Paravet Refresher Training Day

Sorry we haven’t been keeping up with blogging lately; we’ve have been crazy busy the last few weeks. Since we last blogged Dr. Claire Card has joined us on the project for a couple weeks. She is a professor and veterinarian at the WCVM, and is also one of the founders of the goat project. We hoped to have the two biggest events of the year, the paravet refresher training and the goat pass-out, in the next two weeks. We also had another veterinary student from the WCVM, Susanne, joining us for the remainder of our time on the project.


Traditionally the paravet training occurs the day before the pass out so the goats to be passed on can function as demo/training goats for the paravets to use for some hands-on experience. Three massive feats need to be accomplished before any of this can occur though:

  1. We need to fundraise money to buy goats.
  2. We need to have beneficiaries ready to receive goats.
  3. And finally, we need to actually find healthy goats to give out.

With each of the above becoming progressively more difficult.

We were all fortunate to have amazingly supportive friends and family back home who offered to donate goats to the project. Thank you to everyone who bought goats this year! You are the best! Each goat costs about $50, which covers their vaccinations, deworming and transport to the FOAC Demonstration Farm where the pass out is held. So, thanks to generous people back home, step one was easily check off the list.

Now, like last year, finding beneficiaries who were ready to receive a goat ended up being a time consuming challenge. We are working in 17 different communities, some that are pretty spread out, and each with their own little quirks and differences – some communities are much older with primarily widows as members, while others are newer and have younger families. Others are very successful with the pass out and some have completely fallen apart over the years. We have a few basic requirements that must be met before a beneficiary can receive goats. They have to be an active community member and they absolutely must have a goat pen that meets our standards – four walls, a roof, raised off the ground with a proper floor and a door. Pretty basic and simple, right? We want beneficiaries to keep their goats in pens 100% of the time because it protects them from wild dogs, thieves, reduces the amount of parasites they consume and how many ticks they are exposed to. We tried to really emphasize the importance of building a good pen at the community meetings. Unfortunately, in some of the previous years goats were given to beneficiaries with no pens based on false promises that they would build them, resulting in an incredible number of goats dying the following year. Obviously we didn’t want to deal with a bunch of dead and dying goats again so we cracked down this year – no pen, no goat. After spending most of the week going community to community and home to home we were able to gather a list of about 30 beneficiaries ready to receive.

Lastly, we had to find healthy goats for the pass out. Generally, each beneficiary receives two goats, unless they’ve received one in the past or other special circumstances, so we were hoping to find close to 60 goats. In a country that literally has goats tied up along every street, this is actually incredibly difficult. We were able to buy a few off of community members, but usually we end up buying goats from larger ranches. We also have a checklist that each goat needs to pass before they are considered for the pass out: ideally less than 100,000USH, female (usually), between 12 and 18 months old, healthy body condition, low worm burden, a negative blood test result for brucella, and clear of any other significant health problems. After much searching and pulling blood from so many goats, we were able to find 38 healthy goats to pass out.

Besides searching for goats or inspecting pens, we were also busy making posters, writing the training manual, and about a dozen other small things that needed to be organized for the paravet training day and pass-out. We worked long hours everyday and tried as hard as we could to get everything done before Lena left, but alas, African Time won and we had to push the date back for both events and sadly Lena would have to miss out on them.

Lena flew home on Monday, so Sunday night we had the VWB family over for dinner as a joint going away party for her and a birthday party for Shafiq (one of our translators). As you’d expect, it was bitter-sweet but at the same time couldn’t have been more perfect. I’m not sure why, or how it happened, but after Brittany pulled out her ukulele to sing for Shafiq, Vivian requested to hear “Happy” by Pharrell Williams and that kicked off the start of an epic dance party! In case you were wondering, white girls still can’t dance as good as Ugandans, but we try! My face actually hurt from laughing and smiling so hard and I will forever be reminded of this night when I hear that song. According to Joseph, “the way we’ve chatted tonight has added years” and “if we can dance, we can make it” and I couldn’t agree more.

A couple days later, we arrive at the demo farm with training manuals and homemade posters in hand. Claire did a brief intro then asked the group for any questions they might have or tough cases they’ve seen over the last few months. I suppose this is where I should probably explain what paravets are. Paravets are members of the communities that have been selected to receive special vet med training, allowing them to provide very basic medical care to livestock. They do a week-long course taught by VWB interns and upon graduation they are awarded a medical kit to take with them into the field. Each year we provide a refresher training to go over some of the basics and answer their questions, which is followed by hands-on training to help them refine some of their skills.

After the intro and many, many, MANY questions it was time for me to present. Oddly enough, I ended up discussing pig husbandry for the second year in a row, but then added on common pig diseases faced here. Susanne discussed the chicken training section and Brit talked about cattle followed by a demonstration on how to properly milk cows. We then broke for lunch followed by the hands-on training section of the day. Attempting to learn from the chaos that ensued during this section last year, we broke the paravets into groups and arranged ourselves into stations. First up was Susanne with the physical exam station where she taught the paravets how to properly restrain a goat, check it’s body condition score, take a temperature, age the goats, and check their FAMACHA score, which measures anemia by looking at the conjunctiva. Pale conjunctiva indicates anemia due to a high blood-sucking parasite burden likely from the Haemonchus contortus worm. Following this station, they would move to my station where I taught them how to properly vaccinate against Brucella melitensis and clostridium (or what the locals call “sudden death”), and how to deworm the goats. Next up was Brittany with the IDing and ear tag station, and lastly they saw Joseph to spray the goats to repel ticks.

The day was very long, but also very successful! Like last year, the paravets were all very eager to learn and asked a lot of questions. It was great to see them so excited and passionate about being an educated paravet. This made me realized just how much what I’m doing here means to these people. For us, it might seem like just a simple presentation where we looked up some facts, drew a few posters and relayed all we learned back to some people we barely know. However, to them it was so much more; we are teaching them how to make a living and improve their livelihood and for some this could be their means of survival. Beyond that, it’s a break from their day after day life of working in a plantation or tending to duties around the home, so to them this was a big deal. All of us here agreed that it feels great to be a part of this fun day!

Next up, the big goat pass-out!

All of the Paravets that attended the training:

All the paravets that attended the training

An example of a great pen:

An example of a great pen

Brit and Shafiq discussing cattle diseases:

Brit and Shafiq discussing cattle diseases

Claire and I demonstrating how to castrate piglets:

Claire and I demonstrating how to castrate piglets

Katarina from the Kahenda community learning how to restrain goats:

Katarina from the Kahenda community learning how to restrain goats

Last team photo together:

Last team photo together

Spontaneous dance party:

Spontaneous dance party

Teaching how to vaccinate against clostridium:

Teaching how to vaccinate against clostridium

VWB Family Photo:

VWB family photo