Meet our Summer Students in Laos!

Meet Michelle Lam!

Hey there, my name is Michelle Lam and I am grateful to have been given this wonderful opportunity to be involved with Vets Without Borders! In September I will be starting my third year at the Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph, Ontario. Before getting into vet school, I completed a 4 year Bachelor of Science honours degree with a specialization in zoology at the University of Toronto, St. George campus. After finishing my undergraduate degree, I worked for a year at a busy referral and emergency clinic and a private small animal clinic. Soon after, I completed a one year course work Masters in animal behaviour and welfare at the University of Guelph. For my research project I looked at the effects of providing pain medication to piglets during castration.

I am very excited to be able to spend my summer in Laos learning about development work, and working closely with the National University of Laos to help create a sustainable veterinary program, to teach English and to help the school look for future funding.

Meet Sarah Edwards!

Hi! My name is Sarah Edwards and I am so excited to be dedicating my summer to the Vets Without Borders Summer Student Program! I am so thrilled to have the opportunity to combine my interest in global development with my chosen field of Veterinary Medicine. I am in the same class as Michelle, so I will also be entering my third year of study in the DVM program at the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. Prior to starting my DVM, I completed a BScH in Biomedical and Molecular Sciences at Queen’s University, with a focus on research in Immunology and Microbiology. I also completed a certificate in Business Administration at the University of Windsor and hope to complete my full Bachelors of Commerce after finishing up my DVM. I have always had an interest in development work, especially since working with the Canadian Red Cross at their local branch in Windsor, ON, Canada. My most recent involvement with the social media campaign at the Global Development Symposium 2014 has also driven my excitement for this summer. I look forward to experiencing all of the programs that VWB has to offer here in Laos, such as cricket farming, rabies vaccination campaigns, PAHWS program, and meeting all the vet students at the National University of Laos. Here we go!

Our First Impression:

Laos is a beautiful country rich in culture and history. Our very first impression when we disembarked off the plane was how hot and humid it is here compared to Canada! We spent our first weekend in the capital, Vientiane, where we adjusted to the climate, cuisine, and culture. Our first couple of days were filled with trying traditional Lao dishes, as well as seeking out the nearest air-conditioned café to reassure our loved ones that we made it safely. A quick tuk tuk ride to the morning market led us to quickly realize just how much of a challenge the language barrier would pose. Luckily for us, some basic gestures and the use of a calculator to demonstrate numbers led to the successful purchase of silk sinhs, which are the traditional Lao skirts for women. Our last night in the capital was spent dining with the Vets Without Borders staff, who will be guiding us through our project while in Laos. We are very eager see our new home for the next three months, as we travel to Nabong!

– Sarah and Michelle (Written: May 18, 2014)

Michelle (left) and Sarah (right) on our first tuk tuk ride in Laos!

Poultry Project Vaccination and Training Day!

Last week, the Vets without Borders team in Laos took a trip to visit chicken farms at one of their project villages.  At the six month mark in the project, it was time for all of the chickens to receive their fourth round of vaccinations for disease prevention.

The day was also an opportunity to mentor the Primary Animal Health Workers (PAHWs) through the vaccination process.

Just like many other farmers all across Laos, most farmers in the project village raise chickens for occasional home consumption, but mostly  for sale at the markets, and are not in the habit of eating the eggs.   Chickens generally have a free run of the neighborhood, which can pose problems for diseases and inbreeding. However, thanks to the work of our partner agency, the Faculty of Agriculture, Vets without Borders, and the PAHWs and farmers in each village, chickens are now being raised with improved practices.   Poultry farmers now have the education and materials to build chicken coops and to use improved feeding practices with troughs and clean water containers.  Vaccination clinics are  helping prevent the chickens from getting diseases that will kill off the flock.

Now, instead of all chickens heading to the market to be sold, the healthy flock can be diversified into egg producers for new chicks and egg consumption, chicken meat consumption, and others to be sold for income. Farmers and their families are also learning how to identify how to select chickens to keep and which to sell.

With healthier chickens in the village, families have more options for household income and nutrition! A big thanks to veterinarians Margot and Lota the PAHW’s for doing such a great job in making a difference!


Women’s Day feature: Ms Latee

Ms Latee, resident PAHW in Paksapkao village, lives with her husband, her dog, 5 hens, and several chicks and her mother lives right next door. Several years ago, Ms. Latee raised a small amount of livestock, but the manual labor became too difficult and she now is a Primary Animal Health worker for the village and also has a plot in the local organic vegetable gardens.

