Happy Canada Day from Uganda

I cannot believe that July is already here. It feels like we arrived yesterday. I am no where near ready to be over half done the project. Uganda feels like home to me and I don’t know how I am going to leave in August. There is just so much work to be done but I am enjoying every single moment of it.

We had quite an interesting week this past week. To start, the weather has been extremely variable. Every day, the weather would change from blue cloudless skies to black skies that were lit up by lightening and thunder so loud the ground shakes followed by torrential rain showers that lasted for hours. Although the storms have been very beautiful, they have been very powerful. The lightening this past week killed over 60 students in schools (the schools here are not well protected from lightening) and injured hundreds.

The storms also made the driving conditions quite bad. Once the rain had stopped on Tuesday, we headed out to do some field work, only to get stuck on the muddy roads. It took us quite a long time to dig our way out, but the little Suzuki we drive sure did impress us!

We accomplished many things this week. We purchased 17 goats that we will hand out in the upcoming weeks (likely during a celebration). We also found suitable candidates for our para-vet training in all of the new parishes (Para-vets are members in the FAOC groups that are trained in animal health and management and provide care to animals in regions were veterinarians are not accessible). We were also able to distribute nails to many worthy members and assess many other members to ensure they had a goat pen built prior to being able to receive a goat.

We also visited 2 of the old parishes (more established groups) and carried out monitoring of their households and their goats. The members of Nyamuyanja are very hard working. Some members have to travel over 3 hours a day just to collect water. As if they didn’t have enough work to do! Even still, many members have goat pens, use their para-vets regularly and are working hard to ensure they can pay their children’s school fees. It is extremely important to them that their children are in school which is so nice to see. They sell off their animals or borrow money. They will do anything to ensure their children get an education. Two of the members have daughters that just recently graduated university! Some of the things that we will be working to do in the upcoming weeks is provide training to this group on disease prevention in their goats (especially through vaccination),  and arrange a revolving fund or loan scheme so that members can start to purchase and build water tanks!

I wanted to share with you the story of one of the beneficiaries that I met in Nyamuyanja. She is a widow with 3 children. Her husband passed away 10 years ago and left behind her and her children as well as another wife (the first wife) and their children. After the death of the husband, the step-children came and destroyed this ladies kitchen, took all of her belongings and tried to kill her. They blame her for the death of their father. For the past 10 years, they have been taunting her, coming to her house at night and threaten to kill her. She cooks inside her house (which is dangerous and hazardous to her health) because she fears being killed or poisoned. She said the step children are now old and are now trying to sell her land because they claim it is theirs. At first, I thought that there is no way this could be true. However, after talking with her and other members in the community and members of FAOC, it apparently happens in the villages, sometime too commonly. Some people who want to seek revenge continue until they get it. Even though 10 years have passes, these step-children are still causing this poor lady daily grief. FAOC will try to do what they can to help protect her but I fear it will not be enough. Unfortunately she is too impoverished to shift to a new plot of land and relies on her land to generate income (with matoke aka plantains, fruits and vegetables). We did inform her of her rights to her land and told her to contact FAOC if she runs into any problems (for example if the step-children try to sell her land). We are also helping her to build a secure goat pen by providing her with nails and a lock one the pen is done so that she can keep her goats safe. I hope things work out for her!

There are so many stories that need to be shared. They are different for each member but most of them share the same theme: lack of rights and poverty. We will continue our work each day to try to make a dint in some of these problems, one household at a time.

I hope all is well with everyone! We are off to Lake Bunyoni after work tomorrow to celebrate Canada Day at the Lake.


Laura & Jessica

EcoHealth: A Primer is available for download

This primer, written by David Waltner-Toews, President of Veterinarians without Borders / Vétérinaires sans Frontières – Canada (VWB/VSF) is a brief introduction to some key ideas and practices in what have come to be called an “ecosystem approach to health” , ecohealth or one health.
One Health is one of VWB/VSF’s guiding principles:

“We believe that the health of the many animals with which we share this planet, the ecosystems which are our common home, and the health of our own species are deeply connected. We seek solutions that address the root causes of the challenges facing disadvantaged communities. By sharing our skills and expertise in animal and ecosystem health, we strive to help improve human health, food production systems, and promote sustainable livelihoods.”

