Getting Started with Wakulima Dairy

By Katy White, UCVM 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.

We have safely arrived in Mukurwe-ini with all of our luggage! Arriving at 3am in Nairobi the streets were very quiet. This was sharply contrasted 6 hours later as we ran some last minute errands in the city. The streets were bustling with people, motorbikes, and cars. As we were running on very little sleep it was nice to get out of the busy city for a change of pace. We stopped at the Starbucks Hotel in Karatina for a lunch of chapati, a Kenyan specialty fried flat bread. Upon arriving at our house we were presently whisked off for dinner at Gerald Kariuki’s house. Gerald is the recently retired coordinator of the Wakulima Dairy group. He is helping facilitate our work with them as well as many other Farmers Helping Farmers projects. We were very grateful for the delicious meal served, followed by chai, tea, and fruit. The chai tea is plentiful here and I imagine we will have had a lot of it by the end of the summer.

Kenya - 1The next day we organized some of our work materials, and met with some of the Wakulima dairy employees we will be working with. The dairy is quite impressive. Having started in 1980 with only 35 farmers producing about 36 kg of milk per day, today it is a busy cooperative of over 6000 farmers producing nearly 50 000 kg of milk per day. Both pasteurized milk and yogurt are sold from the facility and they are constantly looking for ways to expand further. We were impressed by the efficiency of the operation as we moved through from milk receiving and testing to pasteurization, packaging, and shipping.  At left Julia (left) and I are all dressed up for our tour of the dairy.

In our project we will be working with youth farmers of the Wakulima Dairy. We will be visiting 40 farms three times each over the course of our 3 month stay. The service project is based on research by Dr. Shauna Richards on cow comfort, hygiene, nutrition, and disease prevention on small scale farms. At each farm we will be helping them to alter their stalls to make them more comfortable for the cows. The more cows rest the more milk they make. We also help them to keep their stalls clean and go over milking practices to help prevent mastitis. We will help them improve their feeding practices to ensure that nutrition is optimized for milk production. On our final visit we will help the farmers teach a seminar to other youth farmers in the area so that they can also benefit from these practises. The hope is that in the future this new group will work together to continuously improve their dairy farming.

So far we have completed eight of our farm visits. The farmers have been very welcoming and eager to learn. Our team consists of myself, fellow intern Julia Nguyen, Shauna, Priscilla (our translator), and Ephraim (our driver and stall constructor extraordinaire). We have had lots of fun getting to know each other so far and I am excited for the rest of the summer!

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One of the milk trucks that delivers maziwa (milk in Swahili) from the Wakulima dairy. Their brand name is “Royal Fresh”.



Samuel, our amazing chef, purchasing vegetables for dinner at the market in Mukurwe-ini.


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Julia, Shauna, and Pricilla enjoying the sun after one of our first days of farm work.


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Taking a little break at one of our first farm visits.






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This was the first cow we got to see immediately enjoy the comforts of its new and improved stall.


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Julia ensuring all the calves are getting their fair share of Napier grass.

Meet the Students — Kenya

Planned Project:

Collaboration between Farmers Helping Farmers and Veterinarians Without Borders Canada is helping to improve dairy cow management, productivity and animal welfare for smallholder farmers in Mukurwe-ini Kenya. Over 6000 farmers sell milk to the local Mukurwe-ini Wakulima Dairy Ltd. (MWDL), which is an integral source of income for many women and their families in the area. FHF has partnered with the MWDL for 20+ years to improve agricultural production as a foundation for sustainable community development, with the assistance of VWB over the past 6+ years. The 2016 project at the MWDL will be a service project based on years of research and work in this region. Past research results will be used to improve farmer knowledge and milk production. Specifically, youth farmers will be recruited and trained to help train current and new youth members of the MWDL in order to sustain the dairy as the current population of member farmers is aging. In addition to educating dairy farmers the 2016 internship will build on last years pilot project of One Health education in primary schools in the Mukurwe-ini area. The One Health topics will include topics such as how to identify and avoid transmission of diseases between animals and humans, such as Rabies.

