By Dr. Gerry Smith
Dr. Gerry Smith has been a veterinarian for 34 years, mostly in large or mixed practice. He is currently in Tanzania working as a Field Veterinary Advisor with Africa Bridge with the objective of improving field practical knowledge of poultry and dairy health. In the past, Dr. Smith has served as a Director for Western Drug Distribution Center in Edmonton, AB. (a purchasing group and distribution center for veterinary products and supplies) and a Director for the Spray Lake Sawmills Recreation Park Society in Cochrane AB.
Today we saw why we are here and who we hope to help. Africa Bridge, VWB/VSF’s partner organization in Tanzania, identifies families with the most vulnerable children then sets up co-ops of dairy, chicken or avocado with these families and their community. They provide the animals or trees, training, resources and follow up support so that after 5 years the families can continue on their own. Dr. Amy Lowe (another Canadian volunteer) and I were able to assist the District Veterinarian and his crew, along with some of our Africa Bridge colleagues, in vaccinating some of the dairy heifers for East Coast Fever. The facilities and environment are more rudimentary than in Canada. I got involved in the restraint of the animals and left the needle and ear tag work to Dr. Amy Lowe, Dr Kibona and Kimose. Many of the families are headed by single women – in one of the pictures below is a widow with her three young boys. To see the care she gave and the pride she took in her heifer, the participation of the boys, the way she clasped our hands after and said ‘asante sana’ and “ndaga” many times ………..no words.
Our project is a joint effort by Veterinarians without Borders Canada and Africa Bridge. The program is designed to provide sustainable support for those in the community who are most vulnerable. Yesterday we visited one of the projects in its initial phase in the Kambasegela Ward, which is comprised of three villages and the surrounding farmers. In order to select those families most in need, a committee of community members is elected, trained in data collection. They then visit families who have been identified by this committee as being vulnerable. Any other households noticed during the visits who may not have been identified are included in the data collection. The household I visited was one of those, not on the list but, quite in need. From this data, the families are ranked by degree of need and, depending on the budget, a number of them will be selected to participate in the co-ops. The land is beautiful and fertile with abundant water. Crops include banana, cocoa, cassava, potato, tea, avocado and maize. Production from the land is limited by traditional practices and insufficient money for seed and fertilizer. As the families grow the plots of land become too small to support a family as it is divided from one generation to the next. Many challenges ensue – property disputes, absentee land owners, a generation of young men unwilling to work on the farms, HIV/AIDS and many other factors.
The agricultural co-ops provide income to the families through the sale of milk, eggs, meat and avocados to allow members to better care for their children, send them to school, obtain health care, etc. Our role as veterinarians, is to provide guidance in developing and refining the health care/management program of the animals and to help train the co-op coordinators and Ward Livestock Officers in animal care. These communities are very invested in this process. Members attend training classes and do data collection, supervision and the administration of the program on a volunteer basis, many of them walking 10-15 km to participate. One of the Livestock Officers told me that transportation is one of the biggest issues she faces. If she gets a call to help a farmer she has to hire a taxi (usually a motorbike) and even then, especially in the rainy season, often cannot get to the farm in time.