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

Todos Santos on my mind

Most of the team hadn’t worked with each other or even met each other before meeting up in Guatemala City but we pretty quickly got into an easy working relationship that felt very comfortable and mutually supportive. We had great team leaders in Marjo (head tech and Todos Santos guru) and Kate (our head vet) and when we lost Kate, who was due back in Canada after 1 week, Enid (Vice-President and VWB/VSF Coordinator of Canine/Feline programs) very capably and seamlessly stepped into Kate’s shoes for the remainder of the project, bringing her own special warmth to the team.

Back in Canada for a couple of days now and I do find myself thinking alot about Todos Santos. There were challenges working in Todos Santos, not the least because of the different languages (Spanish and Mam) and conditions, but there was also unexpected joy and fulfillment there as well. While there, we were up by 5:30 AM and going steadily all day until we climbed the hill back up to Las Ruinas after dinner, and fell into bed.
It was an all-immersing experience.
We had 2 amazing translators from Todos Santos: Benita who speaks Mam and Spanish, and Andres who speaks Mam-Spanish-English – his English much appreciated by those of us with more rudimentary Spanish.

Andres also got to accompany us on many of our hikes as we carried patients home after surgery or did housecalls to follow up on all of our medical and surgical patients.
Both of these people were essential in communicating pet histories and homecare instructions as well as medical advice.
As mentioned in previous posts, various Todos Santos community leaders were also very helpful and supportive – helping with electrical supply, water, truck transport, keys, locating rooms for the community clinics or even speaking with pet owners and answering their questions or concerns.
Two other people from Todos Santos were also a huge support to the team during our stay. Roman and Christina (and their family) opened up their home in Las Ruinas to the team and made us feel incredibly welcome
– and their generosity continued throughout our stay with much-appreciated thermoses of coffee, with loan of a gas heater to help keep our post-surgical patients warm, and many other kindnesses. They also gave us the opportunity to to see 2 documentaries on Todos Santos Cuchumatan that gave us a little insight into some of the history of the community over the last 30 years. Their tienda (store) across from the municipal square was always a welcome place for coffee and chat during our downtime.

One of the unexpected pleasures (for me at least) of the time in Todos Santos was the enforced return to very basic medicine. With one of the VWB/VSF-Canada mandates being sustainability, we worked with equipment and supplies that are or would be locally available, not with what we were used to at home. Surgery and medicine became much more dependent on our 5 senses and on the “art” of veterinary medicine – and many team members commented on how rewarding (though challenging) this was. Walking up and down the mountainsides on our housecall rounds, and focusing on basic factors such as homecare and TLC, was a very peaceful and uncluttered experience.
The people of Todos Santos were very gracious and I hope I’ve learned from their patience and stoicism. I very much appreciated it that they have been willing to let us come there and work with them and that they have entrusted us with their pets’ care. The relationship with their pets can appear quite different from ‘back home’ but their affection and bond with their pets was clear
There are many pets that I met that I continue to wonder about:
Terry the Rottweiler who was doing incredibly well as we left; Terri the gentle little black & white dog who stole my heart; Nosey our mascot who was always so happy to see us and who could never get enough love and attention – as well as her little black buddy, dubbed Fritz, who appeared at 4 AM on our second-to-last day in Todos Santos and made himself right at home at Las Ruinas and at Roman and Christina’s tienda … Tuzo and so many other pets that we met.
To my team mates, it was truly a privilege to work with you all
(Merci beaucoup – gracias a todos).
Erin and Jeff – you both pitched right in seamlessly and helped where needed, in what must have been a doubly-strange environment (Todos Santos and the sometimes graphic world of veterinary medicine – sorry again about the dinnertime conversation Jeff!!).
Marjo, Kate and Enid, thank you for your inspired and always supportive leadership. It was a great experience working with VWB/VSF and the memories will endure.

What I’m left with is a strong desire that the work, which started several years ago in this community, continues to build on what was accomplished last January and continued this November/December. We saw many people who asked us when we are coming back, and there are many issues that could be worked on together with the community, and with other international partners and funding. It al leaves me with a very strong sense of hope and possiblity for the people and animals of Todos Santos Cuchumatan, and I’m grateful to have been allowed to be a small part of it.

Phase 2 Todos Santos comes to an end

Well, Phase 2 has finally come to an end, and we are all on our way home (some already back I hope!). My first day away from Todos Santos was a serious culture shock. Having travelled in many corners of the world, I did not expect to feel this as much as I do. Walking around Antigua yesterday with all the Guatemalan’s dressed in western clothes, eating hamburgers and ice cream, was truly surreal. What a rare and wonderful place Todos Santos is, where people hold onto their culture and language and wear it with pride. We have witnessed not only the good but also the difficulties this community has with poverty, politics, alcohol, unemployment, health, etc.

I thought it would be nice to have a few photos for our final words on the blog.
As school was out, we often had the children bringing in the dogs to the clinics. It was wonderful to have them watch us with curious eyes and minds and let them listen to the hearts of their dogs through our stethoscopes. We of course had to call their parents when it came to doing any sterilization procedure, THANK goodness for cell phones!

As you have read in the blog a whole bunch of times, a very special dog has attached herself to VWB/VSF . She is owned (or as the family likes to say – ”adopted”) by a family that lives next to the hostel some of us stay in. Her name is Nosey and she is simply the most gorgeous little dog in the world. We all want to take her home, but we know she is loved and cared for and takes everything in stride. She was spayed in Phase 1 and has put on weight since then – she is now the proud owner of some serious ‘love-handles’!
When we left at 4:30 am on Saturday, she followed us down the hill and proceeded to jump into the mini-bus………. we all held back the tears as I picked her up and out of the mini-bus. We will miss you Nosey – see you next time girl!
I won’t go into too many details on the rest of the photos, most of them are pretty self-explanatory. The people and their dogs, and the comfort the dogs took in having them there for them when they were recovering.

Sometimes the conditions we worked in were very challenging. We needed to help a dog who had some post-operative complications. This photo is of Marjo and I kneeling on the dirt ground, with smoke and dust everywhere, while the little girl did the dishes in the basin and the other child decided to sweep…… all while we had this doggie under anesthesia and her belly open………. true asepsis……. HA – I don’t think so BUT this is what we had to work with and happy to say, we visited Hueso (which means collar in Spanish) on Friday and she was eating our chicken and doing REALLY well. Thanks for great antibiotics and flushing, flushing, flushing………..
Not all conditions were that bad, this was our final surgical clinic, where we set up for 3 days. It was REALLY cold in the morning but by midday day the sun was pounding on the metal walls and things would warm up.

And yet another picture of dear Nosey……… and our AWESOME chief vet, Kate. We missed you Kate this week – I certainly cannot fit those shoes.

A final goodbye to the entire team, who worked with true team spirit and never ceased to amaze me at every moment.Encouraging and caring to each other, even when things got rough. Professional, compassionate, sensitive, and all in the name of the people and their dogs of Todos Santos. VWB/VSF thanks you all – your work lives on in.
Enid