Goats, Goats, Some Kids, and More Goats!


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Africa » Uganda » Western Region » Mbarara
July 24th 2014
Published: July 24th 2014
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Now that the safari was over, it was time to get back to work, where I would spend the rest of my time in Uganda with the Vets Without Boarders (VWB) goat project. I left off in Entebbe and the following morning Ursula and I would be leaving the rest of the girls to go to Mbarara to work. We planned on taking the bus, but as always, what you plan for here is rarely what you get.



I woke up the next day feeling like absolute hell. I'm talking throwing up, chills and sweats, incredible body aches, dizzy and weak. Something had gone seriously wrong in my body, and fast. Ursula and I quickly realized that, given I could barely move, I was in no shape to take the bus. Thank god, Silas was able to talk to a friend and could borrow a car to drive us to Mbarara. After a bit of time to ensure I wasn't going to hurl in the car, we got on the road. This was one of the worst drives of my life. Every bump in the road would make my whole body tense with pain, and in case you forgot, we're cruising through the land of potholes. At first I thought maybe I had food poisoning, but after looking up the symptoms of malaria, I realized it very likely might be that. I had all the major symptoms, short of a fever. Great. Now, as far as parasitic infections go, malaria isn't the worst one I could get. After all, at least it's treatable, but it's still shitty none-the-less. I continue to feel worse as the drive goes on and tell myself that as soon as a fever hits I'm going to the hospital, but until then I'm toughing it out. I've seen the conditions of hospitals here, and I want to avoid having them stick needles in me at all costs.



Finally, we arrived in Mbarara and I check into my room and don't leave my bed the entire day. Periodically, Silas, Ursula and the rest of the vet students check on me to make sure I'm still alive. At this point I start debating if I should tell my family how sick I am, or if I should file this story away with the others I'm saving till I'm safely back in Canada so
How to not keep your goatsHow to not keep your goatsHow to not keep your goats

Tethered, no shade or water, and stuck living in their urine and feces - why we push for good beneficiaries
they don't worry more about me. I end up passing out, sleeping all day and into the night.



The next morning I wake up weak and sore, but surprisingly a little bit better. I'm able to eat for the first time in over 24 hours and slowly get some energy back. I'm still not sure what hit me, but after a couple days I'm feeling healthy again. While I was recovering, I opted out of field work because my body was too exhausted to walk around in the sun all day, which gave me a chance to do some work in the lab. Here, I learned how to do brucilla testing on the blood we pulled from goats the day before. We test for two strains of the brucilla bacteria: melitensis and abortis. Melitensis is most common in goats, while abortis, which can still infect goats, is generally more common in cattle. The vaccine we give is for melitensis, but we test for abortis as well, to monitor the disease as both strains can be passed on to humans. Just to give you and idea of the health status of most of the goats, on average between
One of our super paravets, Janet, and her perfect penOne of our super paravets, Janet, and her perfect penOne of our super paravets, Janet, and her perfect pen

She is also my Ugandan mother. I am her second last born :)
30-50% of them test positive for the bacteria.



After a day in the lab, I'm feeling good enough to go back in the field. Depending on the stage of the program this can mean a variety of things. Before I got here, the rest of the girls did house monitoring, where they visited members of the communities who've received goats in the past, surveying them on the health of the goats, discussing the general care of the animals and basic husbandry. The next stage is blood testing all the goats (ideally), or as many as the owners want tested for brucilla. We do this free of charge, as we think it's really important for owners to know the status of their goats. Any goats that test positive, we recommend culling for meat, to prevent the spread of the disease. In goats, the only symptom is abortion of their fetus', so without testing, it is impossible to know if they have it. It is spread in the herd through blood and mating, and can be contracted to humans if they touch the blood of an animal or handle the aborted fetus. In humans, brucilla causes severe flu-like symptoms
How many people can you fit in a Toyota Rav 4?How many people can you fit in a Toyota Rav 4?How many people can you fit in a Toyota Rav 4?

Answer: 11. But I bet we could fit a third in the trunk if it wasn't full of supplies!
but is easily treated with antibiotics if they see a doctor.



