Saturday, May 30, 2009

Visits to Millenium Village and Godwins Junior Christian School

Thursday May 28

After meeting with Dr. Louis Aziku, the veterinarian in charge of livestock in the local United Nations Development Programme Millenium Village we went there together. The Millenium Village seeks to improve many aspects of society in areas identified to have the greatest need. In Ruhira, the UNDP's involvement supported schools, health centres, road infrastructure, water catching, and building infrastructure for animal management.

Although I'm sure the people in this area's situation has improved substantially, I question how sustainable such high inputs by the UNDP are? Dr. Aziku mentioned that family planning is an important part of health centres. However, with already dense subsistence farms blanketing the landscape and disproportionately large numbers of children, overpopulation strikes me as a concern.

With Dr. Aziku, we visited a few well built goat demonstration pens, built by UNDP and owned by local farmers. Dr. Aziku filled us in on how the farmers work their farms and the different forages fed to goats. We interviewed some farmers to get an idea of how much labour and time is required to feed his goats. One farmer reported that he spends 1.5 hours per day feeding his goats. (By bringing feed to goats in the pens, there are exposed to fewer worm eggs and other diseases)

Friday May 29

A week before, we were eating lunch in town and met Godwin, a principal of a school who invited us to visit his school. As we chatted with him we discovered that he has his own orphan children, in addition to the hundreds he supports with his work.

On May 29 am we went for the Friday assembly which involved outdoor prayer songs via microphone, synthesizer and musically talented teachers. After some time of song and prayer, Godwin introduced us and we described how we are Canadian Vet Doctors and visiting Uganda to help orphan children by helping goats in the hands of those who care for orphans. Godwin asked who of the children is an orphan and a dozen or so hands went up. Pam and Rocky mentioned that I play guitar, and they suggested I play a song... so I played the Hornby Song after describing where Hornby Island is. The children and teachers sang along (unlike North Americans tendencies) and seemed to enjoy it. Towards the end, Godwin mentioned that goat's milk is very healthy and invited us back to teach some nutriation and other subjects.
In Uganda, goat's milk is not very common and somewhat taboo to drink. There is some work to be done in order to create demand for goat's milk among the local people and in the cities. Such education is one of our next challenges. Today (Sat.) we found out that the delivery of our vaccine is slightly delayed...

Friday, May 29, 2009

Training Day Pictures

Due to spotty internet access we've had some trouble uploading pictures.... Let's see how many we can get going now. This first picture is of us with FAOC staff and our paravets shortly after doing our training session on vaccination. The day was a great success as Pam described...

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Big Training Day

Yesterday we headed out of Mbarara to the village of Kiberebere to meet with the paravets from all of the parishes and do a one day training session on vaccinating. We are planning to vaccinate around 1600 goats in the next week upon the arrival of our vaccine in Mbarara.
Immediately when we arrived at around 10am there were a bunch of people gathered outside the hall. My stomach was churning with butterflies as I wasn’t sure how they would receive our presentation. They were very happy to see us, and extended a very warm welcome to us when we arrived. A few spoke English, most spoke only a little but their smiles and gestures said it all. We started out chatting, then we sang a song for them that we had made up about Kaberebere, which means ‘let them come and see for themselves’. It is a really cool name. They sang along with us, and then once everyone arrived we moved into the hall to start the training (the people from far away took longer, and we are on African time so nothing starts at the time you set).
With the help of Hilda, Francis, and our friend Sajja who acted as our translator, we had a good discussion about sudden death in goats. We explained to them in a simple manner what we are going to vaccinate against, and how. It is difficult to explain such a topic as clostridial disease to someone who does not speak English, and who has not learned in depth about the immune system. They were very good though and when we asked them questions after each concept, they all responded with correct answers. And they asked us some very good questions, which means they were absorbing the information as well as understanding and attempting to figure out the process themselves.
We had a wonderful lunch made by a local woman named Margaret, who made matoke, sweet potatoes, cassava, g-nut sauce, dodo, bean sauce and many other local dishes. The paravets all ate with their hands, but we wimped out and used forks. There were some real characters in the group. All of them were very sharp, but a few of them were really keen. Innocent, a paravet from Nyamuyanja parish asked a ton of questions. And Ibriham is another very swift learner. We gave them some dewormer, and every time they were grateful to us they would clap 6 times, put their hands together and motion towards us, sending us their thanks. We would then respond by opening our arms then drawing them in, as if we were hugging ourselves, to accept their appreciation.
About the end of the day there was a paravet named Nakate who made up a song about us, in which she thanked all the Canadian vets for training the paravets. It was a beautiful song in Runyankore, the local language. We talked a bit more with them about some of the issues they are facing, and what further training they would like, which we said we would be happy to work on.
The best part of the day for me was when we asked the paravets if we could have a hug before they left, and they all laughed and came up to us for a farewell hug.
At the end of the day when Hersh, Rocky and I were reflecting on the training session, we all agreed that we were so impressed with the enthusiasm and learning capabilities of the paravets. It is exciting that we will be working closely with them in the next 2 months.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Simon Says

