It Takes a Village – A Day in the Life of the VWB Vet Students in Kenya

Hello all!

The weeks are just flying by! For this blog post, we would like to describe what a typical day looks like for us, and the number of people it takes to pull off a project like this – enjoy!

8 am: Breakfast! Our cook Sam keeps us well fed, we are always eager to see what he has prepared for us in the mornings. While our primary goal it to assist the farming community, our project offers gainful employment to many people like our cook Sam. We pay for his salary out of our own pockets, and without the project we wouldn’t be here, and Sam wouldn’t have this job. We discuss our plans for the day over tea and coffee and look at reports about the farm from previous years to know what to focus on/expect when we get there. Without all the work put in by previous volunteers we would be starting from scratch.

9 am: Our driver Ephraim and translator Pricilla arrive. They have both been working on VWB projects for the last five years offering driving and translation services (in addition to cow wrangling, and coordinating all our farm visits). These two are a major backbone of the project and help to ensure we succeed. More than that they also help to guide us in the cultural norms and practices in Kenya. To say we would be lost without them is an understatement both figuratively and literally – no farm has a road name or house number here, it is all first hand knowledge of the region and people. We load up the van with supplies for the day. These include our medical supply kit for animals, construction tools, a first aide kit (for any minor bumps and scrapes for the humans), the flip chart and stand for the seminar presentation, and buckets for washing our boots between farms.

9:30 am: Arrive at the host farm, where we meet the farmer and take a look at their cow(s). We discuss how the past year has gone for them and if they have any concerns about their cow currently. Most of these farmers have been working with VWB volunteers for 1-4 years, indicating the success of a long term partnership. If time allows, we do a physical exam on their animals while we wait for the rest of the seminar participants to show up. Yay Kenyan time! – things run a slower schedule here than we are used to in Canada, but it is a one of the charms of being in a new culture and country. The other farmers are coming from farms near-by, and are often friends of the host farmer.

The team talks with a host farmer about their cow and farm.

10 am: Priscilla takes attendance of the farmers who have arrived. Many of them have come to the seminars in previous years, but there are always some new faces in the crowd. There are usually 7-10 people who come out to each seminar. We always try to ensure at least half of the participants at the seminars are women as they are often the person taking care of the cows, and can benefit from farming as a source of income they have control over.

10:30: Once everyone is settled and introductions have been made, we start the seminar. Each of us take turns discussing the different topics that we are teaching this summer. Each topic is specifically targeted to provide information to increase cow production and welfare, and is all based on research projects done in this area through a PhD student and VWB volunteers from past years. These topics include:

  • Nutrition
    • Proper feeding of water (always available!), forage (free choice and good quality!), minerals, and dairy meal (a mixture of grains)
    • How to calculate how much dairy meal their cow needs depending on their milk production
  • Mastitis prevention (mastitis is an infection in the udder that lowers milk production and quality)
    • Proper milking practices to prevent the spread of bacteria – keep things clean!
    • Farmers here all milk their cows by hand, so we discuss the best techniques to ensure we reduce the risk of mastitis.
  • Reproduction
    • Heat detection
    • When to breed your cow
  • Cow comfort
    • Proper stall design
    • Clean and adequate bedding
    • Prevention of environmental mastitis

Farmers often have a lot of questions on all the topics in the seminar – they are very engaged and interested to hear about ways their can improve their cow’s milk production and prevent illnesses.

Alex and Priscilla teaching about nutrition at the seminar.
Interested and engaged seminar participants.

1 pm: Once we are finished with the teaching, we head on over to the host farmer’s cow pens to apply what we have just talked about. Farmers have the chance to comment on the strengths and weaknesses of the stall, with the hope that applying what they have learned will help them improve on their own farms.

If the stall needs minor changes to the size or bedding, we help the farmer make these changes. For larger reconstruction projects, we suggest to the farmer proper ways to rebuild to maximize cow comfort. We then deworm one of the host farmer’s cows as a thank-you for having us and taking the time to host all the seminar participants.

Looking at the cow pen to evaluate if alterations need to be made.

2 pm: We offer to visit the farms of the other seminar participants to do physical exams on their cows, give one-on-one feedback about their stalls and feeding programs, or to troubleshoot any specific problems they may be having. We may also help with stall reconstruction there if we have time. Usually we visit 2-3 farms for every seminar we teach.

At a seminar participants farm.

4:30: Arrive back at the house. After changing out of our (sometimes very dirty) scrubs, it’s on to the paperwork. Another person employed by our group with our personal funds is Ruth. She ensures all of our scrubs and clothes are clean when we go to work, no easy feat since in Kenya its all hand washing! For our paperwork we record how many participants were at the seminar that day, as well as their age, gender, how many cows they have, and if they had attended seminars in previous years. Additionally, we write a summary report of what we did that day, noting the things that we taught and what the farmers showed particular interest in. We write down how things have been going at the host farm, as well as improvements we suggested so that next year’s group can follow up with them about it. We also write about the other farm’s that we visited. In the background we also have ongoing assistance from many of the staff of the Wakulima Dairy, and our in country coordinator Mr. Gerald Kariuki. This assistance ensures we can all do our work easily with the cooperation of the greater Mukurwe-ini farming community.

