Preparing for Another Chapter of Life’s Unknown Journeys…

Did my feeble attempt at an exciting title capture anyone’s attention? Can’t blame me for trying! But now that you’re already here…

So it’s only T-1.5 days until departure! I still cannot believe that I’m actually going to Kenya! I’ve barely left North America in my 22 years of life and now I’m embarking on a 10-week journey to a place that could not possibly be more foreign to me. Not only that, but I am to represent Vets without Borders and help the dairy farmers improve the health and reproductive success of their cows! Maybe I really shouldn’t tell them that this year was the first time that I even touched a dairy cow…I may have to fake some confidence and pretend to know what I am doing. Thank goodness that I will have the support and supervision of Laura, Dr. VanLeeuwen, and local vets to guide me! I just really hope that I could give the farmers and villagers as much as I think I will gain from this unbelievable experience. Not only in terms of the knowledge and hands-on experience with cattle, but the insight into such a fascinating culture and people. I really hope I don’t disappoint them! I think that fear of mine is greater than the fear of the health risks that I will be facing. It’s just that participating in one of Vets without Borders’ projects and being able to contribute to change (for the better) has been a dream of mine since deciding to pursue vet school while I was in undergrad (cliche, I know…). Maybe it’s selfish in a way, but I guess I just don’t want to feel like I’ve failed myself or those who have supported me so faithfully.

Speaking of my loved ones, this trip will be the longest time that I am away from home, by myself. No doubt I will miss my caring, teenage-esque mother, my immature, but super supportive brother, and the rest of my awesome family. Also, my wonderful friends, especially you ladies, who never fail to put a smile on my face. I am sure that I will have lots of unforgettable stories to tell you when I return. But don’t forget to remember your stories and share them with me too! I will miss Toronto and the great summer festivities, but thank goodness I won’t be here during the G8/G20 madness! I wonder if I will be able to catch any of the World Cup games while I’m there…I will be in the same continent!

Everything feels all that more real when I think about attending another friend’s ‘going away’ party tomorrow, but I think I’m ready for my ‘real’ summer to begin…or at least ready for the four flights in the next two days until I reach Nairobi! See you in Kenya!

love always,
vi

Roughing it in Ichamara, Kenya…

If you consider a guesthouse for you and your group, a personal chef, a personal driver, a flushing toilet, and someone to do your laundry to be “roughing it.” Though there are definitely luxuries in Canada that I am missing here (I really miss my bed!), I really could not have asked for more. Our living conditions in Nakuru and Ichamara (a small village by Nyeri) have far exceeded any expectations Laura and I had. And after every farm visit, I am all that more grateful for what Farmers Helping Farmers and VwB have provided us with here. The homes of many local farmers are usually composed of a few small structures made from wood and packed soil (like clay?). One structure may be used for sleeping and socializing while another is used for cooking. Running water or electricity is found in some homes, but not very common. The bathrooms are almost always outdoor latrines (ie. a hole in the ground), of which I have managed to avoid using despite our eight/nine-hour days out on the road, going from farm to farm. Something about peeing into a hole in a space enclosed by sheet metal just doesn’t appeal to me!

As I mentioned, we are now in Ichamara. Our first week has gone by very efficiently, with over half of the designated farms completed. We still have two more weeks here, but it looks like the last week will be spent relaxing in the house and being tourists before we go back to Nakuru to complete our second sampling. Ichamara and the surrounding towns/villages are gorgeous! The landscape is beautiful, as hills are everywhere (which kind of sucks when we have to climb them carrying our boxes of supplies!), and they are full of various flowers and fruit trees. Growing up in suburbia, my fruits are from the closest supermarket. But here in Kenya, bananas, avocadoes, papayas, and pineapples are hanging off trees everywhere! I have also seen numerous coffee plantations and the beans are nothing like I imagined. I know, could I not sound any more like I’m from the city than ever?! That’s okay, at least I’m learning and seeing a lot! Plus, when I have a question about the plants, Laura has a Masters in botany!

