We arrived in Bangkok after a long flight from North America. It was great to see some familiar faces! Nicole, Tiffany (EcoGuides group), Alison, and I found our ways through the maze of airport terminals to meet up before our last flight to our final destination, Vientiane, Laos. As we stepped off the plane in Laos we were engulfed by an intense heat that we have never experienced in Canada. This was only the first of many surprises.

After going through the immigration office to get our visas (which proved to be a little difficult because most of the forms were in Lao), we were warmly greeted by Tom Drew, a Canadian working with the National University of Laos training primary animal care health workers. We got in a van and started our journey through Vientiane. The streets were packed with cars, motorbikes, and bicycles. There were little Lao women carrying baskets of produce and other items weighing over 50kg. The cornucopia of smells was absolutely amazing; the automobile pollution, many people in a small amount of space, food cooking on the street sides, and probably the most novel of them all, Laap (fermenting meat and body parts of various animals).

We spent the next few days exploring Vientiane, met Sonia (VWB’s Asian project coordinator) and Camille
(PhD student working with the EcoGuides), and reunited with Blanaid who we met during the retreat in Toronto. Vientiane is a bigger city with more tourism than Savannakhet, so this was a good place for us to start our transition into Lao culture. All four of us VWB volunteers bought beautiful sins (the traditional skirts worn by Lao women) and had our 1st traditional Lao massage – an hour of pure bliss costing less than $10. The food has taken some getting used to, but it is delicious unless you bite into a chili and your mouth will be on fire through the rest of the meal!

Then it was time for us to journey from Vientiane to Savannakhet, our new home for the next 3 months. The trip takes about 8-9 hours so we took an overnight bus. About 2 hours into the bus ride, the bus hit something and we all jerked awake as the bus came to a screeching halt. To this day, we still do not know what the bus hit, but there was a license plate and parts of a motorbike littering the road. Luckily, no people we involved in the accident. We continued the rest of our journey to Savannakhet and arrived at our Guest House at about 6am. We were all exhausted and passed out!

Our first day at SKU was a little stressful for us all. We had prepared presentations while we were in Canada to give on our first day at the University. When we arrived at SKU we were ushered into a conference room with about two dozen people, introductions were given, and the presentations started. The Lao professors gave us presentations on the major Do’s and Don’ts of Lao culture, agriculture in Lao, and the current goals of the quickly developing University. Then it was our turn! Sonia started by giving a brief introduction to VWB, Alison presented on Veterinary School in Canada, I talked about conservation in Canada, Nicole spoke about common zoonotic diseases in Canada, Tiffany discussed EcoTourism in Canada, and Camille finished with an overview of her PhD project and conservation of monkeys. The presentations went really well despite our nervousness, but little did we know that they were being recorded. The next day we had another meeting at SKU and they showed us the videos of ourselves giving the presentations and we found out that the presentations had also been shown to some of the classes at the University!

After our presentations, we went to a Vietnamese restaurant with some of the SKU teachers where they served us all kinds of strange foods. Two of the teachers were joking with us and enticing us to eat out of the ‘mystery’ dish. I finally broke down and took the first bite of boiled pig stomach. Then Tiffany and Alison jumped in and tried it also. It was really chewy and had a strange metallic aftertaste. There was also intestine, kidney, liver, uterus, and skin. What a meal!

Over the next few days we had more meetings at SKU with various personnel. We took a tour of the campus and were standing outside of a geometry class. Every single student in the class stopped paying attention to the teacher to turn around and look at us. We really draw a lot of attention!

That weekend we went to Monkey Forest and got to feed the lively little Macaque monkeys that seemed to pop out of nowhere. We sat as a group and did some team build ng activities while the monkeys tried to steal our food. Then we took a trip over a river (which our TukTuk got stuck) and visited our first Temple. The statutes of the Buddha were amazingly intricate and the artwork on the walls was stunning. On the way home we decided to stop at a village Rocket Festival, which was an amazing taste of Lao culture that will never be forgotten! The festival is held every 3 years and its purpose is to bring the rain in the upcoming rainy season. They shoot rockets high into the sky and any rockets that don’t reach the sky means someone is going to be thrown into a mud pit. As we were getting ready to leave a group of mud encrusted men came over and were trying to get us to come play in the mud. Knowing that we had a dinner party to be at in less than an hour, we tried to politely decline, but they made sure to at least smear mud all over Alison’s and my  face. It was an awesome weekend to recharge and reboot before our first official week at work!