Doing some paperwork before dinner.

6:30 pm: Dinner time! Sam outdoes himself every night with the spread he prepares – there is always something new and delicious to try. We like to joke about how we eat better here than in Canada!

Enjoying dinner!

8 pm: After dinner, with very full bellies, we have some free time to talk about the day, look up any questions we didn’t know the answer to during the seminar, and to catch up on our personal journals.

10 (ish) pm: After a busy day, it is time for bed to rest up for another day tomorrow! As you can see it takes a village to accomplish the project goals. Without the support of so many Kenyans and Canadians we would not be able to accomplish so much! Thanks to everyone who supports our work here – it wouldn’t be possible without you!

Hello from VWB’s Team Tanzania!

Since our last update, we have been hard at work in the villages of Kisondela ward, holding calf management seminars for the members of Africa Bridge’s dairy cow co-op. We have found that calves are sometimes overlooked in favour of cows because they are not yet producing milk and generating an income for the farmers. The goal of our seminars is to educate farmers on the importance of investing in and caring for their calves while they are young, to set them up to be healthy, high-producing animals in the future.

Our seminars have focused on the importance of giving the calf a good start to life by making sure it receives adequate colostrum and milk, clean, fresh water, and comfortable housing. We have provided the farmers with a weaning schedule that will help them transition from feeding milk to feeding grain and grasses by the age of 12 weeks. We have found that giving advice on these simple, attainable changes that farmers can make is an effective way to improve the health and welfare of the calves and to ensure healthy, high-producing cows in the future.

With a calf we met after our calf management seminar in Lutete village.

We have also had the opportunity to join the Africa Bridge (AB) team in the field, performing pregnancy diagnosis on cows belonging to members of the AB dairy cow co-op. This is an especially important service provided by AB, as the calves that are born will be passed on to other families in need. By taking good care of their animals and having their cows’ pregnancies diagnosed, farmers will be able to provide a healthier calf to their neighbours sooner, resulting in a more productive, stronger community.

Brent performing a pregnancy diagnosis on a heifer in Isuba village.

While AB’s work is ongoing in the wards of Kisondela and Kambosegala, another ward, Lufingo, recently completed their five-year partnership with AB, and graduated from the program. We were fortunate enough to attend the graduation ceremony where hundreds of community members were present, celebrating the progress that has been made in their villages thanks to the programs instituted by AB. We visited a few farms, saw the improved living conditions of the animals there, and heard from farmers about how having these animals has positively impacted their lives. Farmers have used the money earned from their animals to build new houses, purchase clothing for their children, pay school fees and even to buy more animals. We are optimistic that Kisondela and Kambosegala wards will see similar results by or before their graduations from the program.

Farmers and community members from Lufingo ward gathered for their graduation ceremony.

We were able to further explore Tanzania by spending a weekend on a safari in Ruaha National Park. It is Tanzania’s largest national park, and home to many animals including lions, elephants, giraffes and hippos. We were lucky enough to see these and many other animals on our short trip to the park, and to explore the nearby city of Iringa. We have noticed many differences between Tukuyu and Iringa, allowing us to appreciate the diversity of cultures, landscapes, climates, and traditions throughout this beautiful country.

Lions resting on the edge of the Great Ruaha River in Ruaha National Park.

We are looking forward to continuing our seminars for farmers, and hope to broaden the range of topics taught to include ones we have received many questions about, such as heat detection in cows, mastitis prevention, and mineral supplementation. We are excited to continue our work with AB, and to collaborate and teach with the great people at this organization.

This project is made possible by funding from Global Affairs Canada.

Nogambaki from Mbarara, Uganda!

We would like to introduce everyone to our VWB summer placement team! We will all be working on SNV’s TIDE (The Inclusive Dairy Enterprise) initiative. Carina and Katelyn will be working on the school milk and goat pass on projects in partnership with FAOC (Foundation for Aids Orphaned Children). Olivia and Nikki will be continuing projects surrounding artificial insemination and dairy farming, eventually aiming to establish dairy hubs to support the current market.

As soon as we arrived, we already ran into car troubles. On our first night we woke up to a flat tire so we all had to use our “mechanical skills” to tackle the challenge. Pictured above is Dr. Laura McDonald and Katelyn attempting to remedy the problem.

Car issues were quickly resolved!

After our car mishap was sorted, we started to explore our new home of 3 months and get down to work. Carina and Katelyn began to get some practice in with some local goats by preforming blood draw and basic physical exam.