This principle is also reflected in the organization’s mission statement:

“Our mission is to work for, and with, communities in need to foster the health of animals, people, and the environments that sustain us.”

Click here to download the primer on ecohealth now.

Exit Ethiopia: Enter Kenya

This is our last day in Ethiopia. Tomorrow morning we leave at 6 am to Addis Abeba where we will see where Lucy, the oldest human skeleton, and go shopping at the largest market in Ethiopia. The 350km drive takes over 6 hours, as we will once again be weaving in and out of donkeys and people.

We have had a great time here in Ethiopia. Val and I have learned a lot about cattle and the way of the Ethiopian dairy farmer. We have learned what is required in terms of the basic changes needed here to improve the welfare of the cattle and improve milk production. Some of these include principles of cow comfort, such as trimming toes and adding bedding, to nutrition, and the necessity of concentrates and mineral on reproductive success. We saw a very wide range of farms and met many people, most of whom were happy to participate with our project. We have had fun with our drivers Safu and Jabir and our partner Dr. Tolosa.

Ethiopian people are far more affectionate than North Americans, there is more hand holding and a much warmer greeting is given upon encountering a friend. In this sense, I think it is a richer country despite its lack of wealth.

First Days in Ethiopia

After treeplanting for a month or so, and meeting some of my new favorite people, I returned home with what I thought was 3 days to prepare for my journey to Africa. I was very sure the flight left on the 17th, and was very surprised when on the 16th, I was unable to check in online for my flight, and realized that my flight actually left at 6am on the 16th. This was the first adventure of many, and I was lucky enough to catch up with my travel mates Dr. John VanLeeuwen and Valerie Monpetit at the Frankfurt airport. We arrived to Addis Abeba, a city of 4 million, at night, so we were unable to see the city as we flew overhead, but as we drove to our hotel, it was obvious that Africa is a different world.

The next day we drove for around 8 hours on what was a very nice highway with a young man named Safu, pronounced c’est fou in French. It seemed a suitable name as we weaved in and out of people and animals. At one point, a donkey that was walking in the middle of the road made the wrong last minute decision to turn right and ended up in front of a bus full of people that was unable to stop. The donkey was struck, and we stopped to help, but some people in the crowd that gathered assumed it was us that had hit the donkey. Luckily there were enough witnesses to confirm that it was the bus. We left the donkey and all the people, and we were informed that the bus driver would have to compensate the woman for her donkey, and that it can take an individual up to 5 years to save the money to purchase a donkey. There is a saying in Ethiopia,”if you do not have a donkey, you are a donkey.”

The next day we went to church and had our first opportunity to become culture shocked. We attended a church ceremony that happens only 3 times a year, and walked through a crowd of thousands of people. It was breathtaking and nerve-wracking, and quickly exposed us to the world we would be living in for our time in Ethiopia.

We then began our work on the farms. With Dr. Tadele Tolosa as our guide, we began our travels around the city of Jimma. Valerie and I quickly learned how to take blood from the underside of the base of a cows tail, as John and the farm workers restrained the animals manually. The cows are Holstein cross with local breeds and are therefore thankfully smaller than the Holsteins in Canada. The farms have around 15 cows each, sometimes more, sometimes less, and we have seen all types of arrangements of barns, from concrete barns that are very clean to dirt floors and mud walls, which is more common. We are testing for the prevalence of Johne’s disease in Ethiopia, which has yet to be studied, and each day we return to the lab and spin the clotted samples from the day before to extract the serum. The serum will then undergo an ELIZA test to determine the presence of paratuberculosis (Johne’s). It is very interesting work and an amazing experience.

On our day off, Valerie and I went to “the birthplace of Arabica coffee” where there was a plaque erected by the President of the region. We also saw a gene bank farm for coffee, which had over 500 different species of arabica coffee plant, and various other species of tuber and herb. It was a very nice trip. We then returned to our hotel room to watch Oprah interview Micheal Jackson’s mother.

Soon we will travel to Kenya, were we will go on Safari. Both Valerie and I are very excited about this. I will tell you more soon!!

And some more photos…

… To go along with Ilona’s description of our fun-filled times here in Wa, Ghana!