The people here have been wonderful. All the staff at the house, from Sportsman’s Safari, and from Wakalima Dairy Co-op have been so friendly and helpful. Despite English being the second language for many of them, they make a huge effort in talking to us and teaching us new things about the Kenyan culture. I have also found that many Kenyans are very politically aware about their own country and surrounding nations, so I’m definitely learning a lot about that. The farmers have also been very grateful and generous – they are always sending us home with food! However, I do find it a little intimidating when we are stared at everywhere we go, especially by the children. I understand that it is because we look so different and ‘strange’ to them, so I am slowly getting used to it!

Though everything has been going great for the most part, I am experiencing some difficulties with adjusting to how things are done in Kenya, or Africa in general, as well as with the language barrier. Whereas in Canada, I am so used to tasks being completed immediately and efficiently, it is hard when I have to sit around and wait for instructions, since I don’t understand what is being communicated between the farmers and the vet students that we are assisting. Communicating our findings to the vet students for recording has also been challenging at times because we may be working on different parts of the study without realizing it. It is certainly no one’s fault, but I definitely have to develop a lot more patience if I am to continue our work without getting too frustrated or a head full of white hairs!

Since Laura and I have working so hard and efficiently this past week, we both broke out with fevers last night and today! It was quite a scare when Laura started to get a fever when we were on a farm. Our fellow Kenyans suggested we go to a hospital just to rule out malaria. It was certainly smart to err on the side of caution, but then talks of typhoid fever began, which really started to freak us out. After four hours of waiting, two blood tests and a doctor consult, she was diagnosed with upper respiratory tract infection and sent home with an assortment of drugs. Over the course of the night, her fever got worse, but then came down. By the next morning however, I was getting severe lower back pains, a headache, chills, and a fever. After lots of blankets, and four ibuprofen tablets, I am feeling much better now. Let’s hope it stays that way since we are now a day behind and we are to continue working tomorrow!

That’s pretty much what has been going in our great Kenyan adventure so far! Things should get a little more interesting as we plan to visit the nearby market in Karatina (a town outside the village) and go on a safari adventure in Sweet Waters. Thanks for all the past messages and comments, I really appreciate it! I will reply soon, but understand that internet just isn’t the same as in Canada. I miss home and you guys a lot! Keep me updated on your lives as well!

love always,
vi

PS. Erica, please be safe this weekend and return home in one piece!!

First Week in Kenya: Sawa Sawa

We are finally here in Kenya after many long months of preparation and anticipation. We arrived July 14th at 3 AM. We began our journey July 12th in the evening, departing from Toronto for Vionna and Charlottetown PEI for myself. We endured two red eye flights and many long hours in airport terminals, but the welcome we have received upon arrival very much made up for any discomfort we might have experienced.

We were greeted at the airport by our travel guide, Henry Macharia, who has arranged for all of our transportation needs during the whole of our two and a half month stay. I noted the stark contrast of his silvery curly hair to his dark skin as he took both my hands in greeting and said to me, “Do not look at your watch, night or day, no matter where you are, if you need me I shall come for you.” The warmness of this karibu, or welcome, has been a constant during the whole of our travels so far and I have come to associate Kenyans with firm handshakes and friendship.

We were delayed in Nairobi for the first two days on account of our luggage and medical supplies being held up in Cairo during a very tight connection. It arrived early Wednesday morning, and we were able to head out for the rift valley that same day. At the moment we are staying in Nakuru with Troy and Rebecca Sammons, and their three daughters Dakota, Kate, and Hope. Dakota and Kate are 4 and 2 years, and Hope is just 5 months. They are quite a busy house and have been very kind to keep us for the first week. The drive to Nakuru was overcast, but even so the views around the Ngong mountains (the same from Out of Africa!) as we drove down into the valley were truly spectacular. The mountain roads wound in and around the rock face and the African plains stretched out as far as the eye could see hundreds of feet below. We saw many beautiful acacia forests and, to our extreme delight, baboons, zebras, and gazelles along the roadside. Kenyans seem to enjoy a different sort of relationship with their wildlife than we have in Canada. Where we displace and convert, they seem to overlap and cohabitate in a way that seems very harmonious. And everywhere along the road you see young trees being planted by the Green Belt movement, an NGO started in the early 1908’s by Wangari Mathi who was the first African woman to win the noble peace prize.