Drawing blood

Meanwhile, Olivia and Nikki began meeting with the AI technicians to work on identifying resources required by the technicians for the business centers, meeting some new furry friends along the way.

The SNV group making friends in the field!

In addition to our animal focused work, the volunteers and Dr. McDonald were able to participate in World Milk Day celebrations in Kaberebere. The event was organized in collaboration with FAOC as a part of SNV’s school feeding campaign. Many students are sent to school without proper nutrition, which decreases their ability to focus and learn while in the classroom. By promoting milk programs and educating students and parents about the importance of balanced nutrition, the campaign hopes to help alleviate this issue and improve the student drop out rate. The event was an enormous success, having over 2,500 attendees!

Pictured above is FAOC director Boas with a group of attendees showing off their empty milk cups.

Finally, on a quiet weekend, we were able to steal a few hours away to visit Lake Mburo and to see what vet students love most… ANIMALS! We were able to observe many of the native species to Uganda, including the impala pictured below.

Animals in the park!

So far this has been the experience of a lifetime, and we all are looking forward to what the rest of this summer and our placements have in store!

Hello from Yua!

Ya Bulika (Good morning) from Yua, Ghana! We’ve currently been in Yua, a village in the Upper East Region for a little over a week, and have adapted to the rural life.

Prior to our arrival in Yua, we spent a few weeks in Accra, Ghana’s capital, where we participated in quite a few interesting activities. Yuqing took part in a rabies workshop aimed to evaluate and improve Ghanaian surveillance systems and action plans to decrease rabies prevalence in both humans and animals. Once Nima arrived, we shadowed a practicing veterinarian, who brought us along for cattle vaccination, poultry farm evaluations, and livestock market monitoring. These visits helped us understand the role of livestock in Ghana, allowing us to prepare an action plan for our project in Yua.

Our project in Yua is tied to GAPNET, an NGO with a new relationship to VWB, and we are the first group of VWB volunteers to work with them. GAPNET aims to promote sustainable development, by providing both resources and knowledge on livestock husbandry and it’s relation to human health to Ghanaians. This is exactly what we will be doing throughout the summer in Yua, with the help our supervisors: Dr. Geoffrey Akabua and Dr. Anthony Akunzule.

 

Yuqing, Nima, and Dr. Geoffrey Akabua with the head chief and sub-chiefs of Yua

A few days after our arrival in Yua, we visited the community leaders which included the head Chief. We introduced ourselves, and explained our purpose for visiting their village. This meeting was extremely important to our project, as we needed to receive permission from the leaders to work in the community.

Our first veterinary activity in Yua, involved students from Yua Junior High School. Drilling for Hope, an American NGO, provided 25 single-parent school children with fowls to take care of. We visited these students to check-up on their fowl, and provide them with vaccinations against Newcastle Disease.

High School Student outreach treating New Castle

Our next activity, was vaccinating sheep, goats and dogs belonging to women involved in women’s groups in Yua. In two days, we vaccinated 400 sheep and goats against Peste des Petits Ruminants (PPR), and a dozen dogs against Rabies. Although 400 seems like a large number, we will also be doing multiple community vaccination clinics throughout Yua, for an estimated 1200 more livestock within the next month.

Administering eye-drop vaccines against Newcastle Disease

One of our most important activities this week involved presenting a seminar on livestock husbandry to women’s groups in Yua. A total of 50 women, from five different groups joined us to discuss proper sheltering, feeding, and disease control for small ruminants; rearing of Guinea Fowl Chicks; importance of veterinary care for livestock; and, drought resistant plants to provide feed to both livestock and humans during the dry season.

Yuqing leading an educational session.
Dr. Geoffrey Akabua, Nima, Dr. Anthony Akunzule, and Yuqing with seminar participants.

Veterinarians without Borders’ Young Volunteers Program 2018 – Introducing Team Tanzania

In May 2018, Brent Ludwig, Megan White, and Dr. Roger Thomson arrived  in Tanzania after a training session in Ottawa. They touched down in the Mbeya Region of Tanzania on May 18 and have since been hard at work in the small hillside town of Tukuyu. Brent recently graduated from the University of British Columbia with a B.Sc. (Hons) in Animal Biology. Megan is a Registered Veterinary Technician and is currently completing a B.Sc. in Agricultural Studies at the University of Lethbridge. Dr. Roger is one of Veterinarians without Borders’ (VWB/VSF) most experienced and dedicated volunteers. He has coordinated a poultry project in Tanzania for several years and has mentored many volunteers in the process. Megan and Brent will be working in the Mbeya Region for the summer as part of VWB/VSF’s Young Volunteers Program.

