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!

Seminars and Sunshine

By Julia Nguyen

The week began on a foggy morning, with grey skies and cooler temperatures. Later that day it became so hot that the only relief was to find shade. This type of weather was a common occurrence the whole week. We only had one farm seminar scheduled that Monday afternoon. The morning was spent travelling to pick up 800 of the total 1600 Calliandra seedlings we plan to give farmers. At every farm seminar, in addition to a dairy farming handbook we give out three seedlings to each farmer that attends and 10 seedlings to our host farmer. Calliandra is a high protein fodder shrub that farmers are able to harvest tofeed their cows, providing an inexpensive source of protein and energy. Research done by the World Agroforestry group has shown that Calliandra is cost effective and well suited to the agro-ecologic zone we work in, making it a good choice to recommend to farmers here. On a side note Shauna would like to thank her dad Allan Richards for donating the funds to buy all 1600 Calliandra seedlings for the farmers – “Thanks Dad!”
Blog4 - Image 1 (1)Calliandra shrub (left)
The rest of the week was spent conducting on-farm seminars. Each seminar takes about two hours but some visits go longer. The longer seminars are thanks to some farmers being so engaged and having so many more questions about topics related to, or unrelated to our seminar topics. The questions and bouts of discussion are a good sign for us to know that the farmers are listening and want to learn more about dairy cow management. On Tuesday, our afternoon seminar visit was longer than expected because after the seminar had ended, three lively female dairy farmers had more questions to ask Shauna. Their discussion was so energized that at one point all three farmers were talking at once, and over each other, and Shauna in the corner smiling cheerfully waiting to chime in.
The common stand out points of discussion among farmers is realizing that they should improve their current feeding practices and understanding the concept of standing heat. Farmers often think the best sign to breed their cow is when she is mounting other cows. Though mounting other cows may indicate the cow is in heat it is not the best sign for breeding, if the cow stands still to be mounted by another cow and does not walk away, it is the more reliable sign that she is ready to be bred. For farmers that have only one dairy cow, we emphasize good observation of all other signs of heat and record keeping skills to watch and time when best to breed their cow.Overall, the rest of this week’s seminars went well. We often gave a red “My Veterinarian is Without Borders” bandana to our host farmer and a couple of them used them on their heads immediately! So far we have visited 27 out of our 40 farms, and completed all three project visits on eight farms.
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The main topics of our seminars are: cow nutrition, reproduction, mastitis prevention and cow comfort/hygiene.

Blog4 - image 4We were also able to visit two more primary schools this week to teach about zoonotic disease and dog bite prevention. We visited Tamabaya Primary school and Karaguririo Primary School.
For the weekend we headed to Meru were we hosted by Jennifer Murogocho. We visited the board members at the Dairy Co-op in Ex Lewa, and the Ngare Ndare forest. Jennifer is a long standing friend and partner with Farmers Helping Farmers and she was very sweet and welcoming to her home. As a member of the Meru assembly she was busy with the Deputy President’s visit to Meru this weekend, which brought excitement and funding to local schools.
The Dairy Co-op in Ex Lewa has been partnered with Farmers Helping Farmers for over two years, and is a much smaller dairy then the Wakulima Dairy that we are currently working with. The Ex-Lewa Dairy has around 300-400 members actively selling milk, compared to the Wakulima with over 6000 members. Since volunteers have worked with Ex-Lewa this past January and February, their milk production has increased from 600 kg to 1,500 kg per day! It was amazing to hear about the small changes the veterinarians and farmers have recommended already being implemented and making such an impact in the community. Their ambition to grow and willingness to improve the livelihood of their members is impressive.
Ex-Lewa Dairy is adjacent to the Ngare Ndare forest, so after our visit with them we headed out there with Salome, Charles, and Zablon (FHF employee, Jennifer’s brother, and park ranger respectively). We were able to relax by swimming at three waterfalls, lounging in the sunshine, seeing great views on the canopy walk and seeing a small family of elephants drink from the stream!

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Katy, Julia and Shauna enjoying some summer time weather (although it is technically winter in Kenya)!







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We saw this Masai giraffe (among other animals) as we drove out from Ngare Ndare forest through the Lewa conservancy.

Two Posts from Kenya

June 5, 2016

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. This project is also supported by the Sir James Dunn Animal Welfare Centre.

This was a long but interesting week. We had many farm visits, a school visit, two birthdays, and welcomed a visitor to our team. Emily, a veterinarian from Kenya who is starting her masters program with the Atlantic Veterinary College, came to see how the results of Shauna’s research are being applied. We had a series of unfortunate events that made some things more difficult than need be but thanks to the good humour of our team everything stayed fun! We have now finished more than half of our first visits on farms and have even completed all visits with our first farm. Here is a short recap of some of the more interesting moments of our week.