Meet the Team:


Katy White is a 1st year veterinary student from Banff, Alberta. She is currently studying at the University of Calgary and is interested in large animal medicine. Katy has worked with horses, sheep, cattle, and companion animals in both Canada and New Zealand. This will be her first trip to Kenya and she is very excited to have the chance to experience the culture, work with farmers in the area, and help with teaching.


Julia Nguyen is a 2nd year veterinary student at the Ontario Veterinary College, and is from Toronto, Ontario. Julia has worked with small and large animals, as well as wildlife. She is interested in food animal medicine. This will also be her first trip to Kenya and is looking forward to all the internship has to offer, while also making a meaningful contribution within the community

Katy and Julia will be working under the supervision of Dr. Shauna Richards a PhD student at the Atlantic Veterinary College and board member of Farmers Helping Farmers. Shauna has been doing her PhD work in Kenya for the last 3 summers, and recently returned in February from volunteering with Vets Without Borders to assist smallholder dairy farmers in Kenya.

Why Did You Want to Volunteer in Kenya?

Katy: I view the VWB/FHF internship program as a unique opportunity to grow my career as a veterinarian in training, while also learning about a new culture and place. I plan on practicing as a rural vet when I graduate and I believe that the challenges I will face while working in east Africa could help strengthen my versatility, my personal confidence, and my mental fortitude. I think that the more diverse my experiences are in my formative years, the more prepared I will be for unexpected or adverse scenarios when I start my professional career. Prior to veterinary school I spent a year living and working on a cattle and sheep farm in rural New Zealand. I have seen first hand how important good animal husbandry is, especially when you are working with animals that your family relies on for a living, and the importance a strong community bond can play in maintaining health herd and a healthy human population. While in high school I took part in a Habitat for Humanity program in rural Honduras. We spent two weeks in Honduras helping with the construction of a new elementary school. Being exposed to a new culture was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life and one that I would like to repeat. As a high school student I found that I learned more from my trip than I could give back, and I think this program would be similar, though I hope that now I have the skill set to give to help improve animal, human, and environmental health while in another country.

Julia: I applied to volunteer with Veterinarians Without Borders because I want the opportunity to help both animals and people at once. By fostering the relationship between humans and animals in developing countries, I hope to learn about how other groups of people live, how they interact with animals and how this influences their way of life. I hope that my clinical experience, interpersonal skills and motivation to help address public health issues will help enhance the project. Experiencing first-hand how impoverished communities maintain a sustainable lifestyle will most definitely change my worldview, and will most certainly be a humbling experience. In summary, I want to participate in this program to help and give back to communities in a developing country and in doing so grow and learn as a person and a future veterinarian.

What Are You Expectations for this Summer?

Katy: I expect this summer to be quite the adventure. The reading I have done on Kenya’s rich history and culture has fuelled my excitement. From all accounts the people of Kenya are generous and friendly. I hope to be able to create new friends while contributing to the worthwhile work of Veterinarians Without Borders and Farmers Helping Farmers. I have been impressed by the results of this project from the last two summers and hope to be an effective member of the team. Veterinary school has impressed upon me the importance of One Health initiatives and I want to contribute to creating a healthy sustainable future for the people and animals we work with. Alongside my excitement I also feel nervous for any challenges that we may face. I know that part of working in a rural areas means adapting to situations where you do not have access to certain tools that you are used to. However, while I anticipate to there to be a few road bumps along the way I believe that Shauna, Julia, and I will make a good team and overcome any challenges we face together.

Julia: My expectations for this summer are to experience a truly immersive education in One Health by being able to help nurture the relationships between humans, animals and their environment. I expect life in a developing country to have its cultural challenges, feel homesickness and the challenge of experiencing a ‘new normal’ for the summer. These are challenges that I will face head-on and I am confident that this project is nothing less than an amazing opportunity and experience. I am excited for the new friendships and connections I will be able to make with people from across Canada and internationally. I am nervous about language barriers but I see this as a challenge in order to further develop my communication skills and learn a new language. I hope to make the most of this internship and make a contribution to the smaller steps for a greater solution within the communities of rural Kenya.

Ban San Tor: The Cricket Farming Village

By Emma Dobson

Emma Dobson is a nutritionist interning with VWB/VSF Canada in Laos.