Ms. Latee has been a Primary Animal Health Worker for the past year. Before she began her training in animal health, she was a human health worker in her community for 3 years. With a background knowledge of vaccination benefits in children, she was motivated to train as a PAWH in order to learn more about animal diseases so that she could treat livestock in her home village.  She also wanted to be able to share the knowledge she gained with other villagers, as well as the village chief, so that he could be a community resource when an animal became ill. Ms.

Latee’s natural disposition to share information and always be available for help earned her the award for “Most Helpful PAHW”. As a woman, it is sometimes hard for Ms. Latee to treat some of the larger animals that have problems. It can sometimes be the most difficult part of her job. However, the other PAHW that works in her village is always available to help her if the owner of the animal cannot.

Conversely, she says that as a woman, it is easier for her to do the education part of her job. Community members listen to her as she tries to help them understand the importance of vaccinating livestock and which drugs to use when. The thing that Ms. Latee is the most proud of in her work with animal care is that she has gained so much knowledge about animal diseases and treatments.

International Women’s Day is a national holiday in Laos. Let’s take a moment to reflect on the lives of women around the world.  Who are the women in your life?

By Katie Foster

Find out more in our special Women’s Day Big Picture Postcard here!

Going Organic : insights for dreaming big

Tasting organic long beans from the organic farm     Admiring water sprinklers at organic farm

The world of organic can be over-whelming: procedures, certification, testing. Not an easy-access option for small farmers keen to try new farming techniques.

That’s why Vets without Borders and FoA organised an introductory 3-day training for farmers in Dounien village to show them the ropes, explain what is meant by organic and ‘good agricultural practices’ (GAP) and experiment with making their own compost.

The visit to Ban Thaxang, a local organic farm set up 3 years ago and run by 20 households, showed what all this can look like in practice, and gave participants a real vision for dreaming big.

Trainer Ms Phimmasone said “The participants already have animals and some land, but they didn’t know how to make organic compost and use natural pest control. Now they have seen how others are doing it, it will help them to try it themselves”.

Co-trainer Mr Sayvisen added “The next step will be to actually try these new approaches in their own farms. We don’t want to just stop at training, we will help them prepare for new and growing markets”.

For lunch the workshop group tasted samples of fresh water spinach from Ban Thaxang and everyone got to take some vegetables home.

Over the new few weeks, group members will volunteer to work as model farmers to try out these new techniques in their backyards.

An App-etite for Innovation!

Smartphones have changed the way we access, use and share information. “Apps” are a huge part of this technological revolution. It seems like nowadays you can find an app for pretty much anything- games, cooking classes, sports updates, language lessons, music, photography, gardening and everything  in between. Well, we’re not about to be left behind as technology thrusts the world forward! Vets without Borders, LifeLearn and the International Development and Research Centre teamed up to develop an app that will help PAHWs improve smallholder poultry management in rural Laos.

Selection and Reproduction (L), Nutrition and Feeding (C) and Housing (R)

The app was designed to be simple and user-friendly. Each section has tons of pictures, video and audio to make the app more interactive and interesting for farmers and PAHWs. Users can tap the screen with their finger to move through different sections and scroll up or down to see everything on the page. The app is a gateway to tons of important information on:

1. Selection and Reproduction

  • Flock Management
  • Hatching Management
  • Brooding Management
  • Parent-Stock Keeping

2. Nutrition and Feeding

  • Benefits of Good Nutrition
  • Improving Feed Quality (Energy, Protein, Vitamins and Minerals)
  • Improving Feed Practices


  • Benefits of Good Housing
  • Types of Housing
  • Housing Equipment

So how can the Poultry App be used in real life?

Pretend you’re a PAHW. You get a call from a farmer in your village. She’s worried because none of the eggs her hen lays are hatching. There are many reasons why this could happen so you meet her at her farm to assess the situation. She shows you into the chicken coop and points to eggs. You feel one of the eggs and notice that it’s soft. She also mentions that her chickens suffer from leg lameness. You know from your experience as a farmer and a PAHW that good feed quality is important for strong bones and shells. So you reach for your smartphone and tap the Poultry App. From the menu you select “Nutrition and Feeding”, then “Improving Feed Quality”. You check each tab and until you land on “Mineral Content”. Aha! The app tells you that chickens need minerals to develop strong bones, and to produce hard shells around the eggs. The app also gives you examples of mineral sources that you can use as ingredients in poultry feed. You share this information with the farmer using the pictures from the app. Now she knows that she can use her kitchen scraps to feed her chickens and make them healthier! 

Want to improve poultry management for rural smallholder farms in Laos? There’s an app for that!


