A woman’s long devotion to improving the lot of working donkeys and the families that rely on them has been recognised with an honorary doctorate from the Royal Veterinary College in London.
The honour went to Heather Armstrong, director of the Gambia Horse and Donkey Trust.
The Honorary Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery was awarded in recognition of her outstanding service in the areas of animal and humanitarian welfare in Gambia.
Having spent much of her early life living in West Africa, Armstrong developed a strong interest in the developing world and, in particular, the relationship between the welfare of working animals and the prosperity of the communities within which they worked.
A healthy working equine can increase a families income by 500 per cent, so through improving equine welfare it is possible to improve the lives of their owners.
Armstrong began nursing and rehabilitating animals from a young age and has nursed in many different countries, alternating between small animals and equines.
Heather’s sister, the late Stella Brewer Marsden, was a primatologist who lived in Gambia, where she had established the first ever chimpanzee rehabilitation project.
Brewer Marsden became aware of a growing problem of poor equine welfare in The Gambia, and called for her sister’s help to address the problem.
In 2002, recognising the plight of the animals and the needs of the community, the sisters established the Gambia Horse and Donkey Trust.
Armstrong’s aim has always been to provide Gambian farmers with the skills required to effectively manage their own equines. This has involved training para-veterinarians, farriers, harness-makers, cart-makers, and teaching both the animal owners and school children.
Her passion is for both people and animals, as she believes the plight of people and their animals are closely interrelated and that many of the animal welfare issues seen are related to poverty of their owners.
For this reason, Armstrong approached the problems holistically, helping both the people and their animals through initiating selective, but complementary, community development projects.
Much has been achieved with relatively modest expenditure. In doing this, she has involved a wide network of individuals and institutions.
The Gambia Horse and Donkey Trust continues its work through many diverse projects, from mobile veterinary clinics to the designing and building of donkey-drawn ‘school buses’ for nursery school children who are too young to walk to school.
Heather’s sister, Stella, has been a huge influence in Heather’s work. The sisters shared a great affection for Gambia, with Armstrong promising her sister that she would continue her legacy, which she continues tirelessly to do to this day.
More information: www.gambiahorseanddonkey.org.uk