Mentoring News from Laos

Nearly two months into our stay at NUOL, our support and training work with the PAHWs (Primary Animal Health Workers) has taken shape well. The PAHWs are providing lots of interesting exchanges and useful feedback.

A village mentoring visit with the PAHWs is set up by one of the Animal Health lecturers at the University, who also provide some ambulatory services to the villages. A morning visit means we can ask the visit host – one of the PAHWs – to hold back his animals from grazing for us to do some practical work. Each village started with 3 PAHWs trained, but attrition and their other responsibilities means we usually have 2 present, occasionally 3.

Our team consists of me and Thom, Lampheuy – our coordinator and translator, an Animal Nutrition specialist, lecturer and PhD student – and one of the Animal Health lecturers, often Sisawat. Sitting outdoors with the group, I check record books and ask about cases they have seen, which leads us into case discussions. We review clinical signs, probable diagnoses, treatments and outcomes. The PAHWs are questioned about what specific support they need from the team. We then move on to practical work, using what ever animal is available to practice restraint and handling, physical exam and evaluation. I’ve introduced deworming of dogs, and we have also been discussing and sometimes applying flea treatment. Before leaving we have distributed 10m. ropes suitable for casting cows, and large gauge needles which may sometimes be useful in relieving bloat – an oft-cited killer of cows in the rainy season.

At some visits we have a sick animal to work with, always an excellent learning opportunity. This week in Douneane village we saw a cow 1 month fresh with a lame leg, which one PAHW had treated the 2 previous days. We were able to review case reporting (presenting signs, history, findings, treatment and rationale), restrain and examine her, discuss the probable diagnosis and the indicated treatments, estimate the weight of the cow, calculate drug dosages, and have each PAHW draw and administer one injection. We covered nursing care, ie the need for provision of water to an animal with restricted mobility, the effect on milk production and the well-being of the calf of withholding water. Our conclusions were that she had a normal temperature, thin body condition, and a hock injury which was improving. I also took a fecal sample to do a float back at the lab.

Yesterday in the lab I floated the sample in saturated sugar solution and demonstrated a moderately heavy load of GIN eggs (validating our deworming treatment of the previous day). I was working alone with this first sample to investigate what equipment was available, the condition of microscopes, etc., but on my way out of the lab I saw Sisawat and asked if he would like to see the slide. Sisawat and a vet student, Souksawat came with me, and we collected another veterinary program lecturer, Sitisai, along the way. Once she saw us in the lab, the lab supervisor also came in and took a look. When I left, Sitisai was taking a picture of the slide. This very simple technique should be readily transferable to the teaching program and provide a good rationale for treatment programs in the villages.


With the dry season now in full swing, Veterinarian Anne Drew is again working with Primary Animal Health workers (PAHWs) to improve animal healthcare in Xaythany District. After playing a key role in a vaccination campaign against Haemorrhagic septicaemia (HS) at the end of last year, encouraging more farmers than before to vaccinate their cattle, the PAHWs are more motivated than ever to continue providing healthcare serivces. However, they still need a lot of training and support to learn about better disease prevention, treatment and livestock management.

Here Anne and Lampheuy discuss bloat treatments for cattle with the PAHWs in Senoudom village.

VWB/VSF and the Faculty of Agriculture, National University of Laos (NUOL) celebrate signing Memorandum of Understanding


VWB/VSF and the Faculty of Agriculture, National University of Laos (NUOL) were happy to celebrate the signing of an MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) between the two institutions this September. This agreement recognises our mutual interest and commitment in working together over the coming years and is a key step in developing our activities to bring further benefits to the wider communities involved.

Other key partners in the project include the District Agriculture and Forestry Office, the Health Department and local farmers and the Women’s Union.

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

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.


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