Here is a picture of Ilona assisting Dr. Shittu with a goat cesarean section. It was the goat’s first parity and she had  a very narrow pelvis so could not give birth naturally. We weren’t nervous with suturing mama goat at all as Dr. Shittu slowly and patiently guided our way through the procedure.

After suturing the skin and muscle together, a long piece of gauze was placed over the incision site and subsequently drenched with “wound powder” and “healing ointment” (will get back to the readers on the exact recipe of these concoctions later, but the goat has been doing fine since we last saw her a week ago for wound dressing so the topicals were effective!)

Post surgery, the fellows that brought the goat in cleaned mama’s udder and coaxed the newly born kid into suckling. It was a success!

Ilona and I decided to create large posters for each village to educate them on the 4 main causes of guinea fowl mortality during the rainy season, these conditions include: Newcastle disease, infectious bursal disease (“Gumboro”), coccidiosis, and parasites. We added photographs of some lesions that could be seen in affected birds and also basic illustrations for enhanced learning for the villagers as some are illiterate.

Ilona and I present poster 1 (of 4) to the village of Sombo. The man in the yellow is Ebenezer, our contact for the village. He is responsible for organizing the village meetings – usually we have them in this village after church on Sundays, and is also in charge of translating for us. He has been great help and is excited for the project and what it entails.

Hippos, and crocs and C-sections

Yes, hello!

The rainy season is finally setting in properly, and our little family has been enjoying the relief that the afternoon showers bring (although less welcome is the associated mosquito boom)
We’ve been keeping ourselves occupied since I last updated, with a number of veterinary and some totally non-veterinary-related activities.
This past week, Dor, Jenna and I made our way out to Wechiau Hippo Sanctuary. We arrived at the bus depot around 6:30 am, because despite the constant reminders of how things really run on Ghana-time, it’s so deeply ingrained in us to arrive on Canadian time. After about an hour of waiting around, we pile into a mini-van (called tro-tros here) and wait impatiently. Apparently, these tro-tros only depart when a suitable number of people are seated, so I counted the number of remaining spaces. Aside from Dor, Jenna and I, occupying the back bench, there were 2 other benches in front and the passengers seat. Seeing as how there were already 3 other passengers sitting with us, my hasty calculation estimated that we just needed another 6 , maybe 8 people to show up before we could hit the road. “Excuse me, how many people before the tro-tro can go?” Jenna asked our driver. “24 passengers”
The spirits of Canadian transport safety must have been watching over us, however, because Jenna then noticed a bus doubled parked in front of our tro-tro with “Wechiau Hippo Sanctuary” printed on the side. We chat with the driver, who used to be a tour guide there, and he says we can ride along in that vehicle provided we don’t mind that he needs to stop to pick up various chairmen on the way. We climb into this van, and are politely greeted by the officials who join us at various points along the journey. It turns out, there was a CIDA supported event going on, featuring many Canadians working on a reforestation-to-prevent-desertification project, hence all the officials gathering at the sanctuary (I made a very subtle plug for our own food security project.)
Our kind driver took us right to the river, and set us up with a senior guide and a canoe. Within minutes, we were watching 14 hippos wallow in the water (if only there had been a VWB hippo project…); we also had the chance to step (illegally) onto Burkina Faso soil. Then back into our official vehicle, arriving in Wa hours before we had even hoped. Funny how some things just work out here.

Jenna and I were given the chance to observe even more Ghanaian wildlife when we visited a nearby crocodile pond with Kirstin & Co. The highlight of this trip was watching a giant crocodile (“grandfather”) lunge out onto shore, miss the chicken bait and disappear back into the water with our guide’s sandal. Jenna actually has a video of this event, and it is truly Youtube worthy. Once we are back in Canada with access to cheap internet, I will see if I can link that for you, my loyal readers.

Last week, Dor and I assisted with a C-section on a goat. It is astonishing how surgery can be performed in conditions so different than the incredibly sterile/high-tech/well stocked facilities that we are accustomed to learning in. Despite the almost complete lack of sterility, and with very limited resources, the C-section was successful and both the goat and her kid are doing well today.