Nakuru is a small town, and it’s farms tend to be in the range of 4 to 10 cows, although they may have as many as a thousand which is very large in Kenyan standards. The countryside is full of rolling hills which are still lush and green from the recent rainy season (March to May). All around are the huge mountains of the rift valley, their peaks long and worn compared to the Rockies of North America. The view from the Sammons house overlooks Lake Nakuru which is part of Nakuru National Park. The lake is in the migratory path of many species of birds and is the winter destination for many European species. An interesting phenomenon you can’t help but notice is the roadside farming. Because many small holder farms don’t have enough land to feed their animals, farmers allow their animals to roam free along the roadsides all day long to eat. In the evening they are brought in again. You will see all sorts of domesticated species grazing along the road including: Cattle, Goats (huge massive herds of goats! Hundreds of them!), donkeys, sheep, pigs, and chickens. The farms themselves are small, and in some cases require updating, but they are very charming. Each farm is a little walled in island all unto itself, and everyone has a garden full to bursting with produce. The most common crops are corn, beans, kale, and bananas. Fruit is incredibly prolific, and we have been eating locally grown passion fruit, mangos, and avocado on a daily basis.

We began sampling as soon as we arrived in Nakuru. The field study we are conducting involves us gathering data from small holder dairy farms in the Nakuru and Nyeri areas west of Mt. Kenya . We hope to visit over 100 farms and collect samples from around 700 cattle. So far, we have been to 7 farms and collected data from 44 cattle. The data is a tad convoluted because we are coordinating three separate projects from two masters students, and one PhD from the University of Nairobi. The topics of each study include GI tract parasites, mastitis, and abortion which requires the collections of fecal, milk, and blood samples respectively. The hope is to discover what factors and practices contribute to mastitis, the distribution of GI parasites, and the causes of abortion in Kenyan farms which can be as high as 10% per year in some cases. Some of the factors are stall proportions, grazing techniques, and stall/pen cleanliness. It was a little difficult to organize everyone at first, but we have a very efficient system now and can average about 30 minutes per 4 cow farm. Vionna and I have become masters of the CMT (California Mastitis Test) paddle. The two master’s students are Kabaka and Roiford, and Abuom is the PhD student. They are all great and we have become good friends. It is now Friday and they have gone back to Nairobi for the weekend. We will stay with the Sammons until Sunday at which point we will pack up and head for Ichamara, a small village outside of Nyeri.

That is all for now I think, the next post is Vionna’s, I’ll talk to you guys again in a couple weeks!

Laura

Kenyan odyssey draws near!

The time approacheth! The Kenyan odyssey is drawing near. I can hardly believe it really. I think the best setting for this adventure is to describe my thoughts as they stand right now for posterity’s sake. So that I can compare the person I am now with the person I will be when I get back. At the moment I feel like I know absolutely nothing that could possibly be considered even remotely useful to anyone, and I’m more than a little worried that when I arrive in Kenya this will be painfully obvious. So many people have helped me get to this point. My VWB support team, my Mum, and of course my wonderful family and friends. I know that I will not be alone in my travels or my work either. But surely at some point I must contribute something useful. Something in the way of a unique talent that could buoy and support my team. Now what shall that be I wonder? Hmmm… I have it! I’ll make sandwiches! I make a delicious peanut butter and banana sandwich, and since both ingredients are plentiful in Kenya, surely this is a task at which I cannot fail? Brilliant!

Oh dear, the bar for personal growth has been set quite low hasn’t it? I believe a wise person (likely of asian descent) once said that to learn something new, one must empty their cup (cup = brain) of all preconceptions and prejudice and allow it to be filled again with the truth of real life personal experience. Or something along those lines. Anyway, the point is that I feel as though my cup is as empty as it can possibly be. I’m hoping that my travels in Kenya will help me understand my world and the people who inhabit it a little bit better, and possibly fill my cup with something useful. Well, more useful than peanut butter and banana sandwiches anyway. I know this may sound selfish, especially when considering that my mandate is one where I’m to be a volunteer working to improve the lot of the farmers and dairy cattle of Kenya. I can’t, however, deny the very real possibility that I will benefit from this experience more than the wonderful people I will be working with in Kenya whom I cannot wait to meet.