We attended a child’s birthday party in Tukuyu and got to partake in the festivities. In Tanzania, putting icing on all of the birthday guests’ faces is a tradition! (Left to right: Dr. Roger, Megan, and Brent)

Tanzania is a stable country, rich in natural resources, but still burdened by harsh realities: there are an estimated 930,000 children considered vulnerable in the country and 47% of the population lives below the international poverty line. VWB/VSF’s partner organization, Africa Bridge (AB), works in 18 villages in the Mbeya Region. They establish Most Vulnerable Children Committees (MVCCs) and provide a pathway to economic independence for caretakers of vulnerable children. This is done by establishing crop and livestock co-ops, providing start-up loans to co-op members, and offering intensive training. Using a holistic, integrated development model, AB’s self-sustaining programs have improved the lives of over 7,000 children and their families.

We went on a hike through a tea plantation south of Tukuyu. Tea is a major export from the Mbeya Region

During the month of May, we have had the privilege of meeting with village representatives and co-op members to get a firsthand look at the tremendous impact AB has in these rural communities.

During our visit to the small village of Katela, we met Estwidaa Itete. Estwidaa has been hard at work over the last few months listening to and applying the training provided by AB and has built an impressive chicken coop using local materials. At the beginning of May, she received 9 hens and 1 rooster, who continue to be well cared for and safe in their new coop. (Left to right: Megan, Estwidaa, Brent, and Dr. Roger)

For the remainder of our stay in Tanzania, we will be working in villages in Kisondela ward, where AB has an established dairy co-op. We will be hosting seminars focused on dairy calf management, including proper nutrition, housing, and disease control, in order to improve calf health and welfare. We are excited to have the opportunity to work with small-holder farmers to develop sustainable methods that will benefit the health and welfare of the people, animals, and the environments in which they live.

During a visit to dairy co-op member Joseph Nwaka’s farm in Isuba village, we found his happy calf resting in a bed of straw.

Thanks to Global Affairs Canada for supporting VWB/VSF’s Volunteers for Healthy Animals and Healthy Communities (V4H2) initiative and making our project this summer possible.

Public Health in Hanoi, Vietnam

After departing Ottawa on May 15th, Marie-Anne Sirois, Rachael Speare, and I arrived 28 hours later in beautiful Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam. We spent our first few days acclimating to Vietnam life in the Old Quarter, an eclectic and lively neighbourhood in the northern half of the Hoan Kiem District. Our senses were overloaded by the sights, sounds and smells of this vibrant city. The sheer volume of people along unending streets of bustling merchant shops and restaurants in 30+ degree temperatures and humidity was overwhelming—in the best possible way.

Hanoi, Vietnam

We were instantly intoxicated with our new surroundings. While navigating around the Old Quarter trying to get organized (currency exchange, purchasing SIM cards, downloading the Grab taxi app., etc.), we were faced with one of the most infamous tourist challenges in Vietnam: crossing the street! The advice we received before departing was to “just go for it!” This concept meant little to us until we found ourselves standing on the edge of a curb on a street five lanes wide with no break in traffic in sight. Here in Vietnam, to get to the other side, you just have to “go for it.” So we did! We ‘confidently’ strode into the busy street while oncoming cars and motorbikes veered around us from all directions with only inches to spare! The feat of getting to the other side unscathed was a true victory. Soon, thankfully, we adapted, and our street crossing challenge, which was initially terrifying, became second nature.

Busy Pho Dong Xuan and Pho Hang Chieu intersection in the Old Quarter

After getting our bearings in the big city, we started work with VWB’s placement partner here: the Center for Public Health and Ecosystem Research (CENPHER). CENPHER is an independently-funded organization based at the Hanoi University of Public Health. They comprise a solid team with varying skill-sets. All of the members are dedicated to public health, either in a research or training capacity. Their goal is to strengthen research, especially in the areas of:
(1) integrative health research, Ecohealth and One Health
(2) food safety and risk analysis
(3) health risk and impact assessment.

Some of the current research topics include infectious and zoonotic diseases (eg. Tuberculosis), food safety (eg. PigRisk, SafePORK), and antimicrobial resistance (AMR), as well as heath risks related to water, sanitation and environment (e.g. balancing health risks and economic benefits in relation to excreta and wastewater use in agriculture). Agricultural intensification and health impact (e.g. applying an Ecohealth approach for better management of human excreta and animal manure) is also a strong focus at CENPHER. Our placement supervisor is Dr. Pham Duc Phuc, MD, PhD, who has a background in epidemiology, microbiology and wastewater sanitation. Dr. Phuc is a strong and respected voice for public health and One Health across Vietnam. He is both a member of the strategic planning committee of Southeast Asia One Health University Network (SEAOHUN) as well as the coordinator of the Vietnam One Health University Network (VOHUN).

When we arrived to meet the CENPHER team, we were also introduced to the other Veterinarians Without Borders volunteers, who have been in Vietnam for the past few months. They are Elizabeth Lartey, Devon Atherton, and Talia Glickman. It was encouraging to hear about their positive experiences, and to learn about their individual projects at CENPHER, which range from health impact assessments to One Health data analysis.

