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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
St. George’s University
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
In September 2017, Dr. Amy Lowe and Dr. Gerry Smith arrived in Tanzania, bound for the southern highland town of Tukuyu. They were working with a partner of VWB, Africa Bridge, an organization that helps the most vulnerable children in rural villages in three wards: Lufingo, Kisondela and Kambasegela, in the Rungwe district, through supporting their families with agricultural co-ops. Africa Bridge has been operating for over a decade in this area and has made some real and sustainable difference in the wards in which they previously worked, but felt they could use some veterinary assistance in their livestock programs. Below is their story, written by Dr. Gerry Smith.
We managed to have lots of laughs and fun along the way, something that is essential if you are to survive the challenges that come with working in contexts which are so different from what we are used to in Canada! There is no way to avoid the difficulties of working in an unfamiliar place: work culture, values, traditions, language barriers and isolation/homesickness are a reality, but we have tried to minimize those by embracing as much of the culture, language, food and drink as we could. Visiting the market, buying food, having clothes made and feeling the joy and zest for life that exists here is a fantastic antidote to seeing the desperate conditions and the daily struggles that families experience in the area where we work. We tried to explore the area on most days off, with hikes to various hot springs, mountains, rivers, rock formations and visits to lakes, beaches, coffee plantations and other local attractions.
Some of the most rewarding moments have been listening to stories related to us by the participants in the programs; hearing the pride in a grandfather’s voice as he tells us that milk sales from his cow enabled his grandson to complete schooling and be accepted into University, the first family member ever to have done so! Or the three teenage grandchildren explaining that they do most of the work for the cow because their bibi has arthritis, but that it is OK because the cow is going to allow them to finish school and pursue their dreams. Or the single mother who has eggs to sell and plans to move her family out of the thatch/mud hut into a brick house that she can now afford to build.
Of course, the highlight of any day is interacting with the children, they find joy in everyday life and remind us to appreciate what we have. We all enter these types of projects with lofty goals of changing the world, but soon realize that the best we can do is change the situation for small groups of individuals, with the hope that if that happens enough times there will be lasting and systemic improvement.
The most important initial steps in becoming involved in this type of project are to simply watch, ask and listen. We spent most of the first two months meeting with our partner organization’s staff, agriculture workers, veterinarians in Tanzania, government representatives, village leadership and other organizations doing similar work. We attended meetings and village visits with the Ward Steering Committees in the process of identifying families most in need of assistance, meetings with the Most Vulnerable Children Committee who are tasked with administering the program locally and training sessions with co-op members. We spent time evaluating data that had been collected on the livestock co-op production. Oh, and we also visited the farms, examined the animals and talked with the farmers – something that we thought we would spent most of our time doing as veterinarians, but which is actually only a small part of the project. We were always welcomed very warmly and thanked profusely for our participation. We were also able to hear about and witness first hand the challenges in this kind of work.
We worked off site for most of December and January, doing more research and consultation, compiling and organizing information to be included in the training programs and manuals, as well as developing the health program. We attended conferences and visited other veterinarians and projects in both Tanzania and Kenya. We also took time to travel and to take advantage of the amazing diversity in geography, vegetation, wildlife and people that exists in this country.
Dr. Amy had to return to Canada but continued to work remotely on the project, Dr. Gerry was able to head back to the area to finish the on-site work, returning to Tukuyu in February. We worked extensively with our Africa Bridge team to finalize the training curriculum and manuals, reviewed our recommendations for health and production and refined the data collection, monitoring and evaluation tools. The training manuals will be translated and implemented in the new ward, Kambasegela, as the project reaches that point in 2018. Other recommendations and tools will be introduced where and when possible based on timing, budget issues and cultural adaptation. The implementation of change will be a challenge, both for the project participants and the organization and will take some time, but we are confident it will make a difference in livestock health and production. The next group of volunteers will be able to build on, refine, assess and revise as needed the plans we have initiated.
It was so wonderful to get to return to some of the villages, do some mentoring visits, participate in training sessions, reconnect with the warm and grateful people and be reminded of the reason we do this…to improve the lives of the children in need.
Our first visit to support Health Poverty Action in Laos, supported by VWB/VSF, was an adventure we were both really looking forward to. Leaving Toronto just as winter was beginning to take hold was a kind of relief, and landing in Vientiane after about 36 hours on the road, surely didn’t disappoint. Arriving at night wasn’t ideal, but presented no problems. We were met at the airport by Thomas Weigel, VWB’s representative in SE Asia, which was great, and en route to our hotel he quickly gave us some orientation which continued the next day at lunch. This wasn’t our first time to Laos, but we had been tourists before and had not stayed for too long, though we had begun to gain a great appreciation for the country. This appreciation has certainly continued to grow during our whole 16 days of this trip, which ended on December 13, when we left as we arrived, late in the evening.
Our first ten days were spent in Vientiane, getting oriented to the sites, sounds, food and pace of life, all the while continuing to learn about the new nutrition and malaria projects we have come to support, in both the baseline assessments and evaluation and capacity building. A true highlight of our days in Vientiane was a whole afternoon at the house of one of the senior staff, as part of a monthly office get-together, which involved a homemade feast of fish, chicken, vegetables, herbs (often eaten just freshly picked and washed) and the ever present sticky rice, which usually comes in an individual serving basket.