In terms of our project, Dor and I are really motoring along. We are currently working on creating educational posters for each of the four villages, describing the signs, transmission and treatment/control of four diseases (infectious bursal disease, Newcastle, coccidiosis and various parasites e.g. roundworms) identified by Kirstin and Steve during their necropsy surveys last summer. As someone who tends towards being grossly verbose, attempting to minimize the written descriptions in order to maximize the accessibility of the information to all interested villagers was a challenge for me. We included some coloured photographs of lesions, and Dor lent her artistic touch to some fun little diagrams. These posters also emphasize the role that the proposed project would play, vis-a-vis the hatchery/breeding flock/health management/nutrition/housing systems. I really hope we can get some feedback on how useful these posters are for the villagers….

On a final guinea fowl related note!
During our last visit to Nator, one of the village elders presented us with 15 guinea fowl eggs. We were really impressed by this gesture, as these eggs are very valuable (and tasty! I have been making guine fowl egg French toast for my wives)

I will come and go,


What a great day!

Today was the best field day yet. Jess and I started out early, picked up the FAOC team and were accompanied by Tugume and his mother. We were going to their home village Kahenda so they wanted to come. Tugume wanted to sit in the front with me (he loves having a good view). Even though the drive to Kahenda take some time, our journey was great. I payed Ugandan music on my ipod and so the whole trip, Vivian, Alice and Mama Tugume were singing in the back while Tugume was dancing on my lap and Jess was driving. Children here are born how to dance. This eight year old sure knows how to move his body!

Once we arrived, we left Tugume and his mother and proceded with our day of beneficiary monitoring. The landscape here is beautiful. We spend the day climbing hills, walking through beautiful pastures overlooking the valleys below and being greeted by very wonderful people. This parish is very isolated. The roads to get there are very steep, rocky and narrow and would be almost impossible to get up during the rainy season. There are no medical centers in the area and there are only some primary schools for the children. Most of the members here are widowed grandmothers caring for orphans and their grandchildren (their children have either left or have died). Some members didn’t even have enough money to put a house on their door let along pay for the school fees to send their children to school. Many others are working (at even 70 or 80 years of age) very hard to pay for their grandchildren’s school. Some are also working very hard to care for their goat that they have received from FAOC. Not all members have a goat pen yet, so as a way to help some of those struggling, Jess and I provided enough nails to either build their goat pen or complete their pen. The grandmothers who were provided with nails were very deserving and very very grateful! Once these members have a sturdy pen, we will also provide them with locks as well to keep their pens secure.

We are also going to be providing members (new and existing) with goats in this parish. There are so many members here that women have been passing on many of their goat’s offspring to other members to ensure they all have goats. However, members are not profiting from the goat because they are being passes on to others. We will address these problems by changing the pass on scheme and providing more goats to the parish so that more people’s needs are met.

As our day in the parish came to an end, we met Mama Tugume and her family. They had prepared a large meal for us (Matoke, G-nuts and rice). Some of her children stay in the village and we had brought some running shoes for them. They were so grateful for their nice new shoes!

We headed back to Mbarara and arrived late in the evening with Tugume and other’s singing on the car ride home. It was a great day!

Time is flying…

Time is flying at lightening speed. With many goals we hope to accomplish before we leave we are starting to worry that 3 months is not nearly enough to address all of the challenges of the project. This week was a little disappointing as both Laura and I caught the flu and had to take a day off work, combined with the fact that our guide was tied up with other FAOC activates which left us spending most of the week just trying to find our way around. We have high hopes for a more productive week ahead of us and have tried mapping out how we can accomplish our goals with only a month and a half left.

