VWB/VSF’s first Community Health Day a Success!

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This month saw the launch of our first Community Health Day, which will take place in 10 more villages. These events aim to promote the services of PAHW volunteers by introducing them to their community, are an occasion for children and adults to learn about community health and hygiene whilst having fun, and are also raising awareness about this year’s national cattle vaccination campaign on 11 November (focused on haemorrhagic septicaemia). The organisers are also excited about preparing dances, songs and traditional games.

The Community Health Day in Sen Oudom village was held on 14th September. Introductory speeches were given by Dr Sompanh, the Faculty of Agriculture Vice-dean, the Village Chief, and by the 3 PAHWs. It provided an opportunity to introduce the PAHWs to their neighbours and increase the community’s understanding of their role in disease prevention and animal treatment.

The District Department of Health, as well as the Water and Environment Resources Office, both provided entertaining and informative sessions including games and talks on waste management, pollution, household hygiene, bio-security, as well as tips for preventing dengue fever, currently rife in the area. The day ended with fun and engaging health videos which both children and parents enjoyed. More Community Health Days are planned throughout September and October, making these a couple of busy but exciting months for the project team in the lead up to the harvesting season and annual dragon boat festival.

Webisode 1 – Todos Santos


This is the first episode of the webseries, Vets without Borders, which was filmed in 2009 by May Street Productions. Veterinarians without Borders sent a second team to Todos Santos, Guatemala in November 2009 to to examine, vaccinate and sterilize the remaining male dog population. During this phase the team also started sterilizing female dogs. This websiode shows what the team does on a daily basis to help the live of the dogs and community of Todos Santos.

Angelica Finds Vets without Borders Voluntary Work Gratifying.

Dr. Angelica Romero is a new veterinary graduate from the university here in Valdivia, and has been volunteering with us for almost 6 months now. She has helped us with all kinds of projects, research, and general day to day stuff, and is a huge asset to our group. We asked her to make a few comments about her work, and this is her report below, first in her own words in Spanish, followed by the translation into English.

Mi nombre es Angélica Romero soy medica veterinaria, hace unos meses atrás tuve la ocurrencia de venir a hasta la oficina de Veterinarios Sin Fronteras en Valdivia, como parte de la búsqueda de mi perfil profesional, y también asumiendo mi oportunidad para experimentar nuevos conocimientos después de haber obtenido mi título profesional. Mi experiencia como voluntaria ha sido satisfactoria, ya que siento que comparto varios intereses en común con Elena y Guillermo, desde dar solución a los problemas derivados de la tenencia irresponsable de mascotas en Valdivia, hasta el respeto y valoración hacia las diferentes especies de fauna. Me siento muy cómoda después de integrarme a este equipo, como a su vez muy agradecida del intercambio de experiencias, puesto que he podido presenciar una forma de trabajo diferente, más ordenada, lógica y humana, algo que los chilenos generalmente evadimos para tomar el camino más rápido al abordar un problema.
Bueno además de participar en el quehacer de VSF-Valdivia,  llevo un par de años trabajando con una especie endémica con problemas de conservación el “Pudú” (Pudu puda). Este ciervo habita los bosques templados de Chile y Argentina, su estado de conservación es vulnerable de acuerdo a la lista roja de la UICN. Las principales amenazas que enfrenta esta especie son: la fragmentación del bosque nativo, la caza ilegal, los atropellos, la introducción de especies domésticas, y dentro de éstas la más importante es el perro!!
Mi trabajo con esta especie es a través de un criadero privado donde mantienen alrededor de 25 animales, me encargo de velar por su bienestar y brindarles atención clínica periódica. Acá les dejo una fotos de esta especie, un adulto y un cervatillo, cuando son pequeños tienen manchas blancas en su pelaje, alrededor de los 3 meses estas manchas desaparecen por completo. A mí me causa mucha empatía este ciervo, ¿y a ustedes? espero que lleguemos a compartir este sentimiento…