What a wonderful way it was to further get to know all the great staff in the Vientiane office, which is run by a most capable and likeable manager, Ronaldo Estera, from the Philippines. We mention capable because he seems to really excel in human relations, and program development and management. David, being a professor of health services management for some 20 years, found the office here being run with all that he holds important in creating effective teams and achieving results, in particular building a strong organization culture.
After a great orientation, which also involved a long weekend with the country’s national day, we headed to the southern provinces where we gained exposure to the local project staff and their work. En route to Khong in Champasak province, site of the new malaria project which is supported financially by Comic Relief, we stopped at a malaria control post and met the village health and malaria volunteers in their office, which was part of the malaria volunteer’s home, and then later visited a nearby community health centre. At both we learned about the services provided and the work accomplished. We learned how the workers engage the communities and how proud they are to be part of HPA’s work overall. Continuing on, we stopped at an area of amazing waterfalls on the Mekong River, with Cambodia way in the distance, and had one of the best fish lunches we have ever had.
Arriving later that day in Khong was also exciting as the Friday evening was the beginning of a major annual boat race festival. Khong, being a small riverside town, was exploding with people and energy including a rock concert in a big field where a giant stage had been erected. We enjoyed more great fish and vegetables and the ubiquitous Beer Lao, which truly seems to be a national drink, all the while sitting on the edge of the big Mekong River.
The next day, now Saturday, saw the boat races start before 9am and continue for most of the afternoon. The highlight was watching the HPA supported village team race past us to glory finishing in the winner’s circle, and all the while paying witness, through their shirts and hats, to HPA’s ‘Together towards a malaria-free Laos in 2030” campaign. Wow, we were now getting fully integrated, wearing our t-shirts and getting noticed by many local people.
The malaria program in Champasak has many strategies, like case detection and treatment, health education and behaviour change, and it’s focused on migrant and mobile hard to reach rural populations who are the most vulnerable to the devastating disease.
Before leaving the next day we had a most delightful fish, herbs and sticky rice breakfast at the home of a local staff member, and then headed back north, through Pakse (after stopping to pick up some local coffee beans) to Khaek, the provincial capital of Khammoune province where we were to meet with local officials for HPA to finalize its MOU with various levels of government. The meeting took place the following day, and was so interesting, with at least 35 officials all participating to finalize an agreement of how to implement a very large and complex nutrition and food security project, funded mostly by the EU but also with the People To People Foundation, SODA (a local civil society umbrella organization) and HPA itself.
Though we had to leave early to get back to Vientiane for our flight out of Laos the next day, we got a good sense of how things work in Laos and how things are to proceed, especially after a detailed meeting with HPA leadership about many aspects of the project.
As we write we’re in our final hours in Vientiane, full of appreciation, learning and respect for such a great HPA staff, their government partners, the communities to be engaged over the next few years and this wonderful country overall.
It has been two months since I arrived in Ghana. I can’t believe the time has gone so fast! I expected differently, considering my tight three month schedule. But I’m so thrilled to share my experience, 18 years after my last visit to Ghana.
There is lots to tell about my arrival, settlement, what I think about the country, the life style and my experience as a gender consultant. I arrived in Accra (Kotoka International Airport) very late in the evening. I was received by the Chief Executive Officer of SEND WEST AFRICA, Mr. Siapha Kamara and the Human Resources Manager and accompanied to a hotel where I spent the next two days. On the third day my apartment was ready for me. The following week, I attended the Board meeting and as you can see from the photo below, the majority of the Board members are men.
From left: Administrative Assistant, 2 Drivers, and the Security Man
Meeting with Mr. Siapha kamara, CEO of SEND WEST AFRICA
Ghana, what is it like?
I am living close to the Sakumono intersection and the Nungua Barrier Road, a part of the Accra Tema Beach Road. The Sakumono Road is very narrow and always congested. There are no speed ramps, rumble strips – nothing for demarcation. It’s not well protected for commuters, motorists and pedestrians. Safety is NOT assured and one has to be watchful before crossing the street.
Sakumono Road – Nungua Intersection
My new abode is in a residential area and a “stone’s throw” to my office.
I have not experienced either water or electricity shortages in my new place. In my last place, I had to purchase extra buckets and extra water containers in case of water shortages. The only discomfort I experience now is coping with a noisy environment, the mosquitoes and washing my clothes by hand, which is really very hard .
I prefer the local markets in the center of Accra, where I can buy vegetables and fruits, meat, fish, kitchen pots and pans…
Some of the imported commodities such as chocolate, cheese, French bread, wines, yogurt, mustard, ice cream, oysters… are extremely expensive.
A Ghanaian woman exhibits her ornaments in a local Trade Fair.
Along the side roads, in the local restaurants, servers are always happy to help you with the food of your choice = that is extremely palatable. In addition to all these delicious, prepared street foods, you can also buy fresh foodstuffs of your choice; plantains, cassavas, papayas, red beans and rice, bananas. These are abundant and inexpensive – 50 cents for 5.
I participated in several staff meetings scheduled on Mondays. During the sessions a review of the previous week’s activities are presented and up-coming event plans are discussed.
My task as a Gender Advisor is to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the organization since the last three gender audits, assess the management systems and procedures in terms of whether or not they create an enabling and equitable environment for both women and men staff, and to make suggestions for improvement on the policies and strategic plans for the year 2020.