Next week my travel time to work will take roughly 24 hours and 35 minutes longer than usual.

I’ll be 7,550 miles away from home, opening up my laptop to write in Ethiopia. That’s 12,160 kilometers, folks (when in Rome, as they say, or in this case, Addis Ababa …)! It’s a unique assignment: I’ll be participating in the First International Havemeyer Foundation Workshop on Infectious Diseases of Working Horses and Donkeys.

Keeping with the workshop’s theme, I’m going to include variety of donkey idioms in this post for your enjoyment. (Because everybody loves a good donkey saying, right?)

These donkeys have important roles in the livelihoods of residents in Nyahururu, Kenya.

Photo: Stephanie L. Church/

Just about every person I’ve described the workshop to has cocked their head in surprise. What are the chances that I would be going to Ethiopia for The Horse, first of all, and second, to a meeting that very clearly aligns with a variety of my personal interests?

This will be my third trip to Africa, you see. My trips in 2009 and 2011 were with groups from my church, mainly working with orphans and their caretakers and helping conduct a women’s ministry event. I stopped over in South Africa to visit a friend in 2009 and took in a more Westernized culture, but the bulk of my time has been spent in rural Kenya. I have a passion for helping individuals and families there (and in other developing countries) who are, as a pastor aptly described in a podcast I listened to the other day, “victims of latitude.” They haven’t been born into health, wealth, and privilege as many of us have been here in the States, and frequently they’re dealing with just the opposite paradigm.

Something else that millions of these individuals and families have in common is that they rely on hard-working donkeys, mules, and horses for their livelihoods. These equids haul crops and wares in from the field and to market (hence, the common phrase “donkey work” used in a variety of cultures to describe hard, boring work). Others transport water from many miles away for cooking and drinking, so that their owners can, simply, live.

Donkeys graze during their time off in Limuru, Kenya.  

Photo: Stephanie L. Church/

The health and welfare of these donkeys, mules, and horses directly impacts that of their owners. And that’s where this workshop comes in.

My friend and longtime trusted story source Dr. Paul Lunn, dean of the veterinary school at NC State, invited me to attend and document the workshop. He and I have discussed our mutual interests in working equids for (idiom alert) donkey’s years. I'm excited to meet about 40 others at the workshop who also are passionate about the subject.

The organizing committee notes in its acknowledgements that “The intent of this workshop is to bring together experts from around the world, with the aim of identifying future strategies and solutions needed to reduce the burden of infectious diseases on working equids worldwide. Through sharing of knowledge and experience, it is hoped we can arrive at solutions to some of the problems that affect the health, welfare, and productivity of working equids.”

Presenters at the meeting will be covering everything from viral, bacterial, fungal, and parasitic pathogens to diagnostics, surveillance, and disease control strategies. As an infectious disease/epidemiology junkie (odd designation, I know), I’m excited about learning from these experts and sharing their messages with you.

And I’m looking forward to seeing the Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad's (SPANA) and The Donkey Sanctuary’s facilities there and meeting veterinarians from The Brooke, whose work I have blogged about in the past. I hope to be able to share photos and some of these hardworking equids’ stories.

Lest you think I can talk the hind legs off a donkey, I’ll sign off now. Keep an eye out for my posts on social media from the event at The Horse’s Facebook page or on Twitter.

If you could ask veterinarians or caretakers a question about working equids in other countries, what would it be?