Debbie, a registered veterinary nurse from England, embarked on a volunteering adventure to support the health and welfare of working equines in The Gambia. Here she is to tell you all about her experience.
"I would advise that 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."
"However, 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 from the animals in our lives. 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 was started in 2002 and the charity now has two sites in the country, of which you get to stay in both during your visit. Both sites have yards with permanent or semi-permanent inmates, and some need treatment on a daily basis. On-site, there are lab facilities for basic blood testing, a scope, an x-ray machine, and an ultrasound scanner, but this is often dependent on 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 others are spent visiting communities, where you offer as much help as you can to the horse or donkey, whether that's treatment, care, or advice for the owners."
"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 - 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 them also had chronic skin problems, as a response to parasites and the hot sun. They also suffer from blood parasites which are very debilitating for all ages, and although they can have treatment, it tends to be a permanent issue 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 was an incredible trip to The Gambia, and in my honest opinion, it was well worth volunteering my time and skills to make a small difference to the lives of these working animals."
If you’ve been inspired by Debbie’s experience and feel ready to get hands-on with helping working equines, take a look at our volunteer placements in The Gambia or our other programmes for vets, nurses, students, and non-vets around the world.