For more information on Vets without Borders or to make a contribution to our cause, please visit our website:



PAHWs get tech-savvy with smartphones and new app!

Vets without Borders was lucky enough to have Vicky, a representative from LifeLearn, come all the way from Canada to Paksapmei to teach us and the PAHWs about the smartphone app they developed with the International Development and Research Centre (IDRC).

Vicky (right) ready to share her knowledge on mobile learning and apps with VWB team and PAWHs.

The purpose of this new app is to improve poultry management for smallholder farmers in the project villages of Xanthany District, central Laos. The app will provide PAWHs with information on poultry housing, reproduction and selection, nutrition and brooding using text, photos and videos. With access to these resources, PAWHs can teach farmers in their village about proper poultry management; knowledge which will hopefully contribute to the enhancement of their production and livelihood.

Here is a sneak peak of our two-day training session!

PAHWs get acquainted with their new smartphones and learn how to use the poultry management app!

More about the app, smartphones and PAHWs coming soon!






For more information on Vets without Borders or to make a contribution to our cause, please visit our website:




Lights, Camera, Action!

Gordon and Judy are Canadian videographers producing a film to highlight the current Vets without Borders projects in Laos. This dynamic husband-wife team has joined us in the field to get some exciting footage of the PAHWs in action! On the final day of filming, we arranged individual interviews with a few PAWHs so that Gordon and Judy could capture their personal experiences with the project and impact that it has had on their community.

Arriving in Dounien Village for PAHW interviews.

Daovy, Margot, Gordon, Judy and I traveled to Dounien, one of the eleven villages participating in the project. Here we were greeted by two PAHWs, Khamla and Phonetip. After a brief tour of this charming village we settled into a quiet spot to begin the interviews. Khamla and Phonetip gathered a few plastic chairs from the local church as Gordon and Judy set up the camera, microphones and reflector.

Interview with Khamla
Gordon and Judy get ready for the interview with Khamla.

The PAHWs were admittedly nervous. They had never done anything like this before and the idea of being in the spotlight was intimidating. Daovy, our Project Co-ordinator, lead the interviews. She asked each PAWH a series of five questions allowing them to explain and elaborate their answers before translating them into English so that the rest of us could understand.

In Lao, the word “daovy” means star and that’s exactly what she is! Watching her translate is impressive to say the least. She has this unique ability to seamlessly switch between languages and communicate a message without losing context, emotion or even a joke. It’s a talent that never ceases to amaze me!

Daovy interviews Phonetip about his experience as a PAHW.

Khalma and Phonetip explained that they were motivated to become PAHWs by their desire to improve the health of animals and people in their community. Khamla said that he was proud of his new responsibilities because he knows that keeping animals healthy helps improve the livelihood of the entire village. Phonetip explained that he was happy to have learned new things about animal health, farm management and disease prevention. The interviews only lasted a few minutes but in that short time I started to understand what it really means to be a Primary Animal Health Worker.

Phonetip (front right) and Khamla (back center) in action during vaccination training.

Now that Gordon and Judy have collected all of this awesome footage in the field, the tedious editing process begins. Somehow they will to work their magic to turn hours of filming into a short three minute clip!

Stay tuned for the official release of the video. But for now, that’s a wrap!





For more information on Vets without Borders or to make a contribution to our cause, please visit our website:





PAHWs for Applause: Vaccination Campaign off to Successful Start

Laos is on the brink of rainy season. A bountiful rainy season is crucial for agricultural production however; it also creates environmental conditions that promote bacterial growth. This can put farm animals at risk for diseases like Hemorrhagic Septicemia [1]. Vaccination is the best way to protect cattle and prevent death from this disease. That’s why our team from Vets without Borders and NUOL is training Primary Animal Health Workers (PAHWs) on cattle vaccination. This training will provide PAHWs with the knowledge they need to educate local farmers on the benefits of cattle vaccination and give them the skills to administer the vaccines independently.

PAHWs watch attentively as Vet. Margot demonstrates how to properly fill a syringe with vaccine.
Margot uses a stethoscope to listen to the breathing of a distressed calf.

After last week’s theory-based training, PAHWs mobilized for the first day of practical training on the Faculty of Agriculture (FoA) Cattle Farm. After a quick review of the proper technique and a demonstration by Vet. Margot, the PAHWs were eager to give cattle vaccination a shot (literally!)

PAHWs use a digital thermometer to check the body temperature of a calf.

It was chaotic in the cattle pen at first, but our PAHWs were unfazed! With the guidance of Prof. Chantha and Vet. Margot, the PAHWs assembled into teams and worked together to restrain the cattle. One by one, the PAHWs filled their syringes with vaccine, handled the cattle and administered the injection.

