How many of us have seen donkeys being overloaded — carrying bricks, mud, and sand at construction sites in and around Delhi day in day out and all we did was sigh?
We feel bad for a moment and say ”poor animals, I wish I could do something for them” but then just walk away, once again getting engrossed in our busy lives and soon forget these animals.
Hundreds of donkeys work incessantly in construction sites and brick kilns under unbearable conditions in soaring temperatures without food, water, or rest. Many suffer from open wounds due to harnesses. The owners beat or prod them with sticks to work faster. Most have eye injuries and bruises due to bricks and sand falling into their eyes on a daily basis. They endure a huge amount of suffering from their toil.
The Asswin Project
If it were not for Bob & Jean Harrison of the Asswin Project, some of these beasts of burden would continue to slog their whole life without any rest, and die a painful, lonely death. They left their home and children back in the UK many years back to come to India to help these animals and give them a life they deserve. They have spent their earnings, time, and energy to rescue, heal and nurture injured donkeys in Gurgaon, Haryana. They persevered despite a lack of funding and managed to rescue dogs, buffaloes, and cows along the way.
The Asswin Project is a UK registered charity which finances a healthcare programme for the needy animals in and around Delhi. The name reflects the work of ‘Aswins’ — physicians in Hindu Mythology who were said to attend the needs of the sick and reduce their pain and suffering. The extra ‘s’ of course is a play on words to link it to asses or donkeys. Every penny they get goes directly towards the rescue, treatment and care of animals.
A Day in the Life
Every morning the team transforms the couple’s Maruti car into a mobile hospital. They visit the brick kilns, construction sites, and slums. They are equipped with a first-aid box, fully prepared to heal hundreds of donkeys around Gurgaon — treating and cleaning infected feet, bruised eyes, cut ears, or maggot infested wounds amongst other ailments.
Most people living in these areas know them. You can often hear the ‘jhuggi walas’ (slum dwellers) saying “yeh hamare janwaron ke liye bhagwan hai”, which means ‘they are God for the animals’. They have an arrangement with vegetable vendors to keep the previous day’s damaged fruits and vegetables for them — bruised bananas, cabbage heads, and carrots which donkeys love to nibble on. Sometimes they even get mangoes for their dessert — a special treat!
“They are God for the animals”
Their sanctuary is heaven on earth for these animals and is home to some 190 creatures, including 25 dogs. There they receive the love, care and safety they deserve after all the hard work they do for us. Remember that most of the houses we live in and buildings we construct exist thanks to the tedious work of these beasts of burden.
A Special Kind Of Joy
You can tell how attached Bob and Jean are by the way they talk about their animals: “Aah, this one’s Jack,” Bob tells me while giving me a tour.
“He’s our oldest resident. We found him blind one November two or three years ago. The poor fellow has all those bumps on his nose from banging into doors.”
Jean expresses more using gestures, and gives a perfect rendition of the rustic “Oye! Oye! Oye!” to a donkey trying to pick a fight with an ass.
The couple is now in their 70s. Was this their plan for retirement? Well, they just wanted the donkeys to lead better lives. What will happen to the donkeys when they’re gone? They need to find a successor, or two — someone with the same strength, dedication, and love for animals. Someone who knows where Bob is coming from when he says, “I get satisfaction from cleaning hooves and knowing I’ve made a donkey comfortable.”
Ultimately, if it had not been for this wonderful, inspiring couple, the donkeys of Gurgaon would have continued working endlessly under tough conditions and died a lonely painful deaths. Us city dwellers owe a lot to this couple and I would encourage anyone to come forward to help them out in any way they can to support this noble cause — for the benefit and health of our delightful donkeys!
Once again a big thanks to the Harrisons, you are indeed God’s Angels on Earth
Editor: Vaila Erin Bhaumick
Featured Image: Asswin Project
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About the author
Bhavani Sundaram is and animal lover and activist from Himachal Pradesh in India.