This month two members from VWB/VSF’s micro livestock team in Laos visited Thailand to see how this neighboring country farms crickets. Thailand has already been farming crickets for nearly twenty years, and around 20,000 farmers raise crickets for human consumption. In contrast, cricket farming in Laos is very new and had almost no producers before 2010. The village to see was Ban San Tor in Khon Kaen province, located in the north east of the country, which boasts sixty-six farmers producing crickets. The scale of these farms is much larger than anything we’ve seen in Laos, with many farmers operating dozens of large cages. This village is serious about crickets, not only because you see a giant cricket statue at the front entrance- they are also producing 15 tonnes of the insect every month, enough to make crickets their main source of income.

VWB’s Laos micro livestock team (Thomas Weigel and Emma Dobson) at the entrance to the village. 

One farmer in the village began his operation ten years back by collecting crickets in the wild to place in captivity. Since then, he has expanded his farm and now earns about $2,000 USD a month through the sale of crickets. Cricket farming in this drought-prone area is ideal, as crickets require relatively little water compared to other livestock. One of the major advantages mentioned by farmers was that the operation does not take up a great deal of time, often only 30 minutes to 1 hour a day to maintain the cages. Farmers also like that they can stay at home to work, and one older man stated that it was a suitable activity for elderly persons such as himself. Initially these farmers had difficulty accessing markets to sell their crickets, however things have changed and there are now several buyers who regularly come to the village to purchase the insects.


Inside one of the farms. This building was half of one man’s operation. Originally used for pigs, it was converted to cricket cages a few years ago.

Various villages in the area have taken up cricket farming, with some establishing cooperatives that include cold storage facilities. Ban San Tor had formerly established a cooperative, but found that co-op activities sometimes took more time than the farming itself. Although they are not officially part of a cooperative, this community works together by exchanging not only knowledge, but also their cricket eggs to prevent inbreeding. All farmers sell their crickets to buyers for the same price, and the average income for a farmer will be about 565 USD/month, above average for Thailand and a respectable amount to live off of considering the cost of living. However, feeding the crickets continues to be an expensive endeavor, with almost all of the production costs coming from the purchase of commercial cricket feed. A less costly alternative has the potential to greatly improve the profit margins for these farmers.


These farmers use commercial cricket feed from CP company –convenient and nutritionally complete, but very expensive.

Looking to the future, these farmers believe cricket farming will continue to develop in Thailand if the government maintains their support of farming activities. They are currently providing assistance to those starting up cricket farms, supporting producer cooperatives, and sending food safety inspectors to farms. As these Thai farmers continue to expand their production, some hope to export processed cricket products to other countries. Western countries are becoming increasingly curious when it comes to eating insects, giving these farmers a potential opportunity to expand distribution. But to make this easier, they first need some help from the government in establishing food safety regulations.

It was truly impressive to see a whole village involved in cricket farming. The future looks bright for these entrepreneurs, especially if the industry continues to receive government support. We’re left wondering whether a similar model would be acceptable or possible in Laos, and whether or not we should move towards supporting larger scale production. But for now, we’ll continue to evaluate the potential of small-scale cricket farms here in Laos.

Cricket Farming Knowledge Spreads to Khammouan Province

By Emma Dobson

Emma Dobson is a volunteer in Laos with Veterinarians without Borders/Vètèrinaires sans Frontiérs Canada

Last week 20 farmers from seven villages in Xaybouathong district, Khammouan province had the chance to experience cricket farming first hand. Through a project with Agronomes et Vétérinaires Sans Frontières (AVSF), farmers interested in starting their own cricket farms made the journey north to learn more about this opportunity through a hands on learning experience. The hosts for the day were the villages of Phonthong and Naoh in Bolikhamxay province, who have been participating in a cricket-farming project with VWB since April 2015.