[Left to Right: Vu Van Tu, Dr. Pham Duc Phan, Tran Thi Kim Tuyen, Rachael Speare, Devon Atherton, Tran Thi Ngan, Vu Thi Nga, Talia Glickman, Elizabeth Lartey, Clarisse Richard, Regan Schwartz, Trinh Thu Hang, Marie-Anne Sirois, Nguyen Thi Thu Thao, Pham Thi Minh Phuong, Dr. Tran Thi Hanh, Mac Cong Ly, Nguyen Thi Bich Thao, Nguyen Thi Hien, Dr. Dang Xuan Sinh]

Rachael, Marie-Anne and I all come from different cities across Canada and are all currently enrolled in different veterinary school programs. We each bring very different experiences to this placement; for instance, Rachael’s past research experience with aquaculture and strong report writing skills in Prince Edward Island have already proven to be an asset. She has been enlisted to help proof-read research papers that will soon be submitted for international publication. Hers is an invaluable contribution to the research team. Marie-Anne, from Montreal, brings a diverse amount of event planning and communication experience which has been harnessed to help with VOHUN’s upcoming One Health Competition, planning the schedule for a ‘Family Day’ at our upcoming CENPHER staff retreat, and developing an English/French Club with CENPHER staff members.

Nguyen Thi Thu Thao with Rachael Speare
Tran Thi Kim Tuyen with Marie-Anne Sirois

My zoonotic disease research experience and strong interest in parasitology have proven to be an asset in helping to develop collaborative efforts between CENPHER and the private animal sector. There is an exciting opportunity to raise the profile of zoonotic disease and One Health issues related to companion animals here in Vietnam, beyond Rabies. We are currently finalizing a research project concept with Dr. Biu Linh, DVM, PhD, Co-Founder of GAIA Hanoi Pet Clinic and Director of the Biodiversity Conservation and Tropical Diseases Research Institute, and her experienced research team. More details on that project to come.

[Top Row: Ms. Do Thanh Thom, Ms. Dam Thi Tuyet, Ms. Le Thi Suong, Mr. Tran Anh Tuan, Bottom Row: Dr. Tran Thi Hanh, Dr. Pham Duc Phuc, Dr. Bui Khanh Linh and Regan Schwartz]

After only two weeks, it is safe to say that we are smitten with Vietnam and the work we are doing with CENPHER. We are so inspired by CENPHER’s commitment to make positive change in the area of public health and are grateful to be here, contributing to the process.  We look forward to sharing more of our adventure with you all very soon. Our next blog post will include details from: our trip to Ha Long Bay, the One Health Forum 2018 in Hanoi, CENPHER’s staff retreat in Dai Lai and the upcoming One Health Curriculum workshop in Danang.

Sincerely,

Regan Schwartz
DVM/MPH Program
St. George’s University

Ghanaian Living: Samantha Canning

Sitting here at the SEND Ghana office in Tamale listening to the sounds of passing goats, motorbikes and people, is something surreal. I have been in Ghana for about a month and a half now and each day is different. Tamale has certainly not been predicable and I am loving it! Of course with anything there is a period of adjustment where you think to yourself, ‘what did I get myself into?’ But before long you realize this is exactly what you wanted and needed. The time passes and with each day you become a little more involved, dedicated, and accustomed to the differences

I arrived in Accra on May 2 and the following morning took a flight to Northern Ghana, Tamale. Accra is much too busy for me and when I arrived in Tamale I realized that it was going to be perfect.  Once I arrived I headed to the SEND office here where I met the staff who are so welcoming and friendly. My placement supervisor, Patience, and I immediately clicked, joked, and laughed, and I knew things would be great during my placement. SEND and VWB have been partnered since June 2016 and work together to improve nutrition and livelihoods of local smallholder farmers, all while addressing issues of gender equality. If you haven’t read about SEND-Ghana and their work, in particular in Northern Ghana, you should check out their website.

SEND GHANA office signs in Salaga

Last week I was in the field for presentations first travelling to Salaga and from there to Chamba each day. I was in the Chamba area for three days and I held 8 different community workshops on animal nutrition to community members. I arrived at my first community and I was invited to sit in under a huge, beautiful tree where I was shocked to see the number of people that were beginning to gather around me (and I will admit, I was a little nervous). We were expecting about 10-15 people and I ended up with well over 40. As we worked on finding a translator within the group, I started talking with them and my nerves began to disappear. Before long I felt like I was among old friends and through my presentation they were so attentive and interested in the knowledge that I could offer them. At the end of each meeting I like to ask the participants their challenges. By hearing these stories of local farmer’s experiences I gain knowledge to share with others -this has been the most interesting part for me. I especially encourage the women to share as they are the main caretakers for most of the animals, in particular poultry. I love to hear how they have come up with unique ways to increase the animals feed with things from their home, such as cassava flour. The days were long and hot but the experience is something that I will appreciate, treasure and never forget.