My name is Angelica Romero and I am a Chilean veterinarian. A few months ago I had the idea to come to Veterinarians Without Borders-Canada (VWB) office in Valdivia, to look for ways to obtain new professional experiences and use the ones I obtained during my degree. My volunteer experience with VWB has been gratifying, as I feel that I share many common interests with Elena and Guillermo; from providing solutions to problems of irresponsible pet ownership in Valdivia, to ideas on how to teach respect and appreciation towards wildlife. I feel very comfortable after joining this team, and at the same time very grateful for the exchange of experiences, since I have witnessed a different form of work ethic, more orderly, logical and humane, different from the Chilean way which usually takes the fastest path to get the job done.
Well in addition to participating in the work of VWB here in Valdivia, I´ve been working on conservation issues of an endemic wildlife species, the “Pudu (Pudu puda), for a couple of years. This deer inhabits the temperate forests of Chile and Argentina and its conservation status is vulnerable according to the IUCN Red List. The main threats facing this species are fragmentation of the native forests, poaching, vehicle traffic, introduction of domestic species; and among these, the most important is dogs!
My work with this species is through a private captive farm where they have about 25 animals. I work to ensure their welfare and provide regular medical care. Here I´ll leave you with a couple of photos of this species, one adult and one fawn. When they are young they have white spots on their coat. At about 3 months, these spots disappear completely. This deer makes me feel empathy. How about you? I hope we share this feeling …

 

Peaceful Ghanaians

How the time has flown…it is sad…my time in Ghana is quickly coming to an end! I already know how much I miss this place and how I want to return:)
This Upper West region is very special, the people and the villagers are unique. They are honest, accepting, non-judgemental, peaceful and accepting. I have not yet heard a Ghanian say that someone “should” be a certain way other than what they are, they are accepted for who they are. As well, Ghanians seem to have been born with excellent conflict resolution skills, I still have not figured out exactly how they do it but I am trying to learn:)
As for the project we are wrapping things up. The next bit will consist of trying to get the local vet representative out to the villages to vaccinate. Some of the villages have never met their representative so this is quite significant. Steve and I will both go to our chosen village and stay for a few days so that we can truly experience villlage life.
We have just returned from a trip to Kumasi, the commercial capital and it made me so happy to come back to Wa:)
I must go and tether my goats (I have 5 now) and feed my chickens and guinea fowl:) Of course, it is sunny and gorgeous outside and the watchman for my place is sowing peanuts by hand (ground nuts here) outside my window.
Until next time….
Kirstin

Tanzania – The End? Nah…

Well, tomorrow Monica and I spend our last day in the Rungwe district (tear, from her not me- real men never cry). In all honestly, it will be a very tough dayas we are having one last village meeting with Ilima and then spending the rest of the afternoon with some of our closest friends. In case you are just tuning in now, here is a little bit of what we have done..

Well, almost two months has passed since our arrival in Dar,
And after a few rough beginnings we have come pretty far,
Adam’s brief hospital visit that gave us quite a scare,
And overpaying each time when asked for bus fare,
We have come to consider Tukuyu a quite comfortable place,
Even constantly hearing “mzungo”, iterally meaning “white face”,
Our daily stops for at “The Lodge” for mishaki and chips,
The only place in the region that does not seem to beg us for tips,
The toilets are holes and the buses quite filled,
So when we refuse to move over, they are never quite thrilled,
All the time spent in Ilima speaking with farmers and helping birds,
They may not understand English but they know we are nerds,
Monica ordering a bird book here instead of listening to me,
Because when it comes to Tanzania, there is no guarantee,
Sampling Dodoma’s vino as it was all we could find,
After a night with alter wine you are lucky you’re not blind
It has been an incredible experience, packed with laughs,memories and smiles
We kinda promised we would be back, got any more aeroplan miles?

Thank you to all who made this experience possible. We are headed to Ruaha National Park and then Zanzibar to see a little more of the country before going home..

Cheers,

Adam and Monica

 

Vaccine Time in Tanzania

Most birds are majestic creatures which gracefully glide across the sky and are capable of focusing so intently on the land below that is appears they are gazing into the soul of Mother Nature.

A chicken trying to avoid capture so it can receive an essential vaccination to prevent its death is not as pleasant a sight. In fact, if you are the big tall, slow white guy, who can barely string 3 sentences of the local language together, trying to catch said chicken for 5-10 minutes, you can almost sense Charles Darwin turning over in his grave. To be fair, we had instructed our teaching group to tell their students to KEEP YOUR CHICKENS INSIDE, but we also said a lot of other things that day, they were bound to forget something. Needless to say, we did not vaccinate a lot of chickens on the first day.

