Debbie Baird, a vet nurse from Mark Nelson Vets in Westerham, Surrey, has just returned from a volunteering trip to assist with the care of working equines in The Gambia. This is her blog…
I would advise anyone contemplating a volunteer experience to go for it! Volunteering in The Gambia has been a great experience; you live with the locals so get a real feel for the country and how they live with and depend on their animals.You do have to go with an open mind, especially when working with animals such as these. The animals are not pets and their life is very different to ours. Working equines have an important job and many families depend on them for their livelihoods in a place where veterinary access is hardly available. With limited resources, you often need to think about alternative ways to achieve a goal or treat a patient.
The Gambia Horse and Donkey Trust has been running 15 years in two sites in the country and you get to stay at both sites during your visit. Both sites have yards with permanent or semi-permanent inmates, and some need treatment on a daily basis. There are lab facilities for basic blood testing, a scope, X-ray machine and ultra sound scanner but this is often dependent on the sporadic electricity! The staff are brilliant, very willing to learn and do a great job, plus being good fun and welcoming.Some days are spent in the yard, and on others there will be communities requesting visits, market days and donkey rank days, where you offer any help you can whether it be treatment of a horse or donkey, or advice on care.
In general, I thought the donkeys were in good shape. They are such great little workers so it's good to give them proper bits and padding and head collars to make their life more comfortable.
However, many of the horses were not in as good a condition. They are constantly bitten by flies and ticks, so if you want to take any supplies I would suggest sweet itch products or fly spray or even medicated shampoo. Any donations are always gratefully received by the staff here.
Many of the working equines also had chronic skin problems, as a response to parasites and the hot sun. They also suffer from blood parasites which is very debilitating for all ages, and although they can have treatment, it tends to be a permanent problem in its effect on them and they struggle to regain their previous health. This is why the work out here is so important, to provide treatment and promote the ongoing welfare of these animals, despite the difficult conditions they live in.
Medications are limited, so you must be able to think outside the box and do your best for the patient with what you have available and with the advice you give the owner to make the patient’s life better.
It has been an incredible trip to the GHDT, well worth going and volunteering your time and skills to help these working animals! If you've been inspired by Debbie's experience, read more about our project in The Gambia and apply here.