A Burnham-On-Sea Veterinary Nurse has just returned from a unique trip to Africa.

Helen Jenkins provided care for horses and donkeys in the Gambia as she volunteered for The Gambia Horse and Donkey Trust.

Speaking to Burnham-On-Sea.com about the experience, she said: “The Gambia is a very poor country and many living there are in extreme poverty. The majority of animal welfare problems are a result of a lack of education and understanding, rather than cruelty.”

“The people rely on their animals for their own survival so they do everything they can to keep their animals healthy. A healthy working animal can increase a farming family’s income by up to 500% and buying an animal is a big investment for a family. If the animal becomes sick or dies not only the animal suffers, but its owners suffer too.”

She added: “I spent time providing nursing care to horses and donkeys in the Gambia which is a real challenge due to insect-borne diseases. They include Sleeping Sickness (Trypanosomiasis), African Horse Sickness, and tick fever which are all too common. When these problems are combined with poor nutrition and poor management caused by a lack of knowledge and poverty, the results can be disastrous for the farmers.”

“I provided the Gambian people with the skills and knowledge to prevent and solve their own problems, creating a long term, sustainable solution. By providing training opportunities for farriers, harness makers, para-vets, livestock assistants and blacksmiths, I helped to enable them to provide essential services to their local community whilst also earning an income for themselves.”

“Workshops are held in villages and towns in the Gambia to provide training for local people so that they can support their own communities with professional skills. Poorly manufactured and poorly fitting harnessing materials are responsible for a large amount of animal suffering, but it is a relatively easy problem to prevent.”

Helen continued: “Farmers are provided with information about the best types of harness and information about correct harness fit, loading of carts and equine care. When provided with education they are very keen and willing to apply better practices and workshops are always extremely well attended.”

Her time was split between the two centres; Matasuku and Sambel, where there are facilities to admit in-patients who require more long term treatment than can be provided at a mobile clinic.

She continued: “The team have nursed back to health patients with some extremely serious and life threatening illnesses and injuries, including equines with serious burn injuries, broken legs, severe fungal infections, laceration wounds and emaciation. One of my cases was an orphan foal I nursed until he was old enough to return to the family who owned him.”

“The GHDT is involved with a school education programme covers basic management practices, appropriate handling, harnessing and information about equine diseases, illness and injuries. Many of the problems that I saw would be prevented if their owners had the correct knowledge and knew what to do in an emergency situation.”

“They have provided 147 donkeys to needy families who were unable to afford to purchase their own donkey. The donkey recipients attend an intensive training course at the GHDT centre where they are educated about how to appropriately care for and handle a donkey. The recipient must provide a house for the donkey to shelter in before their donkey is allocated to them.”

“The donkeys are provided on loan to the families in need, and the project manager travels to visit all of the donkeys every month to ensure they are being properly taken care of, and to provide veterinary treatment if required.”

“The charity relies heavily upon dedicated volunteers who offer their time and services to help us, and employ a team of local Gambian staff. The GHDT is a small charity that has had many great achievements, but to continue this work your support is urgently sought. It was an incredible experience to be part of supporting such a worthy cause.”

“I encourage your help to keep this amazing going in any way that you can.”