However, things picked up quite quickly. We have now vaccinated over 600 chickens between the 55 farmers we are working with and are going back tomorrow to finish with the last few houses. Interestingly enough, there has been quite a dramatic increase in the number of birds per farm especially considering we surveyed all of these people less than a month ago. I like to think that they have just been diligently following our advice and that this rapid progress is simply an indication of our surreal poultry education methods rather than the more likely explanation of a suspect addition of birds from their neighbours…

Joking aside, there has been some notable improvements in poultry husbandry within the village. It was a very proud moment when we saw our vaccinator-teacher-student system being put to work in the past few days as Monica and I were able to simply observe the process instead of feeling inclined to assist directly with the vaccinations. I believe that the group of people we have selected is a responsible and motivated team who will be able to continue on with their duties during the months that we will not be here. We have almost now finished our education materials which will be left with each one of these people allowing for better communication between all parties throughout the year as well as some built in mechanisms of evaluation for future project work.

 

Mt Rungwe and the Food

For our last full weekend in the Rungwe district, Monica and I played tourist and arranged some adventures through a local company to a few of the more scenic locations in the area. Our most exhausting expedition was to climb Mt. Rungwe this past Sunday. Monica will be climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro after our work here is done, so we figured this might be a good, inexpensive warm up for her.

The climb itself took about 8-9 hours round trip and was quite a tiring affair. The mountain is home to quite a number of animals with our favourites being the monkeys who, I believe, rather enjoyed seeing us struggle as they carelessly jumped from branch to branch. Another minor set back was that the guide basically had no idea where we were for the first 2 hours of the trip. I guess during the wet season there can be so much growth that it covers the path..or so they told us. Anyway, we managed to make it down with only a few scrapes and bruises meaning that I am about 2 weeks away from keeping my number of trips to the regional hospital to 1. 

Now while Monica may take joy in paying copious amounts of money to climb a big rock, my energy is usually spent trying to figure out the quickest, cheapest, and most delicious path to acquire more energy. I would be lying to all our devoted blog followers (which by my last tally was just Monica) if I said that I was not concerned about the quantity and quality of food available during my time here. Well friends, you will be happy to know that Tanzania is home to some of the tastiest and more affordable meals I have ever had. As our daily routine began to evolve in the past month, it was clear that a stop at “The Lodge” was to be included. The menu is pretty straight forward as our options are rice and meat or chips and meat but what they don’t tell you in the guide books is that cheap hot sauce is available everywhere and served with every meal. This has been my saving grace. Throw in the fact that Monica tends to only eat ½ a plate of food and I have really struck gold.

Another art we have perfected is the bus order. We spent quite a bit of time in the morning waiting for our buses to fill up which means we are the ideal customers for the various stand owners to approach. Bananas, doughnuts, ground nuts, as well as about 15 different styles of clothing with the word Obama printed on them, are all within arm’s reach. And to think, in North America I was driving up to the window to purchase food like a sucker. We are definitely well taken care of in Tukuyu and this sort of in your face hospitality is something ,I for one, will sorely miss.

 

Adam and Monica go to school in Ilima, Tanzania

Turns out being a secondary school teacher is a bit harder than I gave it credit for the first time around…

Monica and I have spent some time at Ilima Secondary School the past few weeks teaching Form 1 and 2 students basic poultry husbandry. Armed with little prior knowledge regarding the subject and limited teaching experience, we were thrust in front of a class of about 75 students each. Throw in a Swahili vocabulary comparable to that of the species we are teaching about and it was an interesting experience to put it politely. The kids only begin to learn English in secondary school in Tanzania so there was quite a bit repetition throughout the 90 minute sessions. 

It would be fair to say that Monica and I have pretty opposite teachings styles so while she was preparing notes and going through concepts for the following day, I basically wrote the word “kuku” a bunch of times on a piece of paper and figured that the material would come back to me when needed- not always the best approach.

Just like in any school, you have the keeners, the “sleepers”, the kids who could care less about what you are talking about, and a whole bunch of other different types of students. It was a nice experience to get to share some info we have learned and in all honesty, we had lots of fun. There is a poultry building at the school that is currently under construction so the hope is that through these sessions the students and staff would be better prepared for when it becomes operational..

I am starting to think we are becoming the best customers of the local stationary stores as the school required copies of lecture “notes” for the students. Three hundred copies later we were on our way and we hope that by this time next year some of those concepts will be put into practice.

This week is our last in Ilima and we are vaccinating chickens. Should make for some interesting stories!