After visiting several farms for construction we were feeling good about the small but effective changes we had been making. As we came to our last farm of the day though we realized our construction skills were going to be tested. The farmer had put in a cow shed that was offering shelter but was challenged by the fact that it was on a hill. As a result, there was no cow stall and so the cow had no where dry and comfortable to rest. Faced with the idea of constructing a cow shed from scratch I think we were all a little nervous. However, with some direction from Ephraim, our appointed foreman, and a little hard work we put in a completely new stall. It was rewarding to see our efforts validated when the cow checked out her new stall shortly after  finishing it. I think we will all be excited to see how our efforts have paid off at the next visit.

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A happy Shauna, Julia, Ephraim, Priscilla, and Katy after completing a cow stall from scratch!


Another day of construction and some interesting veterinary cases cumulated with a lesson in cow handling. At our first farm of the day we saw lumpy skin disease. The cow was recovering and had been seen by a local vet but you could see the remains of nodules on her face. Lumpy skin disease is relatively common here and can be prevented with a vaccine and insect control. We also saw a case of endometritis, a uterine infection likely caused when the cow’s retained placenta had been pulled the week before. When a retained placenta is pulled it can cause damage to the uterus, making it vulnerable to infection. In this case the cow was not clinically sick, so supportive care was recommended and we educated the farmer on retained placentas. On our final farm visit of the day I learnt a lesson about heifers in heat. After giving a friendly heifer a scratch on the neck I diverted my attention to removing a low end board from her stall. Much to my surprise she decided she wanted a bit more attention and attempted to mount me. After a bit of a scuffle I came out with no more than a couple hoof prints on my scrubs, guess I will learn to pay more attention in the future!

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Shauna and Priscilla talk to some farmers about the benefits of the change in stall design we made for their cow.


This was a day of lessons in the trials of Kenyan transportation. The day started with Shauna being called early to check on a friend’s cow with milk fever. Unfortunately, on her way back to pick us up for our day of work they got a flat tire! Not only was the tire flat, but so was the spare. With Ephraim and Shauna stuck on the side of the road with two flat tires, we had a bit of a slow start to the day. After 3 hours our trusty ‘80s era Toyota corolla, endearingly named “Hustler”, was back on four tires and we were set to start the day. Shauna wanted to stay around to be able to check on our friend’s cow if need be so Julia and I were off on our first solo mission. Finally on the road we were anxious to get started. It took some work to find our way to the farm (with no address we sometimes spend a bit of time driving around on dirt roads asking for help), so we were relieved when we made it within walking distance. Too bad our car had another flat tire! Luckily, Ephraim had the foresight to get our spare patched before heading back out on the road and by the time we had completed our visit we were good to go again! I don’t know what we would do without Ephraim…

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Our trusty car: the hustler!


With the chaos of the day before we had to add an extra farm visit to this day. Luckily, we had an extra set of hands with one of Shauna’s friends from previous year’s work. Kamau works in a position similar to what we do helping farmers improve their dairy practises. Many hands make light work and he was a very helpful person to have around. Before we knew it another day flew by. Julia and Ephraim also demonstrated their athleticism when a temperamental cow decided she didn’t want us changing her stall any more. Once they were safely on the outside we finished the stall, and I think the cow was secretly thankful.

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A couple of calves looking their best for a chance at some Napier grass.

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Two tired but happy interns after another day of construction.



After a day of second visits educating farmers on nutrition and reproduction we visited a local all boys senior high school. One of the farmers in our project is a teacher there and asked Shauna to come teach the boys on cow comfort and care in Kenya. The boarding school has a small dairy and swine farm and boys from each year have classes in agriculture. We were slightly surprised when we showed up and they suggested that we might give a small talk to the whole school on the importance of education. “Don’t worry there are only 600 students!” Despite the practise we are getting in public presentations, I think we were all relieved when they decided to stick to the original plan of only 40 interested agriculture students. Shauna gave a great talk and the students were really interested and asked great questions. Many of their families have dairy farms and they all wanted to help their parents improve their practises at home. They also insisted on selfie before we left!

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Selfie at the Kaheti High Boys School.



Today we had our first seminar. Shauna gave a talk on nutrition and cow comfort, Julia on reproduction, and myself on mastitis prevention. Every farmer who comes to the seminar gets a book on dairy farming in Kenya, and the hosting famer who we have previously worked with gets their cows dewormed. Overall, the seminar went really well and it was nice to see how our work can come full circle. The farmers who come to seminars work together to help each other improve their practises, and demonstrate how dairy farming can make an excellent livelihood. Engaged youth are creating a sustainable future for themselves, and in the end both the cows and the people benefit. A true example of One Health!

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Priscilla and Katy teaching about mastitis prevention at the first seminar of the project.

