This interview was in the making for a few weeks. A date was set but then some things came along like things sometimes things do and my attention had to go to those things first. First there were a workshop and an exposition ‘Off the beaten track’ and then came Ryan and Alydia with ‘Riba mesun awa’ but I finally sat down with Desiree. I was a volunteer for 2 years on the donkey farm and decided to go back for a visit after a long time but felt right at home with these beautiful creatures and the lady who protects them all.
Desiree Eldering has been taking care of Aruba’s donkey on and off the donkey sanctuary as the managing director for many years. Together with a team of about 40 volunteers, the board, sponsors and loyal visitors they form the community of the Donkey Sanctuary Aruba (Fundacion Salba nos Burico). Donkeys, brought to Aruba about 500 years ago, played an important role in the Aruban economy since the beginning of the Aruban history. They were mainly used to transport goods and people. And now donkeys are a fun tourist attraction. A visit to the donkey farm is time well spent.
Desiree you are the patroness of Aruba’s donkeys. How difficult or easy is this? “I am not doing this alone, I cannot. There are a lot of people helping out. (it takes a village…) But I am the face and spokesperson of the foundation and I coordinate the workflow. Sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it takes a lot of energy to ‘move’ people. They have goodwill but they also have full-time jobs and interests and their families to take care of. To me, it’ is a full time job (with overtime) it is 90% of my life. People are conscious that volunteering is a commitment but it is ‘easy’ to call and cancel and let Dees take care of it. But I do a lot more than just tend to the donkeys; I am really occupied right now with moving the sanctuary to Bringamosa. I take care for instance of purchase, PR and promotion, secretarial tasks, animal care. And when I leave the sanctuary at 4 in the afternoon I am really tired and find it difficult to find the energy to do all the back office work. I also have 14 donkeys at home that needed intensive care. They stayed and by the end of the year they will all go to new sanctuary in Bringamosa. It makes no sense to bring them to Sta Lucia first and then move them in a few weeks. Moving to Bringamosa is going to be quite a project and a lot of work. We will have to mobilize people to help out with this project; we will probably have to close for a full weekend.”
Did the idea of a different career choice ever come up and what would you have chosen to pursue? “I considered going to the Rietveld Academie, I love art and am creative but I wasn’t doing a whole lot with it, I worked with the bank for a while. I studied flower arrangements and opened my own flower shop. And then I moved to Curacao. But this is my dream job.”
Let’s dream about you winning the lottery for a moment, what would you do with the money? “I would donate a part to the sanctuary so we could finish the Bringamosa project and we could hire someone to do the daily tasks and the tours on the sanctuary. That way I would have more time for management. But I will always work, either here or from home.”
Why animals Desiree? Why animals? “We always had pets at home when I was growing up, so that’s why animals and donkeys are home to me.” “Donkeys stole my heart! They are funny, sweet, devoted, loyal, nosy, friendly and very smart. They are wonderful animals. In my teens I loved horses but I didn’t know donkeys then, never experienced them really. I trust these donkeys fully.”
Do you have tips for people who see donkeys beside the road? Should they, for instance, feed them? What should they do? “You don’t have to do anything, just let them be. If a donkey is lying down walk up to the donkey to see if the donkey gets up. Maybe he is just resting. If the donkey gets up and walks away it’s okay.”
How many donkeys do we have on Aruba? 136 donkeys in Sta Lucia, 14 in the intensive care at my place, about 200 total, some in the wild, in Seroe Colorado.
When are you bringing in new blood? (read: machos)? “Research will have to be done on the population; we have to see what the possibilities are and what direction to go. So, we are open to a veterinary student internship to do the research.”
Aruba has about 1200 foundations? Can the government support them all? No they can’t. But we had an agreement and they stopped funding the foundation last year. And this is not just. You have to keep your word. There seems to be money for a film festival and music festival and things like that. The sanctuary is not a priority obviously. I strongly believe the sanctuary should stay open. If we send 136 donkeys out on the streets, we have a big problem.
What is it like to be the center of the Donkey community? “I like it and enjoy it every day. I invest all my time and energy in maintenance and keep everything as it is and the donkeys fed.”
More than 5000 likes on your FB page from all over the world? You are very strong on FB, how come? “I try to bring the news and information in a positive way; I always focus on the positive. Even if it is a sad story about a donkey that died, no bloody picture, but something along the lines “the donkey had a good life, was well taken care of…that side of the story or a positive and hopeful tone. Because you could cry or complain but I don’t feel like doing that. The strange thing is that when something bad happens you get a lot more reactions and feedback, people immediately reach out. I don’t post too much, I don’t want to spam. I try to announce the good news, about the doctor’s visit or dentist that came by to help out with medical problems or preventive health care, those kind of topics. I take a lot of pictures, most pictures.” You can find their page on FB under ‘Donkey Sanctuary Aruba’.
If you were the interviewer, what would you ask yourself? “Would you all do it again?”
…Would you, Desiree? “YES!!!” “Donkeys have my heart completely.”
Desiree also puts all of her creative energy into artworks and guess what, she is often inspired by donkeys. Desiree made many paintings about donkeys and craft-works. She published a children’s book titled ‘The green donkey from Aruba’. All these productions and paintings she sells to raise funds and to cover expenses and they are obtainable in the shop at the donkey sanctuary.
The sanctuary is located in Sta. Lucia but will be moving to Bringamosa by the end of the year. You can adopt a donkey or donate to the sanctuary. Instruction on how to do this is on the website.