This was my first time witnessing cattle vaccination. It was so exciting! I watched each PAHW closely and keenly took down notes to make sure every PAHW got a chance to show us their skills. As I checked their names off my list, they smiled proudly, happy to have successfully completed each task.

After only a couple of hours, the PAHWs had already vaccinated 36 heads of cattle!

This is a cattle pen in Palai Village. Notice how different it is from the pen we worked with at the Faculty of Agriculture Cattle Farm.
PAHWs take turns filling syringes with vaccine for Hemorrhagic Septicemia.

With the first day of practice under their belts, the PAHWs were ready to conquer day two of practical training. This time we assembled in Palai Village to see how PAHWs would perform on a real farm.

PAHWs working together to handle and vaccinate cattle in Palai.

Every farm we visited was different and it was impressive to see how quickly the PAHWs could adapt their skills based on the environment they had to work with. Handling the cattle was more difficult without the structural facilities of the FoA Cattle Farm but our group of talented PAHWs managed to overcome the obstacles and vaccinate another 29 heads of cattle.

This brings our grand total of vaccinated cattle to 65!

It was a two-day vaccination sensation! Now our trained PAHWs are ready to continue the Hemorrhagic Septicemia vaccination campaign in their own villages.

PAHWs write down the name of each farm they visit and the number of cattle they vaccinate. This helps them keep track of the village's protection against disease.




For more information on Vets without Borders or to make a contribution to our cause, please visit our website:




[1] Merck (2012). Transmission, epidemiology, and Pathogenesis. Overview of Hemorrhagic Septcemia. Retrieved on May 16, 2013 from /overview_of_ hemorrhagic_septicemia.html


Mobilization for Vaccination Education

Twenty-two Primary Animal Health Workers (PAHWs) eagerly filed into a large room of the Community Centre, ready to participate in a day of theory-based training. PAHWs are from eleven villages in the local area and have been trained by Vets without Borders and The National University of Laos (NUOL) to provide animal health care services to farmers in their community. However, the work of a PAHW is not limited to animals; PAHWs help educate local farmers about proper animal nutrition, hygiene and vaccination.

PAHWs listen carefully and take notes as Prof. Chantha explains four different cattle diseases.

Upon arriving to the classroom, the PAHWs were greeted by vet, Dr. Margot Camoin, Professor Chantha of the Faculty of Agriculture and Dr. Daovy Kongmanila of the Livestock and Fishery Department. Prof. Chantha began the day with a series of presentations on diseases such as Anthrax, foot and mouth disease, hemorrhagic septicemia and black leg. The PAHWs took notes enthusiastically as Prof. Chantha described the causation, transmission, symptoms, treatment and prevention of each disease. When pictures of infected animals were shown, many PAHWs nodded as if to indicate familiarity or experience with a disease.

After sharing a delicious Lao lunch of tom padaek, ping moo, khao niaoand tam mak hoong, the PAHWs returned to the classroom where Margot lead the afternoon session on vaccination. The PAWHs participated by sharing their own experiences with vaccines. Some also took part in class exercises by acting out scenarios, drawing on the whiteboard and answering questions.

A tasty, traditional Lao lunch of tom padaek (fish stew), ping moo (grilled pork), khao niao (sticky rice) and tam mak hoong (papaya salad). YUM!
Somsanook volunteers to show us when rainy season starts and when cattle vaccination should occur using a monthly timeline.

By the end of the day, PAHWs were equipped with a package of knowledge about cattle disease and vaccination. Now they are ready to put their skills into action and keen to return for two days of practical training in vaccination of cattle against hemorrhagic septicemia next week.

Margot simplifies the concept of vaccination using a soccer analogy. She makes this lesson fun by having six PAHWs act as opposing soccer teams (animal vs. disease). Vaccination helps the animal team win the match!



Reporting Live from Paksapmei!

Hi! My name is Kristen and I am a grad student from the University of Guelph. When I accepted my offer of admission to the Master of Public Health Program, I had absolutely no idea that it would result in me spending a summer abroad. But here I am in Paksapmei, a village 35 kilometers outside Vientiane, the capital city of Laos, a country that I would have struggled to locate on a map a year ago.

I’m still adapting to the overwhelming heat, spicy food and unfamiliar language but today marks the second week of my work as Communications Intern for Vets without Borders. For the next three months I will be busy writing a research article, assisting on grant proposals, creating posters for project participants and of course, updating this blog with fascinating stories, pictures and videos of the VWB projects in Laos!

Stay tuned, new posts on cattle vaccination training for PAHWs coming soon!