Most of the field days I participated in were vaccination days, which is pretty self-explanatory. We go back to the homes and vaccinate as many goats as we can (who tested negative for brucilla) provided the owner can pay for vaccines. Any goats we vaccinate for brucilla also get ear-tagged (my least favourite part) and are assigned a number for our records so we can keep track of those vaccinated. We also vaccinate for another bacterial disease called clostridium, which causes “sudden death” in goats, but is not zoonotic (transmittable to humans). During vaccination visits we like to do deworming when needed, as almost all goats have some sort of parasitic infection or worms. Despite repeatedly asking owners to keep their animals in their pens all the time, most allow their goats to graze in the fields, resulting in their goats consuming large amounts of parasites. The FAMACHA anemia test, looking at the color of the conjunctiva in the eyes, is an accurate way of determining the worm-burden in the body – pale membranes means there are many worms in the blood causing the anemia. For each goat, we determine the FAMACHA score, along with approximate age (through looking at the number of adult teeth they have) and their body condition score for our records.



Vaccination days tend to be bittersweet most of the time. While I love the work, it's outside in the sunshine, and allows me to have my hands on animals for most of the day, it can be frustrating when people don't want to vaccinate their animals. Some people don't have the money, while others don't want to spend the money on the animals; they don't see it as a valuable investment into their business. It can be so hard to explain to people the benefits of investing small amounts of money into their animals short-term to result in healthy animals and therefore more profit long term. Each community is given lots of notice to when we're coming, and so many people either didn't prepare for us or weren't home. It can be really discouraging when they won't let us help them, but there is nothing we can do. Fortunately, a few of the women have become really successful and are doing quite well for themselves through the goat project which helps to keep us motivated. I just hope that other community members look to these women as role models and begin to care for their animals as these women have. Hopefully, seeing their success will inspire others to follow in their footsteps; these women are proof the goat project works. A huge factor in what helps to mobilize people are the community leaders, and without them pushing members to vaccinate and take care of their animals, many just do the bare minimum, frequently resulting in the death of the animal. For this reason some communities are much more successful with the program, raising healthy goats and making a profit from the business, while others are struggling and losing a lot of their animals.



Aside from tending to goats we've given out in the past, the other huge part of the program is passing out new goats to beneficiaries in the various communities. A lot of people don't realize this is no easy task and a lot of work goes into deciding who gets a goat. Firstly, this is a women centred program so most of the beneficiaries are women, most often widows, however we do sometimes give to young men as well, many of which are orphans. The VWB goat pass on project has a partnership with Foundation for Aids Orphaned Children (FAOC) who helps us daily on community visits and in choosing who to give goats to. Meetings are held in each community with VWB members, teaching them basic husbandry skills and goat care, and we ask each community to elect members they believe would make good beneficiaries and would take proper care of the animals. Once we get the list of names, we contact them and ask that they build a proper pen for the goats. Each pen must have four walls, a roof, and a door, but ideally we'd also prefer it to be raised off the ground and have a partitioned area for young goats and nursing mothers. These pens are quite simple and basic and should only take a few days to build, however it can be like pulling teeth to get people to build them. In the past, VWB groups have given out goats to people without pens and I think that's why many think they can still get goats without putting in the work. Often the community people would make promises to build pens after receiving goats, but upon following up with them a year later, most didn't build them. After setting a date with each community, we come back to visit their homes and inspect the supposed-to-be-finished pens, and 3/4 of them had nothing built.



As a group, we decided to be hard asses this year, refusing to give goats out to anyone who didn't have a pen. We don't want this project to be viewed as a handout and need to emphasize the importance of good animal husbandry and care. The goat project is to be seen as a business opportunity and these goats are a loan. If they die and don't reproduce, the loan is never paid back and no goats get passed on (I explain more about this in a previous blog). Furthermore, giving goats out to people who aren't ready for them turns into a welfare issue for the animals. Goats that are not kept in pens are more likely to get parasites from freely grazing in the grass (we ask that owners dry out feed in the sun before offering it to them), and tethered goats are at the mercy of wild dogs and often become meals. It's not right to give out goats knowing they are not going to be cared for properly and goes against what we stand for as future veterinarians.



