anna has been responsible for some veterinary miracles, including Molly (the next Grand National Winner!) and Phoenix both of whom were badly burnt and she has become an expert on diagnosing the dreaded neurological disease. She will long be remembered as the founder of 'donkey ball' in The Gambia.
On behalf of everyone, but especially all the animals, we would like to say a very big and heartfelt THANK YOU and we wish you all the success that you deserve in the future. We shall do our utmost to take care of all your waifs and strays!
The Story of Little George by Anna Saillet
At less than 12 months old, little George has had a tough life. He was born to a healthy donkey in a village called Sotokoi. George's owners are very poor but they had managed to do enough farming to buy themselves 2 donkeys and were very lucky for the female to give birth to George soon after.
Just 2 months ago the family were confident of another successful year of farming, with 2 donkeys to do their ploughing and sowing, unaware of the turn of bad luck to come. George's mother became sick. She had contracted the neurological disease that we have been seeing so much of recently. We gave her the injections we could, to try to help, although we realise that the medicine often has little effect since we don't know exactly what disease we are dealing with. As expected, George's mother died and George was left to fend for himself with only the donkey stallion to keep him company.
George was also in a very sad state. We suspected that he had tryps (a blood borne parasite passed on by tsetse flies). On top of all this he had a fixating patella, which meant that his right hind leg didn't function normally and was mostly being dragged along behind him, his toe being scuffed through the dirt. This problem is fairly common in the Gambia and more often than not it will correct itself over time. After a good bath, some injections and some advice on feeding and physiotherapy for his leg we left feeling confident he had a better chance at life.
A few weeks later we were called back to his village, only to be told that George's friend, the stallion, had died. It became apparent that he too had been struck by the neurological disease. Our concern turned to George, who we found to now also be showing signs of the same disease. His body condition had dropped and he was going round and round in circles on the spot, seemingly unaware of his surroundings.
We knew we had no option but to rush George back to our centre and give him as much supportive treatment as possible. Very few survive this disease but we wanted to give him every chance. After some treatment George has made some improvement, but only time will tell the final outcome. Due to his tiny size he is much easier to manage than the big horses and donkeys who get this unknown disease, enabling us to nurse him in the best possible way.
It is not only the animals suffering. In less than one month George's owners have lost all of their farming animals. With the rainy season starting in just 3 months this is an incredibly daunting prospect for the already poverty stricken family. At this time of year there are no prospects of earning more money to buy new donkeys as there are no crops to sell. We will try our absolute hardest to get George better, but in the end it will be mother nature's decision on whether he will survive or not and we will find a way to help this family. Please hope and pray with us for George's future to be brighter than his past.
The charity has been extremely busy in the last year. Some of the activities were planned, but others, such as the disease outbreaks took us by surprise. We are a very small and comparatively new charity and unlike some of the older organizations we have not had the opportunity to build up our reserves to a level that will safely see us through difficult times. Not only have we had increased demands on our resources, but these have also come at a time of recession when donors find it more difficult to give financial support. We are truly blessed with wonderful supporters and we would like to give our thanks and appreciation to each and every one of you for the help and support you have given us, everything we have achieved is thanks to you, we could not have done it without you. Thank you all so much.
If we are to continue our work secure in the knowledge that we can ride out the 'rough' times and still be able to help The Gambians and their animals in times of emergency, we need to seek your assistance still more. Summer is around the corner with all the opportunities it brings for fundraising - there are many fundraising suggestions on our website, so please help if you can and please let others know about our work. We really do make every penny count and ALL our administrative work is carried out on a voluntary basis. We need your help more than ever before. Donations can be made by cheque to GHDT or via our website. Please see details at the foot of the page.
Many of you will remember baby Omar, who was a very sick little chap. We have been monitoring him closely and have been very concerned at his failure to thrive and grow despite many visits to the health centre. Some vets who visited recently listened to his heart and found that he had a major heart problem. We sent him to the capital, Banjul, where he is undergoing tests and, depending on the results, he may have to travel abroad to seek treatment. We may need to find funding for this. He is a cheerful little boy and has won the affection of all who know him.
Thank you all for your help and support. Thanks, too, to the volunteers, the wonderful vets who give us their help so freely, The Ocean Bay Hotel and Gambia Experience for the wonderful help and service that they provided at the conference. Thanks also to the staff of GHDT in The Gambia for the amazing work they do.