A Day In The Life – VWB Uganda: Part 1

Text and photos by Jamie Neufeld, VWB intern and WCVM veterinary student, with Kyla Kotchea, Shauna Thomas, and Veronica Pickens

photo1cOur dining room, office, and lab in Mbarara.

While in Uganda, we are based out of Mbarara, a dusty town in the southwest of the country. We are renting an apartment at the Mbarara University of Science and Technology residences that triples as our office and laboratory. This photo features Veronica, Kyla, and Shauna with several VWB intern essentials: water, sunscreen, coffee, bananas, books, and beetroot smoothies.photo2An under-construction pen – do you reckon the goats will appreciate the view?

Most mornings begin with picking up our translator and dear friend, Vivian, and driving out to one of the sixteen community groups we work with. The groups are scattered throughout the countryside near a small town called Kaberebere, where we often stop to pick up chapati for our lunches. Chapati is made out of flour, baking soda, water, salt, and oil. It is fried in a large pan and resembles a crepe or big piece of naan.
The area of the country we work in is incredibly beautiful, to the point where our translators may becoming tired of our enthusiastic exclamations about the hills, streams, and species of plants that are foreign to us. The red dirt roads provide a scenic contrast with the diverse, lush greenery, and banana plantations take over the majority of the countryside.photo3The Kahenda Widows Group meets once a month. At their meeting we learned about the troubles the women are facing with theft in their community and accessibility to cervical cancer screening and treatment.

The VWB goat pass-on project has been in country for ten years, with the University of Saskatchewan and the Foundation for AIDS and Orphaned Children (FAOC) being major partners. The project focuses on impoverished women, many of them widows and the only income contributor in a household of 8+ people. Livestock and land ownership favours men, but it is acceptable for women to raise goats. Goats are hardy and manageable animals, making them ideal for empowering these women by giving them the means of going beyond goat farming to provide for their families, pay for school fees, buy mattresses, electricity, pots and pans, clothing, menstrual pads, and much more, like moving beyond agriculture and owning/operating small businesses. In the short amount of time working alongside these women we have heard many awe-inspiring success stories.photo4Vivian (right) translates the conversation between us and Margaret, chairperson for Akatete.

The project wouldn’t be possible without our Ugandan translators who are passionate and knowledgeable about the women’s groups and goat pass-on. Their relationships with the women and community members are invaluable while traveling from home to home to chat with beneficiaries, or needing directions along the way. The language spoken in this area is Runyankore, which is one of the 40+ languages spoken in Uganda. We have learned the local greetings and pleasantries, which is most often received with much delight.
photo5A newborn kid belonging to Innocent, whose mother originally received goats from VWB. He has taken over the goat care since his mother has become less mobile.

On July 20th we will be passing out goats as loans to beneficiaries who have demonstrated need for the animals, knowledge of goat husbandry (which we will happily teach them), and have built a proper pen. When a member receives a pair of goats, the loan must be repaid by passing a female kid on to another member in the group, and selling a male kid with profits going into the revolving fund, which functions as a bank. The groups meet once or twice a month and pay a small fee (about one Canadian dollar) per sitting that goes into the revolving fund. The money is loaned out when members have medical expenses, fall short on school fees, or want to improve their homes, and is retuned with interest.
To reiterate, the member receives one or two goats, passes on at least two goats, and then has a pair to make profits from. The groups that have embraced the pass on scheme have succeeded with goat husbandry and become a more sustainable community. Several groups have accumulated enough money in the revolving fund to buy all the grandmothers mattresses or chairs, pay school fees for every child, or invested in sewing machines or big sauce pans to either rent out or utilize as another income generating source.
photo6Rose stands proudly next to the pen she built, tick spray in hand. Rose has a strong pen with a door and a lock for the necessary security measures, but we advised she clean under her pen every day to prevent respiratory distress in her animals.

We work with many women like Rose from Kyenyangi. Rose farms goats, chickens, beans, maize, matooke, and an assortment of fruits to provide for her household of eight people, plus her eldest daughter’s postsecondary education in Kampala, where she is studying to become a lab technician. Before Rose joined the project, her home did not have electricity, she was without a cell phone, and was able to feed her family twice a day. Rose received goats from VWB, repaid her loan within one year, and has succeeded in raising goats through vaccinating, spraying for ticks, and deworming. Her home now has a solar panel for electricity and her family eats three times a day, sometimes four. Rose has been a member of the FAOC/VWB project for over five years and gave us full-hearted thanks for how the project has enriched her family’s lives, which should be passed on to all of the previous volunteers, interns, and project supervisors.
photo7Under the shifting shade of a few trees, Kandabe Gaude sorts through freshly harvested beans to take to the Monday market.

73-year-old Kandabe Gaude from Kyera enthusiastically rounded up her grandchildren so they could practice their English when I asked about who lives in her household. She supports five grandchildren and four of her own children by selling goats, beans, matooke, mango, avocado, and oranges. Four of the people in her care are HIV positive, so a portion of her income goes towards transportation to pick up medication and attend medical appointments.
Veterinarians play an important role in global and public health, as the wellness of people, animals, and the environment is all interconnected. The goat pass-on project is a people-first approach where animals are farmed as a means to bettering the livelihood of families. We spend more time speaking with members than practicing medicine, where we learn about individual and community challenges so we can continue improving how we work together.
After a wonderful meeting under the shade of a few trees, Gaude poured 1/2 kg of these hand-sorted beans into my camera bag as a gift to take home and soak.
Watch this space for Part 2!