At the end of our first week on the project we were given a reminder by a well spoken local Ugandan named Simon that we met at a tea house than we ought to see his country from beyond the confines of our project. I had mentioned that essentially we arrived into Uganda and hit the ground running in terms of getting right down to work on our project. In a way I was proud to be able to say that I was not simply a tourist and was here to contribute and do ‘important’ work. Yet Simon had a different perspective. He was concerned that too many ‘Muzungos’ (foreigners) come to his country with similar, altruistic objectives and so are often exposed only to what he deems as the uglier side of Uganda – poverty, HIV/AIDS, ect… . When these expatriates go back home they report of their experiences, and as a result, Simon explains that Uganda is too often portrayed to the rest of this world only in this negative image. Simon encouraged us to remove our heads from the dirt and go explore the beautiful parts of Uganda that he and his countrymen are so obviously proud of. Not that we were going to forever ignore the fact that there are Parks teaming with African flora and fauna within a short drive of our base here in Mbarara, but there is nothing like a little local encouragement to help us appreciate Uganda for all that it has to offer.
So, this weekend we visited Lake Mburo National Park to get our first exposure to the wilds of Africa. You know you are in Africa when zebra and impala are darting across the red earth road on which you drive! In the park we met up with Dr. Siefert (wildlife vet) and the Global Vets crew who were working on projects such as tracking down and trapping an injured Leopard. We spent the night tenting in the park, but unlike Hershel and Pam, I came unprepared with only a flimsy blanket (courtesy of Air Canada) - I was to learn the hard way that African nights are starkly chilly compared to the day. Aside from trying to make my miniature blanket stretch across my shivering body, I spent much of the rest of the night listening to warthogs snorting outside the tent and to branches snapping and rustling, wondering whether each rustling bush might shortly turn into a lion visiting my tent. But surprise, I made it through the night with no lion induced injuries. We had a blast in the park and are now ready to get back to work here in Mbarara.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Ticks, tuberculosis and typhoid

In the past week since we arrived in Africa, we have learned a little about the numerous diseases that are found here in the tropics. It is unreal. And I have had to venture out of my comfort zone in many instances, for example picking huge ticks off our resident dog, Max, and using the dirty pit latrines that are common at restaurants and petrol stations here. It is difficult to become accustomed to dealing daily with animals and people who have been or are currently affected by these diseases.
And yet in our country we are very fortunate that these diseases are not as prevalent. We have cold winters that break the cycle of many diseases and we have lower number s of vectors in our environment. The African people have very strong immune systems. I was having a conversation with two Ugandan men, and they were saying that they have developed immunity to many of the diseases that we are vaccinated against when we come here. The minister at the church we visited also was a world traveler and pointed out that Muzungos (white people) bring drugs when they come to Africa to prevent Malaria in case that one mosquito bites them and gives them the ominous, threatening malaria. It was quite amusing to me, that we are so delicate in this country compared to Ugandans.
Then we began to chat with a fellow with an animal science diploma at the National Agriculture Research organization, and he was telling us about differences between their local goat breeds and the exotic Boer goat from South Africa. They brought the Boer goat in from South Africa for its high growth rate, increased birth rate and good meat quality. However, they find that the Boer goats are more susceptible to parasitism and other diseases compared to the local goats.
So there appears to be a parallel between the Boer goats and us Muzungos. It is important to become accustomed to your surroundings slowly, but not totally isolate yourself from bugs with hand sanitizer, drugs and avoiding different food, etc. It is also important to not overwhelm your system, as being sick is not fun: Rocky can attest to this as he is sick today, probably from something he ate yesterday. So our adventure continues. . .

Local Visits and Building Parnerships

Here we are at the Foundation for AIDS Orphaned Children (FAOC) in Mbarara where we are based out of. Our first few days in Mbarara have been a steep learning curve of culture and project complexities. Day by day, things are smoothing out.

This morning, after a breakfast of mango, banana and whole wheat bread from the bakery, the three of us set off with Francis from FAOC to meet with organizations in Mbarara. Our first stop was NARO (National Agricultural Research Organization). We first spoke with the farm manager who described to us what NARO does. Then the animal health technician Tugume showed us the goats on the research farm and described what he does. We then spoke with the director of the Mbarara office and got down to the meat and taters of our visit. Previously FAOC had partnered with NARO and we were visiting to expand the partnership to our work with Veterinarians Without Borders now, and in the future. The front of NARO's pamphlet reads "Responding to Farmers' Needs 2009", which coincides well with our goals. In the short term, our work stems from our Clostridial vaccination program which begins next week with our paravet training session on May 26. Shortly after that, we plan to vaccinate up to 1600 goats for Clostridial diseases. The logistics behind doing this involve transporting the vaccine through Coopers Uganda from South Africa to where we are. The vaccine will be transported to Kampala (Uganda's capital) and it is up to us to have it transported in a reliable and sustainable cold chain to Mbarara. The director of NARO was very encouraging that his people could transport the vaccine for us in a cold state (which is required for the vaccine to work).

