A project called 'The Asswin Project' has set out to rescue injured working equines, donkeys, horses and mules, from different sites in and around Gurgaon. Himalaya is now in partnership with Bob and Jean, the founders of this project, in order to care for injured working equines - donkeys.
Here follow snippets of our conversation with Bob Harrison and his wife Jean.
We are sure you are asked this a lot, but why did you choose working equines?
Bob: Jean first came to India in1993 as a tourist and was pained by the plight of misused working equines in Delhi. Donkeys are made to slog at the city’s various construction sites, sometimes without food or water for long hours.
Jean: These animals often fall sick or suffer injuries in accidents, but there is no proper treatment available for them. I returned to the UK praying for a chance to go back to India to enhance the lives of these poor creatures. My prayers were answered when Bob was selected for a three year term at the British High Commission, Delhi by the Home Office in the UK.
How and where did Jean begin?
Jean: Upon arrival, I immediately involved myself in helping needy animals, first at the Jeevashram animal shelter in Rajokri, and then with the UK based NGO, Brooke Hospital, which operated in Sector 14, Gurgaon. They had seven mobile ambulances which visited juggis, construction sites and brick kilns in Delhi, Sona, and Bhatti mines, Badli and many other places within a 40 km radius from Gurgaon. The roads were underdeveloped, and I travelled from Delhi in our Land Rover. During these journeys, I gained immense knowledge of the area and recognition from the owners of working equines. My work was appreciated by Maneka Gandhi, and I was interviewed several times on her TV shows. When Bob’s period with The High Commission came to an end, we returned to the UK.
What was The Donkey Sanctuary project about?
Bob: In 1996, a team from the UK organisation "The Donkey Sanctuary" invited us to help them start a project in India. I took an early retirement, and we joined The Donkey Sanctuary and were trained in donkey welfare.
Jean: We returned to India in November 1998 to set up The Donkey Sanctuary project. But, our initiatives were not shared by our neighbours, who urged police and Municipal Corporation Gurgaon to get the donkey shelter closed on the grounds of health hazards.
Bob: After two years, there was a change of policy at the Donkey Sanctuary, and it was decreed that they should employ Indian staff. Thus, our services were no longer required and hence terminated.
Was that how The Asswin project began?
Jean: Yes, both Bob and I felt that there was still much work to be done, and we remained and existed on Bob's pension for a while.
Bob: We then decided to try raising funds by registering as a charity in the UK with a pro bono board of trustees and named it "The Asswin Project".
Jean: The name “Asswin” reflects the work of the Aswins, physicians in Hindu mythology who were said to attend to the needs of the sick, and to alleviate pain and suffering.
Bob: The Asswin Project Society was registered on 30th April, 2014 (Reg. No 01374) so that funds could be raised in India, and a bank account was opened with State Bank of India. Through the Asswin Project, we have been trying to sensitize people towards the plight of these shy and calm animals.
Jean: We have seen that animals like cats, dogs, and even cows find patrons if abandoned or injured, but just because donkeys are not very attractive animals, and come to no use other than load pulling, they are treated awfully.
How did the Asswin Project scale up?
Bob: The project initially involved 10 mobile vans, a treatment facility at Jeevashram hospital in Rajokri on the Delhi-Gurgaon border, and makeshift shelters on the forecourt of our home. When we visited the animals at the construction site and other places, we were able to impart treatment to an average of 50 donkeys, mules, and horses each day.
Jean: But we also observed that many of these animals required regular daily treatment for their wounds to heal, and we understood that a shelter was required. In June 2010, the Municipal Corporation of Gurgaon gave us a ten year lease on land in a village, Kerkhi Majra, and since then we have admitted 411 equines and also house 25 rescued dogs.
What are the challenges that The Asswin Project face?
Bob: Although the Asswin Project is a registered charity organization, few people come forward to contribute to the welfare of donkeys. Our work is still largely funded by my own pension. Being covered by the national and international media has gotten us a lot more abandoned donkeys but little else. We have two helpers to help at the shelter.
Jean: Our constant challenges are power supply and restoring health to sick and injured animals.
Despite these challenges, what gives you both the strength to power on in a challenging space like this?
Jean: To see animals we have treated trot back to good health is the one of the things that powers us on.
Bob: We are also happy that there have been very few incidents when the equines that are with us have passed away. We endeavour to correct injured limbs with support bandages and provide good diets and food supplements for weak and undernourished animals.
How do you propose to utilize the funding sponsorship from Himalaya?
Bob: Any sponsorship or donations will be used for general running costs of the project including medicines, food, running and maintenance of two vehicles, purchase and maintenance of equipment such as brooms, shovels, and wheelbarrows, and staff salaries.
Jean: Neither we nor the trustees get paid.
More power to the couple. Here’s looking forward to a partnership that assists us in protecting more working equines!