Cheers,

Adam and Monica

 

Round two, beginning in Nakuru…

So Laura and I are back in Nakuru for a week to begin our second sampling and hopefully, get to more farms that we didn’t get a chance to sample the first time around. We have discovered that the term ‘resort’ is used very loosely around here, as our ‘resort’ only consists of simple hotel rooms, a modest courtyard, and a regular dining room (where Laura and I are gawked at since we appear to be the only “muzungos” staying here). Most of them are also owned by Christian groups. However, I am more than satisfied as we have warm showers, spring mattresses, and most importantly, don’t have to pee in a hole. After having to do that twice in one weekend, I hope to never have to use a latrine again!

It’s great to be in the field again with the cows after the week-long break we have had. I was running out of books to read and words to play in Scrabble, as we finished our work early in Ichamara. The company there was wonderful though, as some of the nursing team from Farmers Helping Farmers (FHF)/UPEI joined us for the week to help with Carolyn and Dr. Van Leeuwen’s biogas project. Their visit also presented the perfect opportunity to go to Meru to check out what the nursing and nutrition students were working on.

Meru is located in the northeastern region of Kenya, the closest city to the Somalian border (about 400 km away). Being northeast of Mount Kenya, the climate and landscape is very different from Ichamara. It is much drier and hotter, with a lot less hills. There are also elephants that live in the forest just outside of the city, of which we were lucky enough to encounter, as one was just crossing the road! The nurses work at the St. Theresa Missionary Hospital in Kiirua (a town just outside of Meru) and regularly visit their children’s home/school. Laura and I joined them at the children’s home, where we assisted in feeding the children. The work that the mission and its sisters do for these children is simply amazing. They raise abandoned or orphaned children between the ages of infancy and three, and operate a feeding program and school for kids aged five and under. By providing the basic necessities for these children during such a critical life stage, the sisters are attempting to build a solid foundation for a healthy future. It’s unbelievable how two women can care for more than ten babies while I can barely feed one! That’s probably why I am only handling cows in Kenya and not little children.

The nursing and nutrition teams will also be working with some women’s groups, running blood pressure clinics and helping to build a more well-balanced diet. We were lucky enough to join in on the first meeting of two women’s groups, who have been long-term pen pals. Though I couldn’t understand a word of their local language, Kimeru, the excitement of these women was evident through their facial expressions, gestures, and apparel. The language barrier also prevented any of us from enjoying a speech intended to empower women, but at least food is universal, and we were treated to fresh, locally grown fruits, and traditional Kenyan cuisine.

While in Meru, Laura and I almost caught President Kibaki in action! We saw his personal helicopter (compliments of the taxpayers) take off for Nairobi just as we were returning home! He and other government officials were campaigning for the new Kenyan constitution, which will be put to vote in a national referendum on August 4th. The streets were flooded with people wearing green shirts and hats, which represent the ‘Yes’ campaign. And of course, what’s a national referendum in a developing country without the vested interests of foreign countries? The ‘Yes’ campaign is fully supported by the US and the UK, while the opposition is backed by various Christian groups. I have been learning a lot about the upcoming referendum from our fellow Kenyans and the newspaper, so I’m excited for the outcome of the vote (hopefully a peaceful one!). Controversial issues include abortion, the kadhi Muslim courts, and the status of Somali refugees. Could it be a new beginning for the Kenyan people? Not that my opinions really matters, but I’ll let you know as I learn more about the constitution! Stay tuned!

love always,
vi

July 4th at Ichamara

We have seven more farms to go to and then we are finished the first sampling for the Ichamara area. I can hardly believe things have gone so smoothly. Once we got a good system down with specific jobs assigned to each person rather than everyone trying to do the same job and no one being especially certain what had been done and what hadn’t been, we became much more efficient as a team. It also took awhile for us to get past the language barrier. Everyone here speaks such fluent English that sometimes I forget that there is a language barrier and that I have to slow down my talking and allow the people I’m speaking to time to process what I am saying. At first I found myself getting frustrated because I was having to repeat myself a lot just to get a simple point across. Usually its fine and we get to the point eventually but sometimes I’m just not clear enough and things go wrong. Like when I asked one of the grad students if he could put the milk samples in the freezer overnight. He certainly put the samples in the freezer, but he didn’t understand that the ice the samples are stored on during the day must also be placed in the freezer. In the morning we had no ice to collect new samples with as we went around to the farms. It was fine in the end as we were lucky to discover that lab at the Dairy we work out of had some ice blocks we could use. Otherwise we might have lost an entire days worth of sampling which could have left us five to ten farms behind schedule. All because I just assumed and didn’t properly explain myself. So my lesson for the past few weeks has been to speak slowly and to verbalise my thoughts because in fact people can’t read my mind.

