Donkey tales

donkey TIM LAM

The humble donkey is an iconic animal in many religious traditions. Jesus entered into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, a symbol of peace. In Muslim tradition, donkeys were among the preferred mounts for people of significance, with the prophet Muhammad often riding his trusty steed Ya’fūr.

During October, Uniting Journeys led a tour to Mannar in north-west Sri Lanka. Mannar was once known as Donkeytown because of the large donkey population that roamed the area. Many households had a pet donkey and a close-knit relationship existed between humans and the animals.

donkeysBut the civil war (1983-2009) turned many of these animals feral and stray donkeys are now a common sight on the streets of Mannar. Many hobble along on broken legs and graze on street refuse. What was once a proud mascot of the district is now perceived by many as a public nuisance.

Mannar is a Tamil-speaking area in Sri Lanka and was particularly hard hit during the civil war. The Uniting Church has been working with the Mannar community for the past few years through Bridging Lanka, an organisation that supports war-affected people on Sri Lanka’s west coast.

The organisation helps unite Muslims, Christians and Hindus behind a common goal – nursing donkeys on the island and restoring them to prominence. This interfaith collaboration helps overcome some of the lingering tension from the war.

During the UnitingJourneys tour, articipants met leaders from Bridging Lanka and assisted various community projects.

donkeys2One of their programs is Donkey Assisted Therapy (DAT), which involves donkey training as a way to improve the physical and mental health of children, the elderly and people living with a disability.

Uniting through Faiths project manager Larry Marshall was one of the conversation partners who led the tour to Mannar.

Mr Marshall is a Sri Lankan Burgher who migrated to Australia as a teenager.

“We met children from MARDAP (Mannar Association for Rehabilitation of Differently Able People),” Mr Marshall said.

“There is real therapeutic value in these young people grooming, feeding and be-friending these gentle animals.”

Bridging Lanka also aims to rebuild Mannar’s economy through eco-tourism, education and community development.

“Sri Lanka is both comfortable and quite modern, especially in the capital Colombo, but still war-damaged and struggling in the very hot arid north where Mannar Island sits on the western coast, at the closest point to India,” Mr Marshall said.


UC Minister Rev Lavingi Fine Tupou and Langi Tupou wearing the garlands of spices from the Rice Mill on Mannar island .

“Another highlight was our visit to a new rice mill which a small farming community had planned and built together with support from Bridging Lanka.

“This mill now saves the people money and hours of walking. Now they can husk and polish their rice for sale as well as grinding and selling rice flour and spices like chilli and turmeric as well.”

Visit the Uniting Journeys website at: for more information on upcoming tours.elephants

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