Wednesday, November 6, 2013

NF2 50/50 Benefit Dinner

After arriving home from Kenya in February 2013 I have been considering ways that I can continue to support the work of the womans groups from my home farm and community in Nova Scotia.  My hope is that here in Nova Scotia we can create a strategy to have a long term continuous stream of funds to carry out the work of FHF. I am really excited annouce that NF2 (No Farms No Food) has choosen Farmers Helping Farmers for their 50/50 benefit fundraising event. 

The event raises funds in support of sustainable agriculture and land preservation locally and afar.
It is the 3rd Annual "You Don't Know What You've Got 'Til It's Gone" benefit dinner at the Old Orchard Inn

Thursday, December 5th at 6 p.m. 

It's going to be a wonderful evening to kick-off the Holiday Season in a fun & meaningful way. We’ll once again be able to enjoy a bounty of local foods including a whole spit-roasted pig from Meadowbrook Farms. And we look forward to tasting a typical vegetarian Kenyan dish, too. Musical performances will keep us entertained and we can finish, or perhaps begin, our Christmas shopping before or during dinner with the always-diverse silent and live auctions. 

The evening's proceeds will be split 50/50 between the Annapolis Valley Farmland Trust and Farmers Helping Farmers (to help with the final year of their three-year horticulture project working with women’s groups in the Kenyan communities of Marega and Kiirua). 

Tickets are now available.  Please share with your Nova Scotia Friends, or come join us from PEI.  For more information visit the facebook page: OR you can email me:

Monday, October 21, 2013

Studies Abroad

Studies abroad

Mary MacKay
The UPEI team of Vanessa Dennis, third from left, Alicia MacDonald, Sydney Abells, Jennifer Whittaker, Megan Ellis and Danielle Perry spend 90 days each in rural Kenya participating in health and agricultural projects to increase food security and health of Kenyan women and children.

UPEI nursing, biology and Atlantic Veterinary College students reflect on their 90-day internships in Kenya

This was the second study time round in Kenya for Dr. Shauna Richards, who was involved in ongoing projects that are a partnership between Farmers Helping Farmers (FHF) and the Atlantic Veterinary College (AVC) in Charlottetown.
This time her research focused on whether improving the nutritional content of cow feed and fodder is a cost effective way to boost milk production.
“All of the projects have the goal of improving dairy farming but the fourth year rotation is about practising clinical medicine, so treating sick animals and dealing with certain types of diseases that we wouldn’t see, normally. But this project was specifically focused on improving milk production through nutritional sources,” says Richards, who is now a grad student, studying for her masters of science.
“It’s not just trying to improve one thing, it’s trying to improve a whole system of milk production, which affects more than just one farmer. It also affects the local economy there to have a better milk producing system.”
FHF has for many years worked closely with Wakalima Dairy Group, which started off as a co-operative of small individual farmers  who would pool their milk daily to sell to a processing plant.

