We arrived in Marrakesh, Morocco, and the buzz and energy of the city hit us immediately. There were cars, scooters, horse carriages, donkeys and many other animals jamming the roads. It is something you don’t see in the U.S.
Your senses come alive with the colors, smells, sights and sounds of the city. So much activity makes it easy to miss things. We did notice, while dodging horse carriages, that many of the horses had green bands wrapped around one of their legs. We wondered what the green bands meant. What do you think? We found out a few days later.
What happens when working animals are injured in Marrakesh? Here’s where the story gets remarkable.
A woman and her daughter literally changed the world for working animals and the working poor who own them. Working animals are any animals used to help people perform their work. Donkeys, mules, horses, camels, and field cattle are the most common.
Kate Hosali and her daughter Nina said enough is enough back in 1923 when injured working animals were left untreated because their owners didn’t have the money to care for them. The two women founded SPANA, a welfare charity that treats the animals and educates the owners, free. http://www.spana.org.ma/
Animals are essential to the livelihood of millions of families in the developing world, and SPANA works to improve their lives through free veterinary care, education, training and emergency response. They also loan owners a substitute working animal while theirs is recovering, so wages are not lost.
We like to donate time to organizations that inspire us, so we chose SPANA on our visit to Marrakesh. It was our honor to meet Professor Hamid Belemlih, the Country Director for Morocco, whose vision and leadership has brought SPANA Morocco to where it is today.
One of the first veterinarians in the country, Professor Belemilh pioneered the curriculum Moroccan universities still use today to train their veterinarians. In fact, the professor personally educated and trained all 32 vets that are currently on staff with SPANA in Morocco.
The facility we worked in was in the heart of Marrakesh and was formerly an army stable for military forces. On the day we volunteered, we watched many animal owners walk through the gates, wait patiently for the vet to check out and treat their animal then get back to work. The beautiful thing was there was no shame no guilt around this process; it was truly just a service and a gift to not only the owners of the animals but to the animals themselves.
While there, we got to feed the donkeys, horses and mules. We cleaned the pens and the stalls, fed the bunnies, guinea pigs and rabbits, and played with the cats and dogs that were ready to be re-homed. The kids also painted some stalls, getting ready for new animals to come in. We were so impressed by the staff and other volunteers, all serving with such joy.
Our host was Dr. Boubker El Mouhaine, one of the incredible vets on staff. He deepened our understanding of what SPANA does:
1. Offers free treatment through its thriving veterinary hospital.
2. Educates kids about how to treat animals. The education includes classes, tours, and interaction with the animals on site. also been instrumental in educating the younger generation about how to treat animals.
2. Trains families in the correct use of equipment and the value to the family’s income of preventing illness and injury to the animals.
3. Influences new laws about animal treatment. There are new regulations and reporting processes to keep owners responsible for the care and condition of their working animals.
And what about those green leg bands we saw on the horses pulling the carriages?
The green bands are part of a SPANA-generated initiative, now supported by the King of Morroco, to require owners of the horses to go to SPANA each quarter to have their horses inspected and approved in order to receive the new colored tag to go around the horse’s leg. It notifies everyone that the animal has passed inspection and is cleared to work in the city. If a horse doesn’t have a tag, the police can fine the owner and take his horse and carriage off the street.
Donkey and mule owners are not yet in a similar “union,” but police and locals can and do report abuse to SPANA, and owners run the risk of losing their animals.
For example, on our volunteer day, an Italian woman came in to donate some money and check on a donkey that she had actually helped rescue from a beating. The night before, she saw a man abusing his donkey. She interceded and stopped him, calling for the police. They brought the donkey into SPANA. Unfortunately they were too late to save the donkey, but the man who was beating his donkey is suffering the repercussions of the mistreatment.
SPANA is courageously fighting social norms. They are standing up against how people treat working animals and they’re doing it in a loving, kind and service-oriented way, without guilt or shame.
Each of us can do something to help. SPANA is supported by donations. We were impressed with the efficiency of the organization and its excellent financial management. If you are an animal advocate and wonder how you can help, this is a great organization to consider. If you’re planning a trip to Marrakesh, contact them to see if you can volunteer. They are always looking for people with veterinary or other skills that can benefit the animals.
Finally, if you’re in an area where there are lots of working animals, pay attention. Stand up for the animals and their treatment because you, like Kate and Nina and the others, can make a difference. Just because something is the way it’s been done doesn’t mean it has to be the way it continues to be done.