Next, we were off the the chicken restaurant where the four or us ate a whole chicken with matoke (plantain bananas) with our hands. I got to eat the gizzard and Pam scored the neck. After filling up we went to the Mbarara District Veterinary Office where we discussed different diseases in the area and partnership. The were very welcoming and offered to help in general terms. The head of the office was unavailable but we'll be back there I'm sure. Now, we have much work to do to prepare for training paravets including pamphlets and demonstrations on the to dos and not to dos of vaccination.

Along the way, we are surprising the locals with the odd word of Runyankole which we've learned. I am impressed with the diversity between and within people . The average person we've been dealing with seems to speak 4-5 languages. Runyankole is like an ongoing song between all the people here... a song, which I want to sing... HF

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Greetings everyone; sorry for the delay in posting. We have not had internet access for awhile. Since the last post, Rocky joined our group on May 15. We spent the day of May 16 driving from Entebbe to Mbarara. It was an 8 hour drive for us on some good roads, and other extremely bumpy, dusty roads with crazy big trucks playing chicken with us. We soon learned the traffic rules which were basically there ARE no rules! And when a truck is signaling towards you when you are driving towards him it means get over!! We arrived safe and sound, and met Hilda, the program officer at FAOC. She is a strong woman amidst a culture where many women do not stand up for themselves. We really like Hilda and she is going to be a great help on our project. The Sunday after we arrived Hilda took us to church. I loved it. There were lots of people singing and dancing and it was their cultural Sunday so everyone was dressed up in their traditional dress. Church here is a bit different than my church in Canada. We were there for 2 hours and the service is usually around 3 hours long. The congregation welcomed us immediately, escorting us to the front row and hugging us during a song 'I don't care what tribe you are from, you're my sister, so give me a hug'. The pastor's message was powerful, telling us to celebrate diversity, and that if your neighbour looked exactly like you, life would be boring.
There are many other things that we have been up to since, and we will begin to write posts soon. We all live at the FAOC office in Mbarara, and are meeting lots of locals. Today we were in Kiberebere checking out the field office, and visiting some contact farmers. Next week on Tuesday we are going to have a training session to train the contact farmers how to give vaccines and to properly handle them. We have a lot to prepare for, and then a lot to do once our clostridial vaccines arrive.
Everywhere we go, people are asking about Dr. Kenty. They tell us what wonderful things Dr. Kenty did, and how much they miss him. A little boy came running up to us today, asking if we were Dr. Kenty. Hershel didn't understand, and he said yes and the boy flung his arms around Hersh, so excited to see Dr. Kenty. We also met Milton, another good friend of Dr. Kenty at the Lakeview hotel. We are looking forward to teaching and learning from the women just as Dr. Kenty, and hopefully keep in touch with some of them in the future.
That's all for now. . .

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Arrival and the Driving Lesson

Ahh. Arrival on the other side of the world is always stunning but enjoyable. I love change and thrive on it. I arrived three nights ago and have learned much through my experiences so far. Noteably, Frank, the owner of the guesthouse we are staying at took me for a driving lesson from Entebbe to the capital Kampala and around the capital and back. Anyone who's travelled in busy developing cities has seen the kind of swerving, multiuse, potholed chaos that occurs on all roads. I passed the test with only a knocked (folded at the hinge) mirror and dehydration as battle scars.

After rotating tires and changing a sparkplug, the Suzuki Sidekick is ready for action in SW Uganda's Mbarara district. Pam arrived last night and Rocky arrives tomorrow evening and the three veterineers are off to give something back after receiving so very much in our lives.

The biodiversity here is stunning and demanding of attention. My first morning after only four hours of sleep I awoke to a bird call that I'd never heard before. Seconds later I heard a different call. Then 4, then 7, then dozens of calls that my musically trained mind could not decipher like instruments in an orchestra. I awoke to Uganda... the Pearl of Africa they say.

Time to get schooled in soccer across the street (even though I played for 13 years).

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

T-minus one week.

One week till departure and malaria med priming begins and final logistics are being settled. We'll be on the African continent for 3 months and then it will be time to reimmerse into the flow of Canadian/western culture. From past travels I've observed that it is not the culture shock of arriving into a foreign country that is most difficult to overcome, but rather the shock of trying to fit back in to Canadian life on return. No matter how much I have tried to prepare myself for this, there always seems to be a difficult transition back into the organisation and routine of western culture. At the very least this may mean that the travel experience has left some sort of lasting impression, which I am sure we will all be left a version of this following our voyage to come.