Tuesday, 13 March 2012

An unworthy pursuit?

I was a bit taken aback yesterday when someone for whom I have enormous respect told me they wouldn't be supporting my London Marathon effort.  The reason?  Well, apparently, having taken leave of my senses, I am thinking about animal welfare while there are (and I quote) "children starving in Africa." 

I should have given the explanation that follows but I didn't.  I was (am still) tired from the marathon at the weekend followed by a long day at work so I just wasn't firing on all cylinders.  Here, however, is what I wish I had explained at the time:

It will come as no surprise to those who know me that I'm not a supporter of "fluffy" animal welfare.  Dealing with symptoms in isolation doesn't do anything to manage the underlying problems that cause them.  Which is why I looked carefully at the work that World Horse Welfare does before agreeing to raise some money for them by running the London Marathon.

There are millions of horses at work in some of the poorest nations in the world.  One of the key activities of World Horse Welfare is to help those in the greatest poverty to make best use of their most valuable possession:  Their horse. 

The charity is working directly in seven countries around the world providing training and expertise to create a sustainable improvement in the quality of care for these working horses.  Three of these are in Africa (Senegal, South Africa and Lesotho) and three in Central America.  Sadly, their work in Nicaragua had to be suspended due to civil unrest.

Now, stay with me here.  This means that the horses are better treated, yes.  And that's all very well and leads to them have a longer and more productive working life.  This is the important part for me:  This, in turn, leads to improved circumstances for those communities where these animals work.

World Horse Welfare delivers improvements in three ways.  Funding basic veterinary services, skilling up local trainers and also training farriers and saddlers.  The veterinary services help to treat the horses.  The trainers educate people in ways to better care for their working animals.  The farriers and saddlers (all local people) create sustainable employment in poor communities whilst again increasing the productivity of the horses.

This approach results in sustainable improvements for the quality of life of some of the poorest people in the world.  Some of them are in Africa.  Amongst those benefiting are children.  And some animals also suffer less.

Shame on me.