Many people didn't have their pens ready, so we decided to do a second visit to the communities in hopes that some people would take us seriously and build one. Again, some did, and some didn't, and despite their pleas, we told everyone who wasn't ready they would not be receiving a goat from us this year. We encouraged them to continue (or in many cases, start) building a pen so they would be the first to receive a goat when their community passes one on or when we come back in a year.



However it's not all work and no play on the goat project! We do have our evenings to relax and we take Sundays off to do errands in town, or spend it at a near by pool. The World Cup was also wrapping up so we decided to make the final a little more interesting, placing some serious bets on the game; a whopping 1000 USH each. Way back during the Kihefo days, Ivan and Tonny made Leandra and I choose FIFA teams. Leandra was a bit of a FIFA fan already and was already cheering for Italy, but myself, knowing nothing about soccer or the teams had to do a bit deep contemplating before making my choice. Berlin is my favourite city in the world, and Germany makes one of my favourite beers, Pauliner, so Germany it was! And look who not only made it to the finals, but even won! Do I know how to pick a soccer team or what?! Germany ended up taking Argentina in over time, and I can truthfully say that this game was much more interesting than the previous snore-fest I was forced to watch a few days prior.



During the week before the pass out of new goats, we also celebrated Shafiq's birthday, complete with another cake and a great meal. Shafiq has been a wonderful help to the goat project, spending long days in the field and joining us at community meetings as one of our translators. It was really nice to throw a big party for his birthday and to say thanks for all his hard work.



Later on in the week would be the two biggest events of the program: the paravet refresher training and the goat pass out to the new beneficiaries. Paravets are people in the communities who we give basic veterinary training to and they are who the beneficiaries call when they are having issues with their animals. In today's paravet training, we would focus on pigs, cows, and goats, discussing basic care and husbandry and some common diseases and ways to prevent them. There has also been issues with dogs attacking and killing some of the goats in the communities so we discuss ways of preventing this and how communities should deal with unwanted dogs in their area. Lastly, we had some hands on training with the new goats we purchased for the beneficiaries. Each of us girls took a station: vaccinations, deworming, physical exam (my station), ear tagging and tick spraying (spraying down each animal to repel ticks). While this part was a little chaotic and overwhelming at first, once everyone got the station order down and we had a system in place, it all went really smoothly. The paravets were so excited about the training and they were all so eager to learn new things. We realized one of the goats we purchased had an abscess, so we finished the day off with MC practicing her surgical skills and lancing it. Really cool stuff! (sorry if you're squeamish, but there's some sweet nasty photos of it!)



Finally, the big day would come; the goat pass out! During the year, the Global Vets crew from the WCVM did fundraising at home to raise money to purchase goats. I, on the other hand, found out I was going to Uganda almost at the last minute so didn't have a chance to do any fundraising and simply posted a Facebook status and harassed family members to donate. I have the best family and friends and had an amazing response! Thanks again to everyone who donated! Before the pass out, we spent a fair amount of time going from farm to farm, doing physical exams on goats and drawing blood to test for brucilla to ensure we bought only very healthiest of goats for the beneficiaries.



On the big day, we gathered the beneficiaries at the FAOC demonstration grounds, where our goats were held and where the training took place the day before. Once everyone arrived, Joseph, one of our super paravets, who's been with the program for years and has been helping us in the same way Shafiq has, gave a great presentation on how to properly care for the goats. Elyse then spoke to the new beneficiaries emphasizing that the goat is a loan, and it should be seen as a business opportunity, but cared for like a family member to keep it healthy and strong. After the presentations, each excited beneficiary was called out one at a time to receive their goat(s) and after some photos they would make their way home with their animals. All of us VWB volunteers are keeping our fingers crossed and just hope they take our advice and care for them properly so they goats can stay healthy (and at least alive) and some day be a source of income for the families. This day was honestly so fantastic and rewarding, and it felt so good to see what our hard work evolved into! I say this all the time, but I really do believe in this project and I know it can make a huge difference in people's lives.



