Smiley Movement logo

The Brick Kiln Donkeys of Egypt - bringing hope to working animals

Words by Abi Scaife

Right now in Egypt, under the baking sun, a donkey is pulling a cartload of bricks. Just like for the humans that work alongside them, it is an exhausting schedule, and it often leads to illness, injury - or worse.

There are approximately 1,000 brick kilns in Egypt, manufacturing building materials to satisfy the country’s housing boom. The donkeys and mules carry heavy loads of bricks weighing around 1.4 to 1.6 tonnes, (1,400 to 1,700kg) and move at an intense pace, in order to prevent unfired bricks cracking in the day's heat. 

They suffer from harness and saddle wounds, beatings, teeth and hoof issues and parasitic diseases spread by flies - luckily, Safe Haven for Donkeys is funding a mobile veterinary clinic made up of a highly experienced equine vet, as well as two farriers. Not only do they treat the donkeys and mules, they also educate their owners as to how to better care for them.

Safe Haven for Donkeys was set up in 2000 to help the thousands of working donkeys in Israel and the Palestinian Territories (West Bank). In 2023, they partnered with an organisation in Egypt so that they could bring aid to the donkeys transporting bricks in the El Saf region.

Actor and animal rights activist Peter Egan, whom Smiley News interviewed previously here, visited the El Saf brick kilns of Egypt, along with documentary and film-maker Andrew Telling (Orange Planet Pictures) and the Safe Haven for Donkeys CEO, Andy Foxcroft.

Copy of Peter Egan talking to the son of a kiln owner

The film they created was called ‘Broken: The Brick Kiln Donkeys of Egypt’, and it details Peter’s trip, and what he discovered about the plight of the donkeys. It is an incredibly moving journey, and expertly showcases not only what an incredible difference Safe Haven for Donkeys is making, but also how much it is needed.

We were able to catch up with Peter Egan to discuss his trip to El Saf, learn more about his experience with the donkeys, and the amazing work the charity is doing.

What was it like to go to Egypt and see the way the donkeys are treated in person? Was it what you imagined?

I was thrilled to visit Egypt for the first time and amazed to visit the brick kilns. A journey back in time on so many levels.

I didn't know what to expect so I was really surprised at how medieval the brick kilns are and how lacking in automation. 

What are the attitudes of the donkey owners and workers currently in El Saf?

El Saf employs 30 men who work from 4am until midday, with a break of only 30 mins and these men and donkeys produce 130,000 bricks daily. It is punishing work for the humans and the animals. What is very clear is when you see men who work to a punishing physical schedule, they are not going to be too sympathetic to the needs of an animal. Their work is exhausting so their empathy is restricted. 

I was very interested to see, however, that both the kiln owner and the workers were open to the compassion and welfare Safe Haven is introducing into the workplace. I hope there is a genuine understanding that the better and more humanely they treat their animals, the more productive the work will be. I felt there was an interest in compassion which is hard to adapt to when their lives are personally so hard.

Copy of Peter Egan and Andy in discussion with kiln chimneys in the background

What was it like seeing the work of the charity in action?

I was deeply impressed by seeing Safe Haven's team in action. The highest level of professionalism and commitment. It was a pleasure to witness the compassionate and expert work done by the team and to see it in action. 

How did the workers respond to the education provided by Safe Haven for Donkeys?

I think the workers responded very enthusiastically to the education being provided by Safe Haven. This is certainly borne out by the frequency with which the kiln owners contact Dr Shahaan when a problem arises.

Safe Haven has a committed policy of making the owners aware of compassionate welfare which will hopefully be passed on to the children. I was interested to speak to the kiln owner about this and one of his nephews, a boy of about 10, who drives the cart led by the donkey. I was keen to impress on him that donkeys feel pain. This is an ongoing policy which Safe Haven and the team in Egypt are pursuing with commitment and vigour.

Was it rewarding to see the help given to the donkeys?

It was fantastically rewarding and inspiring to see the donkeys respond so immediately to help provided by the Safe Haven team. They are doing great work.

I have made a film of my trip directed by Andrew Telling, CEO of Orange Planet Pictures, which will be finished in the next few weeks. I look forward to sharing it and raising awareness both for the charity and the donkeys. I will certainly return to Egypt and the kilns again in 2024.

Copy of Peter Egan walking towards a furnace

How can people help to support Safe Haven for Donkeys?

The best way to support and help Safe Haven and its work with the donkeys is of course by donating if you can afford it, or by doing fundraisers in their name in your local community. Every little helps, as they say in supermarket circles!

For more information and to support Safe Haven for Donkeys work in Egypt visit

You can view the movie, Broken: The Brick Kiln Donkeys of Egyptat this link. To learn more about Safe Haven for Donkeys, and how to support their work, follow this link to their website.

Charity check-in 

At Smiley Movement, we like to elevate the work of charities across the world. Here are three charities whose causes align with the themes in this article.

Four Paws UK. This charity is an animal welfare organisation, working globally to help animals in need. Learn more here.

Wildlife Justice Commission. This international foundation works to end animal trafficking around the globe. Find out more here.

Born Free. This is a wildlife conservation charity that’s passionate about wild animal welfare and Compassionate Conservation. Find out more here.

This article aligns with the UN SDG Life on Land.

This article aligns with the following UN SDGs

You might also like…