2015, Africa

AFRICA: First Week Volunteering in Arusha, Tanzania

Our first week with the Better Harvest Organization (BHO) is just coming to an end and we are already so grateful for the experiences we have had and the people we have met. 

On Saturday June 20th we returned from our climb of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s tallest mountain and the tallest freestanding mountain in the world. We are proud to report that we reached it’s highest peak, Uhuru peak, a whopping 5895m above sea level, 5 days after starting our climb. 


We were thrilled when we arrived at the Greenland Lodge in Arusha, the lodge we will be staying at throughout our time with BHO. It is spacious, very clean, has great service, and we were able to get some much needed rest before beginning our first day with BHO on Sunday. BHO had answered a call for volunteers from Mbwa wa Africa (Dogs of Africa) who were organizing a Rabies Vaccination campaign in a local village. Politics seem to be heavily influential here and unfortunately the village leaders did not tell the town people about the various free vaccination clinics that were being set up in the area. After a slow morning, we were able to get the word out at the local church and more people came in the afternoon. In total, we vaccinated 128 dogs! The last time Mbwa wa Africa ran a vaccination clinic they had about 450 dogs so our day was slower than usual, but we were still happy to be part of the solution. Rabies is a serious problem here in Tanzania, so clinics like the one we participated in are extremely necessary.


On Monday we had an orientation-type day with the always helpful director of BHO, Filbert Chundu. He showed us around Arusha town and helped us figure out how to use the local buses (Dala Dalas), as we will be taking them everyday to get to clinics.


Tuesday was our first day with Dr. Chuma and Dr. Ndanu, the veterinarians that we will be spending most of our days with. We started our day by castrating a few piglets and then moved on to the various cases that the veterinarians had been asked to attend. We provided calcium to a cow that had just calved and had a history of hypocalcemia. Her udder was bigger than any we had seen before, and we were told she was producing about 20L of milk a day! For reference, the average cow here produces only 7L per day. After lunch we did a couple autopsies on some chickens from a flock that was experiencing losses. The veterinarians walked us through how to do autopsies, the different common diseases, and what signs to look for when suspecting any of them. Some characteristic muscle lesions led us to our diagnosis of Gumboro disease, which is a highly contagious viral disease. We then visited a calf with an extremely swollen left forelimb and a slightly swollen right forelimb. We flushed the wound and provided the calf with antibiotics. 


On Wednesday we visited a small animal clinic in Arusha called Merlino Animal Clinic. The veterinarians there, both from Belgium, were very welcoming and allowed us to observe all their cases and ask any questions. We had an unfortunate introduction to Aflatoxin, a toxin that can be found in maize flour that has gotten mouldy. The veterinarians were trying hard to save a young dog that was suffering from intoxication by providing a vitamin k infusion and later with glucose to give him energy. Despite our help, he took a turn for the worst early in the afternoon and died only minutes later. Unfortunately sometimes mouldy maize flour is a common ingredient in meals fed to dogs. We observed spay procedures twice and were in the middle of an amputation when we were called out by Dr. Chuma and Dr. Ndanu to go check on a cow in dystocia. The cow had been in labor since 5pm the day before (it was about 4pm when we got there) and unfortunately the calf was not alive. Dr. Chuma opted to do a c-section on the cow and allowed us to help when possible, although the task was large and skill and speed were obviously required. We both took a turn at suturing the skin and got to feel how seriously tough a cow’s skin is to get through, especially with a needle that is not very sharp! Luckily, the cow was calm throughout the entire procedure and she was recovering well by the next day.


Thursday involved a few bovine cases including a case of poxvirus and checking on the calf with the swollen limbs. Dr. Chuma then walked us through how to perform a spay; both of us did part of the spay and closing, although we did have a bit of a scare when we couldn’t find the source of a bleed! The environment for the spay was the most interesting part. We have gotten pretty accustomed to surgeries occurring in clinics, so when we realized we would be performing the operation in the client’s garden, we were a little surprised. The clients provided us with a table to work on and advised us not to set up under the avocado tree… They then gathered around us with chairs and refreshments as we worked and helped when they could. A very different experience for sure, but sometimes it can be especially difficult in developing countries to have perfect aseptic conditions.


Friday involved some more bovine cases, starting with the calf with the joint problem (who has now been named Rosie). We cleaned the severely affected joint again. Unfortunately, our advice to set up a place with bedding for Rosie to rest and recover was not heeded, so we took it upon ourselves to set up a stall for her. Rosie quickly took to her new home well and was lying down comfortably when we left. It was really rewarding to see her like that and we are hoping that she will be walking on all 4 limbs again very soon!


On Saturday we assisted the owner/veterinarian from Merlino animal clinic at a spay and neuter clinic set up by Meru Animal Welfare Organization (MAWO) in a small village near Kilimanjaro airport. She was the only veterinarian performing spays, and after about 6 hours, she had performed 9 spays and 5 neuters (including repair of a vagina mass filled with granulation tissue and maggots). We enjoyed a break in our successful week that night by going to a steak bar with some local friends we have made in Arusha!


Sunday morning involved a very early start to the day. We had agreed to meet with Dr. Ndanu and Filbert at 6am to head out to a Maasai village called Engaruka to vaccinate their livestock against blackleg and anthrax. We arrived at the village around 10am and were greeted very warmly by the Maasai people and their chief. They were ready and waiting for us to begin the vaccinations, so Dr. Ndanu gave us a quick lesson in preparing and using the ‘automatic syringe gun’ device. The syringe was very efficient and before long we had vaccinated 240 animals including sheep, goat, and cattle. We enjoyed chatting with the Maasai people (with Dr. Ndanu as our translator) and playing with the children while taking turns with the auto syringe. When it came time for us to leave, the chief asked us to join him for pictures and a chat. There are few things in this world that will make you feel as special and fulfilled as having the chief of a large Maasai community welcome you with open arms into his village and thank you wholeheartedly for providing a much needed service for his community. The chief then invited us to a celebration that all the villages in the surrounding land were having that day, which included 3 weddings and the circumcision of a group of boys in the community, a type of initiation and right of passage that is part of their culture. We watched as the Maasai cooked their food and danced in celebration, all the while sitting with the chief as we enjoyed refreshments and chatted. 



For Monday June 29 we were offered the day off as we have been working non-stop since last Sunday. We were reluctant to accept, but the idea of sleeping in a bit is too good. So we agreed to take the morning off, but will continue our work with Dr. Chuma and Dr. Ndanu in the afternoon. 

Itaendelea (Swahili for ‘to be continued’), 
Noreen and Vivek 
Global Vets 2015, Team Africa