We finished our week by going out for lunch with our entire team to celebrate Shauna’s 30th birthday! The people we work with are amazing and truly make every day we spend here better than the last. I feel very lucky to get to work such a fun group of people and know that this project is better for having them all involved. Who knew work could be so fun? To add to the fun, we have a few adventures planned for the next month: a trip to Ngare Ndare forest for a canopy walk, climbing Mt. Kenya, and visiting Amboseli National Park in southern Kenya. Stay tuned for more!

May 27, 2016

Back to School and Second Farm Visits

By Julia Nguyen, OVC Veterinary Student and VWB Intern

This week we re-visited some farms for their second visit and continued to visit other farms for the first time. We also visited two primary schools to teach lessons on animal safety, the prevention of zoonotic diseases on farms, and on the transmission and prevention of rabies.

On farm, the second visits focused on how well the farmer is maintaining the stall and if any improvements needed to be made. Maintaining a clean stall is important to the hygiene and comfort of the cow as well as to the quality and quantity of milk production for the farmer. The discussion will then lead into proper cow nutrition as well as calf nutrition. We emphasize providing constant water and forage availability to their cow(s) as well as proper mineral and dairy meal supplementation according to their stage in lactation and milk production. Proper nutrition is the basis of bovine health, productivity, and will also allow the animal to show signs of heat more prominently thus allowing the farmer to continue producing a calf and more milk. At the end of our second visit to farms, we give farmers a dairy farming handbook to read over before our third and final visit where we would hold a seminar to teach about the basics of dairy farming, ideal management and what practices have worked well on that farm.

On two separate days, we visited Ichamara Primary School and Mweru Primary School. Both schools are twinned with primary schools in Canada, through Farmers Helping Farmers. Katy and I taught a one hour class on the prevention of zoonotic diseases with handwashing techniques, proper cow handling, and the transmission and prevention of rabies infection. All the students were so attentive, respectful and welcoming. The lesson first began with introductions using a game to get to know the students’ names and what animal they have at home. After the lesson, we passed out cases for groups of students to go over and answer questions about how a specific illness or disease transmission could have been prevented and why it occurred in the first place. All of the students picked up the concepts well and were able to apply them to the cases. We said our goodbyes and thank yous at the end, which were reciprocated with lovely applause and flower hands of appreciation.

The combination of visiting youth dairy farmers and teaching at primary schools this week has emphasized the goals of our work here in Mukurwe-ini, Kenya. Our goals being to engage youth and provide them with knowledge and practices that are in the best interests for community health, the animals involved, and future generations.

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A cow checking out her improved stall. The small changes make a big difference in how often the cow decides to lay down and her overall hygiene.

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From left to right, Priscilla (translator), Beatrice (farmer), and Shauna (veterinarian, PhD candidate) are discussing cow and calf nutrition during our second visit to Beatrice’s farm.

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During our second visit, if the farmer has any cats or dogs we also deworm them if the farmer allows. We dewormed this kitten as well as three other dogs on this farm. All deworming medication is generously donated by Vetoquinol pharmaceuticals and private veterinarians.

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Katy and I teaching at Ichamara Primary School in their grade seven class.

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Katy and I teaching at Mweru Primary School in their grade six class.

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Selfie from Ichamara Primary School

Learning the Ropes in Uganda

By Shauna Thomas with Jamie Neufeld, Kyla Kotchea, and Veronica Pickens

In March, four strangers all said yes to the same question. Two months later that answer landed them all on a different continent in 3 days old clothes with not a shower in site. Besides their poor appearance (and even poorer smell?), their smiles could be seen from a mile away. After a month of grueling final exams, eager fundraising, and last minute “Oh no I forgot!” shopping trips; they had arrived in Uganda.

I digress… as I’m sure you have figured out, these four strangers are this year’s Uganda VWB goat pass-on project interns. My name is Shauna Thomas, I am from outside of Ottawa going into my 2nd year at the Ontario Veterinary College. Two of the group are from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine, Jamie Neufeld, a Saskatoon local, also going into her 2nd year; and our resident doctor, Kyla Kotchea from Fort Nelson, BC who just finished her 4th year! Last but not least, Veronica Pickens is going into 3rd year at the Ontario Veterinary College and the sole American VWB intern this year from Philadelphia, PA.

We arrived in Uganda on May 12th after a week of training at Cuso International in Ottawa. The first weekend we arrived in Uganda, we landed in Entebbe and had four days there to adjust before travelling to Mbarara, where our placement would begin. That first weekend set the scene for how our time here would flow and how the four of us would get along. By this I mean that instead of taking the days to deal with jetlag, adjust to the local food and rest….we unanimously decided to spend three of the days on a safari in Murchinson Falls, 6 hours north of Entebbe. The weekend was a spontaneous start and we’ve been travelling awesome together ever since. Pic 1

Jamie got to fulfill a life-long dream of seeing wild giraffes while in Murchinson Falls National Park; seen here a bachelor herd on the savannah.Pic 2

Silas, our guide and good friend, stopped the car on the side of the highway because he knew four vet students would love to see the baby tortoise he spotted in the grass…he was right!  Above,  Veronica, Silas, and the tortoise.