I think I will sign off now. It is late and I’m getting more foolish with each passing minute. I will write again soon with details concerning itineraries and flights schedules.

L

Comments from our volunteer, Erik

Hey, I’m Erik, a volunteer that accompanied the team from VWB/VSF to Dichato to control an outbreak of distemper in this earthquake and tsunami struck town.I’m a Chilean/American/Canadian that’s lived in Chile almost my whole life. I’m a biology student at the Universidad Austral de Chile here in Valdivia and met Guillermo and Elena last year and have kept in contact since then.

They invited me to participate in the trip to Dichato and I didn’t hesitate at the chance to go help in this disaster stuck area.Dichato used to have a population of around six thousand people and after the earthquake and tsunami struck the town it lost approximately 60% of its buildings. Now all the people that didn’t leave the town after their houses were destroyed or washed away by the sea, live in the tents on the hill on higher ground.Most people have dogs. And living in tents, it’s hard to keep your dogs leashed up. So the streets are plagued with dozens of dogs on each corner, most of them with an owner, but loose on the streets. It’s a perfect opportunity for viruses such as Canine Distemper Virus or Canine Parvovirus to get around.
So when VWB/VSF heard of a supposed distemper outbreak they jumped at the opportunity of helping to control it. On Thursday the 22nd of April, we were on our way north on a 6 hour trip to get to Concepcion where we enjoyed some seismic movements during the night and moved on the next day to get set up in Dichato for the weekend. The team at this moment was comprised of Elena, Guillermo, Paty, Daniela, and me.
Entering Dichato we were welcomed be the devastating scenario of entire street blocks that used to line the sea front stripped to only a couple hollow cement structures and whole house uprooted from their bases and left 2 blocks away by the sea. We later moved up to the hills and to the camps to assess the canine situation. Extremely small sites holding up to 120 tents with tiny pathways in-between them is what we saw. Plus dozens of dogs tromping around loose.
So as soon as we got there a few people came up to ask what we were there for and before long we had people showing up with their dogs on makeshift leashes. Now it was time to take blood, do physicals, vaccinate, and extract as much information about the dog from the owner as possible. We did this to all dogs that were applicable for said things. So to do so we split into two teams. First team was Elena, our vet, Guillermo, our handler, and me, the bookie. The second team was Paty, the vet, and her assistant Daniela.
After the word spread around the neighborhood that we were vaccinating dogs against distemper for free, a small crowd started to form. Late in the afternoon another member of our team shows up from Santiago. It’s Carlos, our professional photographer friend. So by the end of the day we had vaccinated around 40 dogs in our first afternoon. And our second vet Paty and her assistant Daniela have to leave.
Now it was time to go find a place to crash. Thanks to our contact in Dichato, who is from an animal welfare group in a nearby town, we were set up in some rooms in the backyard of a very nice lady’s house, in the low part of Dichato. 

Next day we have another member arrive. It’s Javier, our second vet all the way from Valdivia. So now I’ll be working with him and helping with holding veins and getting all the info from the owners. We start working mid morning and wait till the town starts to wake up. We set up in the plaza just outside the camp we were working at yesterday. Once it’s close to noon the people are answering their doors and soon they appear with their dogs to the plaza where we set up. By this time another vet and more volunteers from Concepcion show up to help, and vet from the near town of Tomé.
So know we have 4 teams working with a constant lineup of dogs. We have plenty of work to do and work well into the afternoon before it seems like we have pretty much covered all the dogs in this small area (over 120 dogs vaccinated). Now its time to move down to what’s left of downtown and see if we can find a few dogs around there to vaccinate. We are lucky to be there just as a traditional folklore event is finishing and there is a bunch of people walking around. So soon the people that lived close by hurried up to get their dogs and bring them over for their vaccines.
The day is over and we feel like our team of 5 (Elena, Guillermo, Javier, Carlos, and me) deserve a prize for our effort. And to our good fortune there is a small barbecue in the backyard where we are staying. Living in Chile- it would be a sin to not make good use of a grill. So like good Chileans we enjoy the last hours of the day with a nice barbecue.
Next morning it’s time to find the last location where we will work before we have to be on our way back to Valdivia again. Our reinforcements from Concepcion are back, so we have a good 4 teams working this morning. We work hard until we have to leave and come to a grand total for the 3 days of 200 vaccinated dogs aprox. and 100 blood samples.
This was a tremendously successful trip and personally an amazing experience.
We all got along incredibly well and worked hard for long hours without complaints. I want to thank Elena and Guillermo from VWB/VSF for this awesome opportunity and the great work atmosphere.