The day began at Phonthong with a welcome and some brief introductions. Next, it was time to see the insects in action. The first stop was a home that had been incubating cricket eggs. Farmers learned how to store the eggs, when they were ready to hatch, and what materials are best for eggs to be laid in. The next stop was a home with a cage of young crickets. Here, farmers learned about cage setups, pest control methods, proper watering techniques, and different foods crickets can be fed. As they approached the third home, cricket songs could be heard for the first time. This final stop in the village had a cage full of the sound-producing adults. Here, farmers learned about the final stages of production, harvesting techniques, and had any final questions answered. After a delicious lunch together in Phonthong (which included crickets), the farmers said their thanks and goodbyes and were off to the next village.

Farmers learning about eggs and the initial stages of cricket production.

In Naoh, farmers had a similar experience with the chance to visit three more cricket cages in various stages of development. At one home they were even able to see the egg laying take place. Many farmers came away from the visit eager to begin their own operation, with several of them inquiring about acquiring cricket eggs. After more thanks and goodbyes, the visiting farmers made the long drive back to their homes in the south.

Visiting six different set-ups in two different villages, farmers saw different approaches and techniques, and could ask the host farmers what was successful and what was not. Farmers from both host villages were keen to share their knowledge, and the visit gave them a chance to show what they had accomplished.


Farmers getting a close look inside a cricket cage.

Joining the farmers on this tour were four government officials from the Thakhek Provincial Agricultural and Forestry Office (PAFO), as well as two trainers from the Extension and Cooperative Department of the Boulikanxai District Agricultural and Forestry Office (DAFO). The following day these groups met at the Boulikanxai DAFO office where the trainers provided a session on how to prepare farmers to raise crickets. Topics included life cycle of crickets, cage design and construction, rearing and harvesting techniques, and well as effective ways of delivering the training to farmers. The hope is that with the help of AVSF, these government officials will conduct training sessions on cricket production to the farmers from Xaybouathong to help them begin their own cricket farms.


Government officials from Thakhek learning how to train cricket farmers.

Overall, the farmer-to-farmer exchange visit and training of trainers was a huge success. All participants came away from it with new knowledge and hands on experiences. We wish these farmers well in starting up their own cricket farms!

Life at the Cattle Camp — A South Sudan Photo Essay

By John Julian

In November, thousands of cattle, and their minders, are on the move in South Sudan, heading for swampy areas where there is  enough water and grass to sustain the herds through the long dry season. After days or weeks on the move, they assemble in mobile cattle camps that will be home until the rains come again in April or May. The camp featured here is in the Thiek Thou region of Warrap State.



The camp is largely inhabited by young people — adolescent boys and girls and young men — who rig makeshift mosquito nets and sleep in the midst of the tethered cattle.  Most of the older men and women stay behind to look after the homesteads.



There are a few elders about — providing leadership and guidance.

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And there are also children.  Even toddlers are sent to the camp.  Milk is the one food that herding people can count on, and most inhabitants of the camp live on little else.  Parents know that their children will not go hungry if they stay close to the cattle. Children too small for other duties — such as this little girl  — are in charge of the little ones.



Milking is the responsibility of the older girls who move though the herd with their gourds, milking cows where they stand.

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Children gather the manure and spread it out to dry.  It is burned in smoldering fires designed to keep mosquitos and the tsetse fly at bay.  The many fires scattered throughout the camp mean that life is often lived through a smoky haze.


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Young men take great pride in their animals — particularly the bulls they are given to raise when they are boys. Those special bulls are trained to respond to specific songs, or to follow their masters through the camp to the sound of a drum.

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Cattle raids are a right of passage for young men. But the deadly firepower available from successive waves of conflict in South Sudan has made the raids much more lethal, raising the body count for combattants and for bystanders, including children and animals.  In January of 2016 camp leaders in the area along the border between Warrap and Unity States agreed to a cattle raid truce.  The agreement was still holding in mid-March, though young men remained armed and vigilant.

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With so many people and animals living in such close proximity, an outbreak of disease could have deadly consequences for both.  With funding support from Veterinarians without Borders Canada,  a community animal health team from VSF Germany visits regularly and has vaccinated nearly all of the animals in the camp.   Below, Community Animal Health Worker Akot treats a sick calf.