Workshop on Animal Nutrition in the community of Wudomiabra

During one of the workshops it began to get very windy and looked like rain was near. Let me put this into perspective; the farmers have been waiting for the long, overdue, rainy season. They were very nervous about whether the crops will have enough to be successful. As we were in the middle of the session it started pouring so we all packed up and ran into the nearby schoolhouse to continue our sessions, in the dark, as the power had gone out. We could barely be heard over the rain beating against the metal roof all while the local farmers were as interested as ever, so the loud rain did not hinder the presentation in the slightest.

After we finished a young man that I had met previously during another workshop the day before stood up to thank us for our efforts to better his community and because of our good wishes and messages for them, they were awarded the rain. This made me feel so very honored to have met these farmers, in particular this young man who despite all of his hardships, he is still so dedicated to succeeding and this is a lesson that I will carry with me. I can only hope to be half the person he is.

I have met so many interesting people since my arrival and I am sure that the list will continue to grow. I am looking forward to holding more workshops. Through each meeting I gain something as an individual, not only in terms of animal nutrition practices, but as well as personally. My goal through my work here has been to assist families to become more successful by diversifying into animal production as well as crop production, thereby increasing profits. Farmers are realizing that as the rains are becoming less predictable they cannot depend on just the crops so by adding animal rearing we can help increase available income. Although, rearing animals needs to be considered a business and therefore, some training is needed regarding the feeding of these animals to turn profits. Without proper care, the animals will not bring the benefits that we wish to see and the local farmers that I have discussed this with are very positive regarding the change on how they rear their animals.

I am so thankful for this wonderful experience, for VWB, SEND-Ghana and for all the work they have already completed and what is yet to come. I am so grateful to be a part of it! Stay tuned for my updates from Tamale.

Experiencing Ghana

Written by Lydie-Amy and Stephanie, participants in the Young Volunteer Program in Ghana working with SEND Ghana.

Dasiba! Good morning from Tamale, Ghana!

We find it hard to believe that we have spent almost a month in this beautiful country.  After spending a couple of days in Accra, the nation’s capital, we took a short flight up to Tamale, the capital of the Northern Region.  Upon our arrival, we had a warm welcome from the staff at SEND-Ghana, our partner organization.  Patience Ayamba, the Program Officer of the Eastern Corridor region has been invaluable to us as we started to settle in.

SEND-Ghana is a non-governmental organization whose mission is to promote good governance and gender equality through advocacy, policy awareness, and extension services. After almost 20 years of operation, SEND-Ghana has a variety of projects from promoting free maternal healthcare to helping resolve conflicts between communities though peace mediators.  They have projects in gender equality, maternal health, education, responsible governance and much more.  We were humbled to learn of SEND-Ghana’s success stories and their cooperative and integrated development framework.  We are just beginning to understand the complexity of social development issues, and it is a great privilege to be working with them this summer.

Lydie-Amy preparing for the workshop at the SEND-Ghana office in Tamale

One of their initiatives is the Policy Advocacy Program that helps to raise citizen’s awareness about politics and the impact it has on their daily lives. The goal is to advocate for good governance that promotes transparency and accountability. We were fortunate to be invited to attend the Regional Consultative Forum on the 2019 budget, hosted by SEND-Ghana.  The purpose of the conference was to allow citizens, community and industry representatives the opportunity to review government policies and provide input into the budget for next year’s initiatives.  Following presentations by ministry officials and an open question period, participants were divided into groups based on their sector of expertise: Agriculture, Health, Education and Social Protection. The objective was to identify the main issues in each sector, and suggest possible solutions that could be addressed in the government budget.  It was inspirational to observe the conference participants engage in passionate discussion, and to learn about the current challenges faced by the Agriculture sector.

Attendees of the forum listening to a presentation by a ministry representative

Another of SEND-Ghana’s programs is the Livelihood Security Program that aims to improve food security in the Northern Region of Ghana.  In this region, the success of smallholder crop production is vulnerable to climate change due to the long dry season and dependence on rain fed irrigation.  However, animals are well-adapted to the grasslands and arid climate of the area.  By empowering farmers with technical knowledge, we hope they will be able to diversify their income from crops and increase their profits with animal production.

We are excited to be working alongside our supervisor, Dr. Joseph Ansong Danquah, at the Training of Trainers’ workshops.  The goal of these 3-day sessions is to train community agriculture volunteers and extension officers on the benefits of animal production and good animal husbandry techniques.  After these informative sessions, participants will be able to speak with local communities so they can pass this knowledge to smallholder farmers.  We assisted with Dr. Danquah’s presentation and spoke about the benefits and the different types of housing for poultry and small ruminants.  Our favorite part of the workshop was meeting with farmers in the communities and listening to their success stories and current challenges.