We are all planning to go back to Dichato on the 21st of May to do a check up on the dogs we vaccinated and take blood from and vaccine more dogs if it is possible.
So stayed tuned to read about the next adventures of the VWB TEAM!

 

One more day until Ghana!

After months of hard work and prepation the day is almost here. I will be flying out of Saskatoon tomorrow morning and will arrive in Accra the following day. I am extremely excited to be working with VWB/VSF and feel privileged to take part on this project. I would like to thank everyone who has supported me on this trip – Chicken Farmers of Saskatchewan, Saskatchewan Chicken Industry and Investment Fund, Fox and Hounds, the University of Saskatchewan and of course to all professors and staff who showed overwhelming support from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine. I am thrilled to be representing the WCVM and to serve as an ambassador for Canada. Please stay tuned for further posts, I plan to document our trip as best as possible. To all my friends and family I wish you a relaxing and enjoyable summer and look forward to meeting you all upon my return.

All the best,

Steve

Realization #1: I am going to Ghana in Africa!

This will be the first blog for Ghana as I have just written my last exam this morning and now have the time to realize that I am off to Africa this summer:) It has been a very busy last few months with school and fundraising for the trip but it has all worked out very well. We were lucky to receive funding and support from the U of S, WCVM, AUCC, CIDA, The Chicken Farmers of Saskatchewan, My local Rotary Club in Winnipeg, the Fox and Hound for a bottle drive and we even held a pulled pork lunch!
I am just waiting on my travel visa and then I think the full realization of Africa will set in. It is somewhere I have wanted to go for a long time and the more I hear about Africa the more I want to go. Everything I have heard about Ghana sound amazing as well. I am looking forward to learning about their agriculture there and their guinea fowl! I hear they are feisty little birds. I hope we will be able to find out why their guinea fowl are dying each year.
I am looking forward to spending three months in Africa getting to know their agriculture, livestock and getting to know the villagers and their way of life:)

Observations


Now that the baseline surveys are complete, initial observations already point to some interesting findings. For example, interviews with farmers indicate low rates of livestock vaccination in most villages, with low awareness of which vaccinations are important. Moreover, whilst some farmers have had their cattle vaccinated in the past year, most do not vaccinate poultry, considering the time and costs involved not to be worth it given the relatively lower value of poultry.

There is a significant need for support amongst low-income households who struggle to invest in livestock and feed. Through improved support for livestock health in these villages, and tailoring of project activities to beneft those in need, we hope to help resolve some of these barriers to income generation and healthy livestock production. – Sonia Fevre

Village Surveys

This week we are conducting baseline surveys in villages in central Laos.  It has been very informative and we are learning a lot about the different attitudes and opportunities available to farmers. The wide differences show that there is much room for awareness-raising, income-generating activities and animal health improvements. Here are some photos for you to enjoy. – Sonia Fevre



Hands on in the farm

Today saw a culmination of intensive planning as the training for volunteer Primary Animal Health Workers (PAHWs) is finalised. During consultations and village visits in 2009, it became clear that there is a high demand amongst local farmers for greater veterinary support. With her wealth of experience, volunteer vet Dr Anne Drew and I have therefore been working with a fantastic team from the National University of Laos (NUOL) to put together a programme that will cover the necessary vet basics and provide PAHWs with new skills and knowledge to apply in their local setting.
We practised some training techniques today as students from the Faculty of Agriculture observed Anne Drew and faculty member Mr Sisavath demonstrate cattle handling and management skills.
NUOL has been working hard over the last few weeks to introduce the project to local communities and has recruited a motivated team of 33 volunteers to take on the role of Primary Animal Health Workers in their villages. Next week we will carry out a baseline survey in the villages which will put us in good stead to ensure our training covers priority animal health issues in the area.

– Sonia Fevre