Animal health care in the cattle camps is just one activity in a program funded by Gobal Affairs Canada designed to improve food security in two regions of the country.  With the rainy season fast approaching VWB/VSF Canada and its partners VSF Germany and VSF Suisse are working hard to gather seeds and tools to increase the production of vegetables and cereals during the upcoming growing season. As many as 2.8 million people in South Sudan are facing food shortages this year — a direct result of the ongoing conflict in the region. The project includes the distribution of ox ploughs and training in their use so that small holders can substantial increase their crop acreage. Families will also receive chickens and training in poultry production. Monique Charron is VWB/VSF’s Senior Project Manager in charge of the South Sudan Project and John Bosco Wale is South Sudan Programme Manager.
















Farmers Group Introduces Innovative Cricket Products to the Lao Market

Farmers Group Introduces Innovative Cricket Products to the Lao Market

By Thomas Weigel

Together with the Food Processing Unit of the Faculty of Agriculture, our 16 cricket farmers have gone a long way to develop and refine cricket-based products. It all started with the idea to process frozen crickets into value-added products and generate some income during the cold season when the cricket production usually slows down or stops. An additional consideration was to make use of crickets which are of too small to be sold raw at the markets.

During initial workshops, which took place in the village, the farmers learned how to produce cricket chips and cricket chili paste with simple means locally available.

Pounding crickets & other ingredients               Making the dough for chips

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Steaming the dough           Slicing the dough               Drying the chips slices in the sun


In order to sell the products, the farmers then decided to develop labels for the chips and the chili paste, use proper packaging, and do some product promotion.

Label for chili paste              Label for cricket chip                      Producer group label

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Product promotion poster (English version)


As the raining season approached, which made the drying of the chips more difficult, the production was shifted to the faculty’s food laboratory.

Production of chips and chili paste in the food laboratory


To assess the market potential, the products were then introduced to and promoted at markets and restaurants in Vientiane.

Products displayed at market stalls in Vientiane

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Through the feedback of the market sellers and restaurants, the cricket farmers learned that they had to adjust the recipes of the products more to the tastebuds of their potential customers: they reduced the spiciness of the chili paste and increased the salt content of both products. In addition to this, the producer group has to work with the faculty’s Food Processing Unit to increase the shelf life of the chili paste.

In order to ensure product quality and safety, the cricket farmers participated in a workshop on hygiene and food safety measures.

Workshop on Hygiene & Food Safety Measures

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The product promotion and the customer feedback showed that there is a demand for these cricket-based products. Since then, a larger restaurant has placed a substantial order for crickets and cricket chips, and is willing to introduce the cricket farmers and their products to a wider network of restaurants in Vientiane. However, challenges remain. To fully tap into the market potential, the producer group will have to develop further and also ensure a continuous supply of the products. In addition to further support from VWB and faculty, the Agriculture Extension and Cooperative Section under the Provincial Agriculture and Forestry Office has agreed to assist the cricket farmers in the developing their business. We hope that in the near future, consumers in Laos will have access to their novel and nutritious cricket products.

Sharing and Learning on the Back Roads of Kenya

Dr. Bill Hazen is a member of the first group of volunteers deployed through VWB/VSF’s Volunteers for Healthy Animals and Healthy Communities project. In the piece below he reflects on a wonderful partnership with a local vet tech.

I am currently in the small village of Ex-Lewa with a team of volunteers with Veterinarians Without Borders in partnership with Farmers Helping Farmers, an NGO from PEI. There are no “veterinary surgeons” servicing the area on a regular basis, the primary care is provided by technicians that have taken a 2 year course and are taught the basics in veterinary care. My mandate on this trip was to travel with the vet techs, assess their skill level and offer suggestions to improve the level of diagnoses and treatment. There are 2 vet techs in the Ex-Lewa area and one of them has come forth and eagerly sought out new information and techniques to diagnose and treat livestock.
His name is Simon Muchoki, he is 38 yrs old, married and father of 2children. He has been servicing this area for the past 14 years, initially employed by the Ex-Lewa dairy co-operative and currently has his own business, Ebeneezer AI and animal health services, with an office in the Ex Lewa market. Here is Simon with his mobile vet services.

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I have spent the last 2 weeks with Simon and have 1 week to go. I would not fit on his motorbike and with the state of the roads here, my degenerative spine would not be happy on a motorbike, so we have rented a car and driver. David is the car owner and driver and he not only drives us he is assisting us with restraint and in whatever way he can. Here we are getting ready to head out for the day.