Ugandan solution to the car not starting in the morning…”everybody start pushing!” (below)Pic 3

A bit of a larger group this year, we’ve had to figure the ropes out ourselves as timing didn’t work out for Dr. Card (project leader) or Laura McDonald(a WCVM grad and 5 year project participant) to come over with us. After getting settled and meeting with the right people, we are well on our way. I’ll admit the first week here in Mbarara got off to a slow start, due to a combination of lack of meetings to attend that week and the adjustment to African time (a very very real thing). As of now we have attended three women’s group meetings out of a total of 17. Although we still have to meet the majority of groups, our June/July is filling up FAST. Our first day of work here we met with Vivianne, who is our translator/facilitator/local friend, and started to plan the next three months. About an hour in we realized that one of the women’s groups actually met that afternoon! We were eager to get started and decided to attend the meeting. It has become very apparent in these past few weeks that traveling from point A to point B means stopping at points C,D,E,F along the way. As such, we all piled into our trusty Toyota Rav4 and headed down the left side of the road (an adjustment for sure) to the meeting. On the way we stopped to meet with Boaz, the founder/head of the Foundation for Aids Orphaned Children (FAOC), the organization we work alongside here in Uganda. After a few more stops we finally made it to our first meeting. Although the meeting started at 3, we arrived at 4:30…and were still not the last people there -..…African time! To say we received a warm welcome when we arrived at the meeting would be an understatement; there were endless hugs and a chorus of “we prayed for your safe travels”. The more people we meet the more that the saying ‘Ugandans are the most welcoming people’ comes true.  Below, we posed we posed for a group picture of the Kyabutoto women’s group after the meeting.

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For those reading that are unfamiliar with what exactly the goat pass on project is, it is a development project aimed at rural Ugandan women to help empower as well as develop an income generating source. The ultimate goal is to provide them with the tools and means to improve the quality of life for themselves and their family. Each village we work with has a group of these women who meet once a month to discuss successes and short-comings in the past month as well as pay their membership fees. These fees (range from $0.30-$2 CAD) are pooled into the group’s revolving fund that accumulates month by month and is available to for members to take out loans to pay school/medical fees etc. Additionally, every year a number of beneficiaries (who have met the criteria for raising goats) are given a male and female goat as a loan. To repay this loan the beneficiaries must sell their first-born male kid and give that money into the revolving fund as well as pass on their first born female-kid to another member of the group.

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Kasande Benardette (above) a Kyabutoto member with grandchildren and a few neighbouring kids eager to jump in front of the camera.

The goals for our group this year are: continue to promote the vaccination campaign (chlostridia and brucella), test/gather information on brucella prevalence, carry out an impact study and expand the PADS project. More information about some of those will come in future blogs. Admittedly, we have taken on a lot this year; however, with each part so key to the sustainability and success of the project, our hopes are high for how much we can accomplish. Our first goal has already provided our first minor roadblock as there has been a country-wide shortage of brucella vaccine since January! We have begun looking to import it from neighboring countries (at a steep price increase), so we will update you on the outcomes of that in the future.

In the midst of our first weeks we found a few free days and headed south to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest -arguably the coolest name for a national park ever! Four hours of trekking through the untouched jungle meant we got to spend an hour with a troop of Mountain Gorillas!! Impressive animals at a distance and even more impressive when one slides down the tree next to you and stands not even a foot away! If the gorillas weren’t enough, the hike itself was amazing with the views and all the vegetation. We say that now, but had you asked us after we climbed 2 km of straight vine-infested uphill….I think we would have had a few other words for it.  Below,  two mountain Gorrillas from the Bitukura troop we tracked.Pic 6crop
Pic 7At left — a few Canadian Vet students looking a tad lost in the Ugandan Jungle.

As I write this; watching women walk by carrying the heaviest items on their heads and listening to the slew of flatbed trucks/boda-bodas hitting the speed bumps that plague Ugandan roads, I sit with a smile excited about the country and people lives we get to be a part of for the next little while.

Until next time,

Shauna, Veronica, Jamie, Kyla

Pic 8cropLeft to right — Jamie, Veronica, Kyla, and Shauna in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest,
P.S. If you are interested in helping with the pass on project and donating towards the purchase or sponsoring a goat ($50 US), please follow this link! All money contributed by July 20, 2016 will go directly to purchase goats for our women’s groups here.



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.