We have been pretty much working non stop since we got here. The work is pretty labour intensive. Our day begins around 6:00 am and usually with a run. Our running route is along the tarmac heading roughly south west with Mount Kenya and the rising sun to our right and a little behind us. Usually the mountain is shrouded in mist but every now and then it can be seen peeking through the clouds. It is roughly 5500 ft and is the remnant of a once active volcano, now long dormant. It is the home of the Kikuyu god Ngai, which is one of the traditional deities of Kenya, although now it seems most everyone is Christian with a smattering of Muslim. Whichever spirit lives there, it must be laughing at us as we pant and wheeze along the foothills of its home. At home in Atlantic Canada, most of the landscape is barely above sea level in some places. In Kenya the average altitude is1500 to 1600 feet above sea level and boy can we feel the oxygen depravation while running. I now understand why Kenyans are able to run so fast. Although running for the sake of running isn’t at all common here. In the mornings we are the only ones out for exercise. Everyone else is sauntering along at a leisurely pace, on their way to work or dropping off their daily milk quota. The locals greet us cordially as we pass, but usually with a grin and a chuckle at how odd we look jogging down the road. However do not be deceived. These people are some of the most in shape people I have ever come across. In the rural areas of Ichamara and Murkurwe-ini where we are staying, the terrain is excessively hilly and all of the farms are nestled on the slopes which in some cases are nearly vertical. The farmers and their families walk these slopes multiple times a day, every day of their lives, to bring water and food to their family. All part of the daily routine for them. One lady took pity on us and decided to help us (typical Kenyan generosity) back to the combi with our crate of medical supplies. She took the crate (which is between 20-30 lbs and very awkward), placed it on her head and proceeded to walk the entire way back to the combi. It was easily a 20 minute walk and mostly uphill. I was in awe to say the least.

The rest of our day consist of as many farm visits as we can fit in before the sun goes down which I at 6:30 sharp. Dawn and dusk are not drawn out here like they are at home. They happen very quickly so that sometimes you are working away in the daylight and all of a sudden you are working in the dark and are not certain what happened. The farms are becoming increasingly far apart and so a good portion of our day is spent bumping along the Kenyan dirt roads. Some of the potholes are quite impressive and it seems sometimes like we drive into one and come out the next. The scenery is lush and green and everywhere you look is bananas. However the bananas are smaller than they are at home and much tangier and tastier I think. When we leave a farm, the owners will often send us away with a large bunch of bananas. We eat bananas with absolutely everything. Bananas in our cereal, bananas with our lunch, banana smoothies, bananas for a snack, banana sandwiches. I think I may turn into a banana before the summer is through. When we arrive on the farm, we have to ask permission of the people that we can carry out our research before we begin. We’ve only had one person turn us down thus far. It’s really in their best interest because they get free dewormer, free preg checks, free consultation, as well as any information we get concerning parasite load and mastitis in their herd. Everyone is very nice and very welcoming. This weekend we went to the Sweetwaters park and went on a safari. We just got back today. It was a wonderful and much needed break. The plains of Africa are just as beautiful as I’d imagined and just as full of animals. I find it incredible that all of these bizarre and exotic creatures can exist all in one place. We saw zebras, baboons, elephants, giraffes, gazelles, impalas, Elans, water buffalo, rhinos, and lots of different species of birds. My favorite was the maribu stork. He lives around the watering hole next to the tented village where we stayed. He is very social and will come right up to you to watch you eat your food. I suspect that he is used to getting for from people. He is about four feet tall and looks like he has a wing span of about five feet. The other girls thought he was incredibly ugly. His crop is red and wrinkly and hangs down over his keel like a deflated balloon. And he is bald like a vulture with a very large and impressive beak. I decided his name was George.

Now we are back at Ichamara to finish up our sampling. The end of the week will see us on the road again. This time we will be heading to Meru to stay with the UPEI nursing students who are also here in Kenya for the summer. Until we meet again!

Laura B.