Brooke CEO: Reflections on my trip to Senegal
After more than a year of virtual meetings, Brooke CEO Chris Wainwright finally got the chance to visit Brooke West Africa last month. Here, he reflects on his experience.
Ever since arriving at Brooke in 2020, I’d been desperate to see our work in person. Of course, Covid-19 and travel restrictions meant that much of my first year here was spent meeting both UK and overseas colleagues virtually. However, there’s nothing quite like meeting in person and seeing sustainable change with your own eyes.
Finally, in February 2022, I was able to visit Brooke West Africa in Senegal. Upon arriving in the country’s capital, Dakar, I was overwhelmed by a city bustling with life and activity. Situated near the centre, I visited Brooke’s small, modest office and met the team, who were full of passion, energy and commitment.
Shade and water in Meckhe
We soon set off to meet a partner organisation in Meckhe, a busy market town with a population of around 23,000. Here, everywhere you look there are carts pulled by horses, shipping people and goods across the town and outside villages. Unfortunately, these carts are often overloaded and the animals overworked. I was also struck by the number of horses who appeared to be underfed. I was informed that this is because natural growing fodder is in short supply right now after a poor rainy season and the land is barren and arid. Some owners explained they were even struggling to feed their own families.
At the heart of town is an equine shelter that was built by Brooke after being gifted land by the local authority. Here, equine owners can access free water and subsidised feed for their animals whilst giving them a rest from the scorching midday sun.
I then met the local Mayor, who is hugely committed to Brooke’s work and wants us to do even more!
Upskilling local service providers
During my trip, I was introduced to a group of local service providers (LSPs) who benefit from Brooke’s vet network, which acts as an advice and mentoring service to increase skills and knowledge and ensure better access to animal health services for communities.
The group spoke warmly about how their skills had improved along with their standing in the community. Now, equine owners access their services more frequently and with greater confidence. Brooke has also provided seed funding to bulk buy some veterinary medicines to ensure they are available to LSPs. This, in turn, has reduced the reliance from owners on cheap and inferior black market products.
Improving the lives of animals and helping the environment
I was also lucky to visit a couple of villages where the communities are working with Brooke on an innovative project to convert equine dung into a biogas, creating a rich fertiliser that can be used to grow food and fodder for the benefit of people and animals. The pride and determination of the women in these villages to make the work a success was incredible. They talked passionately about how they were improving the lives of their animals and families whilst also producing environmentally friendly solutions.
Leading the way on farriery
On my final day I took a visit to the new farriery school, which was set up in Thies last year. Brooke West Africa has long championed the importance of farriery within communities and was instrumental in the creation of a new government-accredited certification in the craft two years ago; the first of its kind in Africa.
I met with the Director and only the second female farrier, who graduated from the programme. She gave me a demonstration on changing the shoes on a very unpredictable horse! The farriery school could be transformative for equines as not only does it increase the availability of skilled and well-equipped farriers, it also shines a light on the poor practices that have existed for far too long.
Before departing, I had a final meeting with the new Secretary General of the Department for Livestock. An impressive and thoughtful man who was effusive in praising the contribution of Brooke. He revealed that the Minister was so impressed with the shelter built in Meckhe that he wants to discuss a shelter being constructed in the north of the country where conditions are even harsher.
The Secretary General also talked about how Brooke had been able to put working horses, donkeys and mules at the heart of the livestock debate, ensuring they were properly considered when discussing food and water security issues as well as economic development.
Visiting Brooke West Africa’s work was a privilege and inspiring. It showed how progress can and is being made but also that there is still much to do. The solutions required are multi-faceted, from the provision of animal health services to the more immediate challenge of adequately feeding working equines. As important, is changing the attitudes and behaviours of owners. Not just so they realise that if they look after their working animals better they will have a healthier, more productive economic asset but that these animals are sentient beings who feel joy and pain, and that as much as anything else means they deserve a life worth living.