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All Simon uses to make his diagnoses is a thermometer and a cursory physical exam, he does quite well, however, I am teaching him the value of additional information provided by a stethoscope such as heart rate, different lung sounds, stomach motility, and checking for a sternal grunt found in cows with hardware disease. I did bring stethoscopes donated by Dr. Wayne McDonnell a retired prof from the Ontario Veterinary College and have given one to Simon. Below is Simon checking the heart rate on a downer cow.


When dehorning I noticed he did not provide analgesia using a nerve block ( the same way a dentist freezes your tooth) to minimize pain in the procedure. I reviewed with Simon the technique and we froze all the rest of the calves dehorned that day. Simon uses a large piece of iron that was part of a truck spring and put in the fire until it is red hot and uses it for disbudding small calves or cauterizing after wire sawing the big horns. I think we need to educate the farmers as well on the benefits to their animals , so they will ask the technicians to do this for their animals.

The next picture is a cow with East Coast Fever, this is a tick borne disease causing a high fever, cough and swollen lymph nodes. They respond well if caught early, treated with oxytetracycline. This cow had a temp of 106.6 F (41.4 C). Here Simon is commending the farmer on the good body condition of her cows, due to the fact that she is cutting her Napier grass at the best height for high feed value, and also advising her after cutting the forage to let it wilt for a day away from the cows so the ticks will leave the plants and not expose the cow and minimize further cases of ECF.


One of the biggest impacts we have on milk quality is to reduce the incidence of mastitis and I have encouraged Simon to do a California Mastitis Test on all cows that are going dry. This is a very cheap and easy test, milking some milk onto a paddle and mixing with a soap-like solution, if there is subclinical mastitis the milk will gel. One of the biggest returns on investment is to dry cow treat these positive cows at dry off. We have supplied Simon with a CMT paddle and the solution is readily available here. The following two pictures are of Simon doing the CMT test and dry cow treating a positive cow.


Many of the calls I attended with Simon were for fertility issues. Either no observable heat or the cow being bred many times and not getting pregnant. I taught Simon how to assess the repeat breeder cow, and introduced him to a simple tool we use called avaginoscope. The vaginoscope is a clear glass cylinder that can be passed into the vagina of the cow and you can visualize her vagina and cervix and any the colour of the mucus looking for abnormalities. The pictures below show him doing the vaginoscopy. The cow had a slight whitish colour to the mucus sitting in the vagina, indicating she has a uterine infection and probably the reason for her not conceiving. He is shown infusing the same cow with an antibiotic solution to get rid of the infection.


One day we had a heavydown pour that turned the roads into a greasy slippery mess. We got stuck several times and had to push the vehicle, with help from others, to get going. The one time we were stuck on a grade and had to call a local ox team tow truck to pull us 200 metres onto level ground. It was interesting watching the bulls respond to commands of their owner, just like a well trained team of horses. The towing fee was 500 Kenyan Shillings about $7.00 Cdn.


Simon has a strong bond with his clients and often will do what he calls a “sympathy call”. Heknows the owner has very little money and he will treat their animal for no remuneration.
We stopped in to one of his longest standing clients, Teresa Karioke. Simon has been working for her since he became a vet tech in 2002. He relayed a heartwarming story about Teresa, how she lost her husband when her children were small and how hard she worked selling milk to pay for school fees for her children. She now has one son that graduated as a mechanical engineer and is working at the Pickering Nuclear Generating station in Ontario, and another son that is an assistant to the minister of Revenue in the Kenyan government.
Below is a picture of myself and Mrs. Karioke, she gave me her sons cell number in Canada and I plan on sending this picture to him.


It’s been a great joy working with Simon who is passionate about his work. We learned a lot from each other. I taught him some veterinary skills and he taught me veterinary medicine Kenyan style, as well he has re-enforced in me the importance of compassion, kindness and empathy for our fellow citizens that are less fortunate.We have developed a personal friendship that will continue after I leave next week. Asante Sana
Bill Hazen DVM
Milverton Wellesley Veterinary Clinic