Stephanie explaining to workshop participants the benefits of providing housing for animals

 

A presentation on animal husbandry to farmers at the Sabonjida community

After experiencing an initial adjustment period, we are now enjoying the vibrant Ghanaian culture: sampling local dishes, exploring the local markets, and learning a few words of the local language, Dagbani.  We are grateful for this incredible learning opportunity and are looking forward to what the next couple of months will bring!

Checking-In From Kenya!

This project is funded by Veterinarians Without Borders (VWB/VSF), The Sir James Dunn Animal Welfare Centre, and supported by Farmers Helping Farmers. All volunteers are from VWB/VSF as well.

Muriega (Greetings) from Kenya! It has been a busy couple of weeks since we landed in Nairobi – and a time for lots of learning! From Nairobi we travelled to Mukurwe-ini, where we will be staying for the next three months. Our work this summer will be focused on improving the livelihoods of dairy farmers who are members of the Mukurwe-ini Wakulima Dairy. This dairy has over 6,000 members and collects and processes over 30,000 liters of milk every day, which is a major driver for income for the community. The Wakulima (Farmer’s) Dairy works to serve the dairy farming community in Mukurwe-ini by offering stable prices for milk, as well as extension, banking, and veterinary services, a feed mill, and more. In the last few years the dairy has started to pasteurize milk, and produce yogurt in order to further the income of the dairy and the farmers they serve. The Wakulima Dairy is VWB-Canada’s in country partner in Kenya, and has been for the past 5 years.

The Wakulima Dairy is an exception when it comes to the services offered to farmers, but the farmers it serves still struggle to improve their milk production and subsequently their livelihoods due to lack of resources and knowledge on the best dairy farming practices. For example a typical dairy farm has one or two dairy cows, and often each cow may only be producing 5 litres of milk per day, whereas with training we see cows producing 20+ litres/day. Dairy farming, and more generally farming, is the main source of income for people in rural settings in developing countries such as Kenya.  VWB – Canada’s work aims to focus on developing farmers’ knowledge base by working to train farmers on best farming practices based on research done in this region.  By working with the Wakulima Dairy and their staff our goals are to create a long term and sustainable improvement to milk production and livelihoods in this region.

Our project this summer will focus on continued engagement and training of youth farmers, as similar to Canada, the age of the farming population continues to increase, and new young farmers are needed to maintain the dairy industry. Our work builds on the work done in Mukurwe-ini over the past five years, which includes research into best farm management practices, and two years of an extension program to train farmers on these best practices. We have a group of 40 dairy farm leaders who have been involved with the extension part of the program for the last two years, and each leader has their own group of farmers they lead and support. More on the seminars to come throughout the summer!

Typical Dairy Cow in Kenya

After we arrived in Mukurwe-ini we spent a few days meeting the local team members: Priscilla and Susan, our translators, Ephraim and Jeremiah, our drivers, as well as many people at the Wakulima Dairy that we will be working with this summer. We also had a chance to tour the dairy and the local feed mill to see how things run behind the scenes.

Here we are getting a tour of the Wakulima dairy, seeing how the milk is tested and processed

After spending the weekend settling in and preparing, our first seminars started on Monday. Every day we go out to a different host farmer’s farm, where they invite some of their neighbours to participate in a seminar focusing on dairy cow nutrition, reproduction, mastitis prevention, and cow comfort. It has been great to meet with the farmers, they are all eager to speak with us about their cows and are very engaged during the seminars. After the seminars we visit individual participants farms, and have a chance to give them feedback on their stall construction and feeding programs. We have even had the chance to wield a hammer and nails to help with making the stalls more comfortable.

Teaching a seminar for a group of dairy farmers – Priscilla is translating for us!
Enjoying Kenyan tea after a seminar

We have also had the chance to experience a very Kenyan tradition – tea! Tea here is made with loose tea leaves (grown about an hour from here), fresh milk and water, and all boiled together with plenty of sugar. You almost can’t go anywhere without someone offering you this sweet drink, which is great on a cool, rainy day!

As part of our first blog post, we would like to introduce ourselves.

Aiyanna

Teaching about improving cow comfort through proper stall design

Hi! My name is Aiyanna, I have just finished my first year of school at the Ontario Veterinary College. I am interested in practicing mixed animal medicine in the future, and so am very excited to be here this summer working with dairy farmers to improve their milk production. This is my first trip outside of North America, and it has been quite the experience so far! My favourite part has been getting to see Kenya’s gorgeous countryside – the mountains and valleys are breathtaking. I also really like meeting the farmers and seeing how interested they are in improving the wellbeing of their cows – they are very interested in the seminars, and it is so rewarding to work with them. Our in-country team has done an amazing job helping us get settled and encouraging us in our seminars, which has really helped us get comfortable with the material. I am thankful to be part of the Vets Without Borders Team Kenya this year, and I am eager to see how the rest of the summer plays out!