This week did consist of some perks though, so it was not a complete loss. We had the fortune to attend a “passing on ceremony” in the Kyera parish. This involves members of the community passing on money or household goods to another member that is need. It was really warming to see how the community comes together and supports one another. Each member gets his/her turn at receiving the donations. The members contribute what they can at that point in time. The ceremony also came with a huge feast, music and dancing! When you give the recipient money you have to stand in a line and everyone dances and you have to do a little solo dance before you pass the money on. It was great fun and pretty incredible to see a 70 year old man shake his booty like he was in his 20’s! Ugandans KNOW how to dance
I also need to back up and mention that we handed out 7 goats to the community last week through the generous donations from Dr.Nazarelli (the pharmacist working on an HIV/AIDs awareness project) and Eric Lawrenece and Annelie Crook
(the Global Vets students who were with us for 3 weeks). The ladies who received the goats all fulfilled the requirements of having a pen, proper nutrition, proper husbandry and a successful operation. The ladies were extremely grateful and deserved it after all of their hard work. They also provide as an example of what it requires to receive a second goat…we are hoping that other members of the group will realize that they can also have a second goat if they work hard.
We have been going around to the old beneficiaries lately and looking at some of the challenges that they are facing. Our findings consist of Brucella outbreaks, Clostridial disease, high death rates and diminished revolving funds (funds that all the members have access to and can borrow money for school fees etc.; to be returned with interest). We have been Brucella testing some of the worst hit parishes and are hoping to reduce disease outbreak by replacing positive goats. We have also decided that having a closed FAOC herd would be the best option until a vaccine is sorted out. Dr.William (the district vet) has been looking into finding out about importing the vaccine. The trouble is that we are having a hard enough time trying to implement yearly Clostridial vaccines that we aren’t sure that the route of the vaccine is going to work. We are planning to do a vaccine day with the paravet in Kyera ( a parish that has been hard hit by sudden death) which will hopefully be held on the same day every year. We aren’t sure how well compliance will be but some farmers are motivated to vaccinate because they are frustrated with high death rates in seemingly healthy goats.
Lastly, we have come across issues with theft. Widows are targets because people in the community know that they are alone and have no means of defense. One lady had 4 goats stolen, even though they were locked in a separate room overnight- the thieves broke down the door (it only had a small lock on it) and took them all and even her matoke! We aren’t really sure how to address this issue because the women fear having animals because they know that they are targets. Some women keep the goats in the room with them at night…which is a hygiene nightmare, but really, who can blame them! It is really sad to see these women, who have been through so much, to be taken advantage of.
On a lighter note, Laura and I have been enjoying our new residence, and learning to cook Ugandan food- with some hits, and defiantly some misses! We found a local dairy outlet that sells feta cheese and yogurt! Sooooo exciting!!! We went to an outdoor dance club last night “the heat” which was super fun, but we were ashamed with our dancing skills compared to the Ugandan women who shake it!
We hope everyone is doing well at home and have recovered from the embarrassment that was seen in Vancouver this week (referring to the riots, no the game loss). We also wish everyone else lots of luck and excitement with their VWB projects!

Laura and Jess

Volunteer in Malawi – 2 new placements for August

We are seeking volunteers for the following positions in Malawi with our partner organization Uniterra (www.uniterra.org). Please click on the title of the position for more information.

Dairy Health & Production Advisor
LOCATION: Mzuzu City, Malawi
DURATION: 9 months
START DATE: August 1, 2011
OBJECTIVE OF PLACEMENT: To increase the knowledge and skills  of  staff  and  farmers in dairy health and production.

Curriculum Development Advisor – Animal Science
LOCATION: Lilongwe City, Malawi
DURATION: 6 months
START DATE: August 31, 2011
1. Establish programs in veterinary training for a Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine (BVM) degree program
2. Enhance outreach programs to include dairy cattle and dairy goat production in villages around Bunda College.

Application deadline for all positions: open until filled

*Photo courtesy of Dr. Anne Drew.


A photo heavy update

One time we stopped by the village of Danko to use the borehole as our residence was out of water for the night. The locals insisted that I tried pumping water and all laughed at the sight of a foreigner performing an everyday task. The kids loved getting their photos taken.

Ilona and I were in Sagu village vaccinating chicken and guinea fowl against Newcastle – the I-2 vaccination is placed in the eye. We also managed to acquire two new pets that Ilona had mentioned in her previous post.

In Nator the villagers were so happy with our proposal and assistance that the elder made a contribution of providing us with guinea fowl eggs – this was very generous of him as guinea fowl eggs are hard to come by, not to mention very expensive (3 eggs are sold for $1 GHC which is a little less than $1 CDN.)

Ilona attempting to pound “Fu fu” a local meal that is enjoyed by many Ghanaians. Boiled yams are placed in the wooden bowl and pounded until it reaches a sticky/glutinous consistency and is served with spicy “Light” soup and assorted meats (such as guinea fowl).


More pictures to come in our next update!


Dor (aka Official Photo Uploader)