Thursday, June 21, 2012

Donkeys Become Transportation for School Children

Photo courtesy: David Agren/CC BY 2.0

It's fair to say that donkeys aren't usually recognized for their intelligence or eagerness to learn. I don't know how that image first attached itself to the donkey; but, they have been saddled with this misconception for centuries.

While donkeys have a notorious reputation for stubbornness, this has been attributed to a much stronger sense of "self preservation" than exhibited by horses. It is more likely based on a stronger prey instinct and a weaker connection with man. This results in it being considerably more difficult to force or frighten a donkey into doing something it perceives to be dangerous for whatever reason than it is a horse. However, as with any animal, once a person has earned their confidence, they can be willing and companionable partners and very dependable in work.

In fact, man and donkey have been working hand in hoof for many centuries. A working relationship has existed for at least 5000 years. There are more than 40 million donkeys in the world, mostly in underdeveloped countries, where they are used principally as draught or pack animals.

On the island of Hydra, because cars are outlawed, donkeys and mules form virtually the sole method of heavy goods transport. Photo courtesy: Wikipedia

Although formal studies of their behaviour and cognition are rather limited, donkeys also appear to be quite intelligent, cautious, friendly, playful, and eager to learn.

Thanks to some creative thinking, there is now a helpful fleet of them serving as school-transports in Mexico.

For many kids in rural parts of Manuel Doblado, a town in the Mexican state of Guanajuato, just arriving to class was once the most challenging part of their day, leaving little energy left for learning. Since students from the region's remotest corners often face long treks along steep trails and dangerous passes, some days conditions made going to school too hazardous to attempt.

But where no school bus will venture, some animals are right at home.

So, with that in mind, local administrators conceived of a sustainable solution: donkeys as buses. Backed by the support of the community, the school district recently enlisted a fleet of 26 donkeys to help make getting an education that much easier for the furthest-traveling schoolchildren.

For 9-year-old Mariana, a student at the elementary school in Manuel Doblado, her new donkey chauffeur has made daily life more about learning and less about braving the exhausting commute.

"With the donkey, things are only going well," she tells Milenio (Webpage in Spanish, translation may be needed). "I used to only go to school when there was no rain. I prefer taking the donkey because it needs no gas or anything, and it never breaks down. Also, I get less tired."

In fact, thanks to their new sustainable transportation system, students in the ruralist areas have been able to reduce the time it takes to get to school by half, freeing their time and minds for more important things -- like learning. And there's certainly nothing asinine about that.

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