Alex

Doing a physical exam on one of the farmer’s cows to ensure it is healthy

Hello! My name is Alexandra and I have just completed my second year of Veterinary school at the OVC. I am currently interested in pursuing a veterinary career in mixed animal medicine or specializing in surgery. I am ecstatic to be a part of Vets Without Borders and feel so privileged to be here in Kenya helping dairy farmers on a daily basis. I have always been interested in outreach programs where I am able to use the knowledge I have learned in school to help others and really make a difference in their lives. My favourite part of Kenya so far is the people. Everyone I have met so far is so welcoming, so happy and so appreciative of how this program has already helped them so far. I cannot wait to see what is in store for us these next 3 months!

Elle

Hello! My name is Elle, and I am a third-year journalism student at Humber College. As a communications specialist in Kenya on behalf of VWB, I’m completing a variety of tasks during my placement, such as interviewing the community’s dairy farmers (to track the progress of VWB’s project in Kenya), assisting the local dairy co-op’s communications department and documenting the experiences had by my team. And that’s just a start!

As a journalist from Canada, working in Kenya has definitely been an adjustment. The extra travelling, working with a translator and identifying possible barriers to completing my tasks are a few examples of the changes I am working through. This will all likely be a continuous learning experience up until the day I leave, as change usually takes time (and patience!). Though it’s been gradual, I’ve been pushing myself past some of my comfort zones here and am growing as a result. Hopefully this growth is reflected in the work I help produce for the dairy co-op and for VWB back home in Canada. I know I have a long way to go and am eager to do this project justice by documenting it as best I can. The information I’ve already gathered from farmers I’ve spoken with has proven to me that VWB’s presence in Kenya is considered important and wanted by many. Here’s to a productive and adventurous summer!

We have also had 2 veterinarians, Gerald and Kelsey, with us for the past two weeks to help us become comfortable with the seminars. Gerald is a dairy vet in Canada, and this is his second time in Kenya. Kelsey is a new graduate and has spent 3 months in Kenya in 2016 working on a similar project in the Meru region of Kenya. With their extensive experience we are sure they will prepare us to do a good job this summer. We had to say good-bye to Gerald this week as he had clients in Canada waiting on his return – he will be missed, but we feel that he has done an excellent job getting us settled in Kenya and preparing us for this summer. Kelsey will be with us for another two weeks to further help us with the seminars.

From the fantastic support we’re receiving from our in-country team to the welcoming (and curious!) members of the community, our transition from Canada to Kenya has gone quite smoothly overall. Though we now feel settled in, there’s still much ahead of us this summer!

Communications Work in Ghana

I’m Karissa Gall and I’m not a veterinarian. Rather, I’m working as a communications specialist in the Sakumono office of SEND GHANA, a partner of VWB. SEND GHANA is a policy research and advocacy civil society organization with capacity-building projects that broadly focus on addressing issues of inequality and government accountability. On the ground, the organization’s projects are numerous and wide-reaching in both topic matter and geography, from fostering northern food security through food cooperatives to HIV/AIDS advocacy to national budget analysis. Have you ever heard someone bemoan the slow pace of business in Africa? That’s not a thing at SEND GHANA.

Street view of the SEND GHANA Sakumono office

Like many busy non-governmental organizations operating on limited budgets, producing good quality, consistent communications has been a challenge for SEND GHANA. Big program costs like transportation, booking event spaces, etc. are put before communications costs, which can become a bit of an afterthought. However, staff here realize the importance of comms in spreading key messages on a large scale, and sharing successes to earn funding from government and donors for future projects.

A big part of my job is creating a strategy that will engrain communications in project activities, so that comms can be done efficiently when it comes to cost and time. I’m starting by creating a communications strategy for a cocoa advocacy project. Not because chocolate fixes everything… rather, the project is currently in its preliminary stages and the timing makes sense. Once complete, the cocoa advocacy communications strategy will be used as a model for ongoing and future projects at SEND.

I’m also consulting with SEND GHANA’s brilliant IT guy on the migration of the website from Joomla to WordPress, which will make current comms processes easier and enable new online story-telling forms.

When I’m not working on the communications strategy or website migration, I assist with the day-to-day comms activities of the organization, attending planning meetings and programs, and capturing video, audio, photos and information to produce materials for social media and the website. I’m mentoring the communications assistant here in everything I do so that he will be able to sustain improved communications for SEND GHANA after my placement is complete.

Communications assistant Benedict Mensah and Karissa at NHARCON (National HIV & AIDS Research Conference)

He has already taken over responsibility of a few new processes, such as media monitoring through Google Alerts and Google Sheets, and maintaining a new #FOSTERINGFriday social media campaign that I created an infographic template for in order to share the successes of the food security project. When we’re not creating hashtags for official SEND GHANA communications, we’re creating them for our own inside jokes. #fortuneteller

I’m looking forward to sharing more updates with you soon! In the meantime, check out a couple of my first forays into so-called iPhoneography – producing multimedia with an iPhone in the absence of other audio/visual equipment.

Have A Say, Ghana

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