107 Years

After we had finished our work yesterday, we had the opportunity to visit the family home of our translator, Priscilla.  There we met her mother and her grandmother – who is 107 years old.  She greeted us with handshakes and warm eyes, although she could speak
no English.  It is a rare opportunity, even in Canada to meet someone with this many years behind them.  I stopped for a minute to appreciate how many steps those feet have taken in a place like Kenya, and how much change her eyes have seen in the past 107 years.  It doesn’t matter where you are from, it’s always a humbling experience to meet the elderly and appreciate some of their life story.

We’ve been in Kenya for a week now, working on our project for 4 full days.  We are doing research in partnership with Farmers Helping Farmers, the University of PEI and the University of Nairobi.  The purpose of the research is to see if dairy farmers in Kenya will be able produce more milk and higher quality offspring if the nutrition of the cows is increased.  The farms are small by Canadian standards, with 3-5 cows on average, and the farmers are primarily women.  We hope to find that improved nutrition will increase production and be cost effective for the farmer.  Increased production should be obvious, but the higher costs for good quality feed may be an unreachable goal for a farmer.  The decision to feed a cow or a family is a real consideration here.  The money must be taken from somewhere else – on subsistence farms there may not be a large pot to shuffle money around in.  Our challenge will be to prove that feeding better will be more economical in the long run for the family.

I’ve always felt a bit uncomfortable that the ‘birth lottery’ landed me in a place that doesn’t struggle for basic daily needs.  I’m a proud Canadian and thankful for my home, but it has always bothered me that a large percentage of the worlds’ population has to struggle to meet basic needs.  There are some things l think people everywhere should have access to – respect, health care, water, a shelter and food.  Despite the wealth available in the world, I have met many people that still aren’t able to satisfy these needs (even in developed countries like Canada).  I’ve seen it myself, it’s impossible to ignore.

My decision to participate in a summer internship with Veterinarians Without Borders this summer was heavily influenced by a desire to be involved in a project that has potential to increase equity among people.  Although I expect to have opportunities to contribute in Kenya, my larger hope is that I will go home with ideas on how to promote and participate in international development from Canada as well.  I hope
I can begin to develop realistic expectations of what international development really means, and an appreciation for some of the methods used.  My expectation is not to save the world, but to provide a small piece of the puzzle that our skill set as veterinarians will allow us to contribute to.

So our past few days have been spent knee-deep in manure, slipping down steep hillsides to reach the cows, and having kids stroke our strange-looking hair while we are busy listening to ruminal contractions.  We will have ample opportunity to fine-tune our veterinary skills and hopefully provide meaningful resources that can help increase milk production – which has already been a rewarding experience.

However, I think the moments that will last with me and continue to inspire passion in my heart for international development are the ones like yesterday, when we met Priscilla’s 107 year-old grandmother.  Her hunched back and worn face tell the story of a hard life.  I hope that we can be a very small piece of the puzzle that could improve the quality of life for her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Stay tuned, between me and my Francophone counterpart, we will fill you in with more details of the trip as it progresses!