A couple days after the pass out would be a big goodbye BBQ for Dr. Card and all of us students. And of course, since we were planning for everything to be outdoors, Mother Nature would choose to rain on us. We had to move the festivities inside, but it was still a fun night and in typical Ugandan style, we all took turn giving speeches and saying thanks to each other. Sadly, at the end of the night we had to say some tearful goodbyes to all the amazing people at FAOC. I hope to come back in the future, maybe as early as next summer, and I repeatedly told myself that to make the goodbyes easier. Remember, in the very first blog I said I hate goodbyes!



The morning after the BBQ, we had to say more goodbyes to Dr. Card and Ursula as they were the first of us to fly home. Later that day, the rest of us visited Kihwa Primary School to play with kids. Not a bad way to spend our last day in Mbarara! As we came up the driveway, children swarmed the van. Seriously, hundreds of screaming children! So I guess this is what it feels like to be Justin Bieber! The moment I stepped out of the van I was instantly engulfed by the kids. They all just wanted to touch and hold the hands of muzungus! I swear I must have had a dozen kids gripping on to each arm as I walked around trying to not to fall over and be swallowed up by them.



Us students then decided to break up into two teams to visit different groups of kids. Fey had brought two soccer balls from home so she and a couple other girls went into the field to play with them, and the rest of us brought crayons and paper to colour pictures with one of the classes. The teacher asked what we want them to draw so I suggested to have them draw what they want to be when they grow up. Most of the girls wanted to be either teachers or nurses and the boys wanted to be drivers and police officers.



Now time for a sad reality check. Like so many aspects of Uganda, the education system here is hugely flawed, particularly for those growing up in small communities and villages. Primary school, the equivalent to elementary school back home is reasonably priced, about 20,000USH per student per semester, but once they reach secondary school (high school) the cost sky rockets to 200,000USH per semester. Villagers often have many children and struggle to put their kids through primary school, so very few make it to secondary school. Sadly, even those that do go to secondary school in a small community end up getting a really poor education and have no chance of going on to university later. Only very wealthy families can send their kids to good schools, all of which are located in bigger cities. To make matters worse, people don't need to complete secondary school to become a teacher, so uneducated people are educating the children, usually those most uneducated staying in the small communities, and the cycle continues.



Following our time with the children, the whole school gathered outside for presentations and speeches. The school clubs also came out to show their talents including the choir club, drumming club and drama club. I took some great videos
Rainbow of skintonesRainbow of skintonesRainbow of skintones

It didn't quite work out like we hoped
of this day, including one of the army of children chasing after the van as we drove away, so if you're interested in seeing them please let me know!



So this blog is getting crazy long so I think I will cut it off there. The next blog will be my last in Uganda before I take off to London and then back to Saskatoon! See you all soon!



PS just in case you didn't know, keep scrolling down for more pictures!


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23rd August 2014

Excellent & informative blogs!
Hi Sarah, I wanted to take a moment to let you know I thoroughly enjoyed your blogs! You are doing amazing work with Vets Without Borders. I am curious as to the process you go through to be picked for these programs? Loved your safari blogs and all the pics! I have forwarded your blog to my 14 year old daughter who is always talking about her future & wanting to do volunteer work in third world countries with such abject poverty. (Our family sponsor's a 15 year old girl in Rwanda as well so have some knowledge of the challenges there). Keep up the good work and much success to you in all your endeavors! PS I'm a fellow Canadian as well!
11th May 2015

Ah sorry it took me so long to get back to you! I totally missed your comment till now. I'm actually back in Uganda with VWB again! Last year I just paid my way and knew the program coordinators for the goat project so I just spoke with them about joining. They won't really turn down any free help! However, this year I went through an interview and selection process to be accepted for a 3 month internship with VWB. This internship is only open to vet med students though. Also that's excellent about your daughter! These countries need so much aid and it's amazing that at a young age she already wants to provide help :) If you would like any more info or even contacts feel free to PM me and I can help you out!

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