Text and photos by Katy White, UCVM Veterinary Student and VWB Intern, and by Julia Nguyen, OVC Veterinary Student and VWB Intern
The internships with the Wakulima Dairy group are a joint initiative of Veterinarians without Borders and Farmers Helping Farmers, an organization of globally-minded people from Prince Edward Island partnering with Kenyan farmers and families. This project is also supported by the Sir James Dunn Animal Welfare Centre.
Our project here in Mukurwe-ini has come to an end. It is bittersweet to be finishing our time here as we have had such a great summer. Filled with many amazing adventures and lots of good work, we feel very lucky to have been selected as interns this year. We are happy to have completed such a successful project and met so many amazing people. However, these last three months have flown by and we can’t believe the time has come to say goodbye. Through our youth project we gave seminars to nearly 400 people on 40 farms. 55% of the people who attended the seminars were women and 51% were youth. The 40 youth farmers we worked with saw improvements in their milk production, and the majority of them have become really engaged in getting more youth in the area interested in dairy farming.
We have high hopes for the future of this project in the coming years. The extension team at the Wakulima Dairy have been instrumental in helping us reach out to farmers, and we were lucky to have them join us on several farm visits. Through the help of a recent donor we were able to buy Mastrite (an udder wash and teat dip) for the youth farmers who excelled through our project. The hope is that their farms can be used as demo farms where the extension team can continue to hold seminars over the next year keeping the youth engaged until a new group of interns returns next summer.
The work we did on farms was truly rewarding for us. There is a sense of satisfaction that comes from giving someone knowledge that will help them to create a sustainable and stable future. However, as much as we were rewarded through our teaching, we also found that each and every day contained a learning opportunity for us. On a personal level we both found that our communication skills improved a lot. Learning to interact with people who don’t share your language or culture can sometimes present challenges. However, with patience, a good sense of humor, and an excellent translator nearby; any language or cultural differences soon melt away. We also became much more proficient in our cow handling and milking skills. Without a chute system, convincing a temperamental dairy cow that you have her best interests at heart while you are trying to take her temperature can make for an interesting afternoon. With three months of practice, we have found we are much more practiced in the art of “cow whispering” and can milk with the best of them!
We also learnt a lot about the challenges of small scale dairy farming here in Kenya. As we mentioned in a previous blog post, dairy farming in Kenya is a full time job. Farmers have to be up at 5:00am for the first milking, spend the morning getting their children to school, complete all the necessary chores on the farm, and gather forage for their cow before the next milking around noon. They often also have another job that they then go to, or have to tend to the many other animals or crops present on their farm. Working these types of hours can be discouraging when you are getting a poor milk return from your cow. However, the Kenyan farmers we have worked with are some of the hardest working people we have ever met. This mixed with their passion for dairy farming and interest in improving is bound to help them see improvements in the future. Especially if programs like ours continue to help educate farmers in the small changes they can make to see large returns in milk production.
On a broader scale we also learned about working in international development. The youth project was based on the premise of One Health. Creating a healthier future for communities, by creating solutions for animal, human and environmental health. This project really showed us how making simple changes on a small scale can make a big impact in a community. By improving the welfare of single cows on small scale dairy farms, you can improve monthly income for an entire family. When the education that helped make that change is spread through the community, you start to see economic stability spread throughout the area. The partnership with the Wakulima Dairy was formed over 20 years ago. Small improvements to single farms may have seemed relatively inconsequential then, but now the Wakulima is a booming dairy that processes 35,000 kg of milk every single day. With over 6,000 farmers it has helped make Mukurwe-ini a great place to live for Kenyan farmers. It truly shows that small changes with the right goals can make big difference to families and communities in developing areas.
As with any project in a developing country, we could not have made these last three months happen without the help of many people. This project would not have been successful without the help of the staff at the Wakulima Dairy, especially their extension team. The extension team selected our 40 youth farmers, helped us coordinate getting project supplies, and assisted in ensuring our seminars run smoothly. We are so thankful to have them and Gerald Kariuki, ex-coordinator of the Dairy, helping us with any issues we faced that seemed a little over our heads.
Our team in the field consists of our translator Priscilla Muthoni, and our driver Ephraim Mutahi. We are so thankful to them. Without their help many farmers would not be able to understand us, and we wouldn’t have been able to navigate to the many different villages we travelled to. Together we have shared many laughs, and got to know each other well. They have become our Kenyan family and our days were made brighter by working alongside them.
We are very thankful for those who have made our stay in Kenya feel like a home away from home. Samuel Karanja is our wonderful chef who ensures we are well fed during the busy work week. In addition to experiencing his amazing meals, his friendship and company allowed us to feel as comfortable and as safe as possible. We are truly happy and thankful for his work. We also must thank Ruth Wathiha, a wonderful woman that hand-washes our laundry. She is very kind, sweet, and a loving mother of two boys. Her work for us is almost invaluable, as we work long days and get quite dirty on farms. We very much appreciate her work and the warmth with which she welcomed us to Kenya.
Image 7: Julia, Priscilla, Ruth, and Katy. These women are inspirational both in their work and home lives. Their families are lucky to have such amazing women taking care of them, and we feel privileged to know them.
We would not have been able to travel to Kenya and participate in this service project without the support of the following charitable organizations: Veterinarians Without Borders Canada, Farmers Helping Farmers and The Sir James Dunn Animal Welfare Centre. We are thankful for their partnership and support in facilitating the growth of student veterinarians, like ourselves, and One Health initiatives in developing countries. Finally, thank you to all of our friends, family, and donors that have supported our project during the last three amazing months. Please know that this project was more than we could have hoped for, and that your support helped make real change for the families we worked with here in Kenya. It is with hope that we look to the future and say not Kwaheri (goodbye) to Kenya, but instead Tutaonana (see you soon)!