“They got bigger and bigger as time went on with help from Farmers Helping Farmers and now they are an actual business because they just got too big to be a co-operative anymore. There are over 6,000 farmers selling their milk every day and they have two bulk tanks like they would have here for cooling milk. . . and they are starting to build a processing plant so they can process and sell their own milk,” says Richards, who was worked in Kenya with two veterinary students from Vets Without Borders.
Most farmers have one cow but not more than five so that alone was a different experience for this Canadian veterinarian.
“I really like working on the scale of smaller farmers because you get to work with them on a more individual basis and they work with their cow on a more individual basis too. It’s their livelihood and it’s a really important part of their farm,” says Richards.
Most cows are fed locally grown forages and a small amount of grain.
The research focused on whether higher feeding of grain will improve milk production to a point where the monetary return outweighs the added expense.
“We wanted to see if purchasing these (locally produced) feeds was economical for these farmers. . . . We wanted to make sure that they’re going to be able to make money with the additional milk that their cow is going to produce when they buy these feeds,” Richards says.
“They all know that feeding more feed is going to help their cow but they’re quite concerned economically because buying that bag of feed means money from somewhere else. . . .”
This year’s study involved feeding measured amounts of the locally grown forages and purchased feeds to the cows and keeping track of the milk being produced.
While the actual statistical verdict is still out because the full examination of the data will not be complete until early in 2014, there was a pilot study done last year by a graduate student from the University of Nairobi, which is also a partner on the project.
“And based on (that) pilot project we’re optimistic that it’s going to be beneficial,” Richards says.
“It was really great to be out in the field and working with farmers, and especially because we got to go back over and over to these farms again to see them. So it was nice because we got to build an actual relationship with them, it wasn’t just a one-time visit.”
The opportunity to travel and to do research was a dual draw for UPEI biology students Alicia MacDonald and Jennifer Whittaker, who were in Kiirua for 90 days conducting research that focuses on factors that contribute to respiratory problems in women and children.
“I think my favourite part was being integrated right into the community,” says MacDonald, who spent much of her time with a test group of 45 women assessing the value of more efficient cook stoves in reducing the exposure to wood smoke.
“I don’t have the results yet because (the data is) getting analyzed now but we’re thinking from the comments that the women made and from the testing that the chimneys are having an effect: that their cough is significantly less, that their eyes weren’t bothering them, because women are typically in a cookhouse between three and six hours every day. . . . They cough a lot and it’s a major cause for COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease),” MacDonald says.
This final round of data will be compared to a study that was conducted two years ago just after the installation of the energy-efficient stove and chimney systems, which were donated by FHF.
“They are very happy with the stoves. We never heard a complaint from any of the 45 women,” she adds.
While MacDonald was focused primarily on indoor Studies
... Cont. from C1
air quality, Whittaker directed her attention to the great outdoors for a baseline study to determine the level of air pollutants, such as the exposure of road dust on children walking to and from school.
“My (research) is on outdoor air quality,” she says.
“Basically there are a lot of dirt roads in the area where we were so my supervisor was thinking that was probably a high source of pollutants, especially for the women and children there because they’re constantly walking back and forth, they spend most of their time outside and there’s a lot of open air fires. So I was setting up the baseline data for the amount of pollutants that were in the air to see if it’s worth studying to see if there is a significant impact on their health.”
Whittaker placed a series of eight air samplers along the road to calculate the total particles in the air to compare with research that has been done in other areas and World Health Organization guidelines.
She also made note of the amount of pedestrian and vehicle traffic at certain times of day.
Her work will provide the baseline data from which future UPEI biology students can make comparisons.
Both UPEI students adapted quickly to their unfamiliar surroundings and made do surprisingly well without their usual easy access to the lab, the Internet and uninterrupted electricity.
“We learned very quickly to always have our laptops charged because at least if we lost electricity we could use them for a little while,” Whittaker laughs.
“The hardest hit was not being able to just be able to search for (information) when I wanted it. If I thought of a question usually you just go to your phone or your computer and just Google it right away. And so I had to write things down so I’d remember to look things up when I had the Internet or stay up till the middle of the night when the Internet was working a little bit better.”
Fourth-year UPEI nursing students Danielle Perry and Vanessa Dennis explored avenues of a whole new working world during their internship working at a small rural hospital in Kiirua.
The UPEI students’ focus was on sharing best practices in the areas of immunization, maternal child health and more.
“The health care is very different from here. They don’t have as many resources as we do, (but) a lot of the doctors are really smart and very creative. Here we would have everything, so if we wanted to put a catheter in we would have a catheter, if we needed drains, we would put drains in,” Perry says.
“But there, sometimes they had to use catheters for drains (for example). They were just really innovative. So if they had one piece of equipment they could use it for five different things where we would have the specific tools for each.”
The mental comparisons didn’t stop there for Perry, who did a rotation in Charlottetown in maternity and surgery before she headed to Kenya where she did a month of each there.
“It was just hard to see that some people couldn’t afford to get the surgeries because almost everything is out-of-pocket there. Because you have public insurance and private insurance and not a lot of people can afford the private, so most people had to pay out-of-pocket for their surgeries and they couldn’t afford it,” she adds.
“Room-wise there’d be six or seven people to a room, whereas here people complain if there are two people in a room. . . .”
Working alongside the Kenyan medical personnel was an amazingly unique experience for both.
“I got to scrub for a lot of surgeries, which I wouldn’t have got the chance to do here,” Perry says.
“Even when you’re a registered nurse (here) you’re allowed to scrub in and pass utensils but you’re not allowed to assist in the surgery, whereas in Kenya I was passing tools, I was using retractors, I was assisting in the actual surgery. I even got to make a few little cuts, which I would never get to do here.”
Perry and Dennis did presentations to hospital staff about Canadian standards of practice in the areas of post-surgical care, for example, and procedures like transurethral resection of the prostate, which is being implemented in Kenya in the coming year.
“We did some education sessions (at a local clinic where they also worked) and through working with them the whole summer we got to find out what their core beliefs were,” Dennis says.
“So then we found out how they believe that they shouldn’t breast feed a child while they have mastitis, but we’ve been taught through best practices ways that you should for multiple reasons. So we taught them that they should do this and made a point to connect with as many people related to that enforcement that we could (to share that information).”
This on-the-job training venture was like nothing Dennis could have ever expected.
“I learned so much. The thing that I really enjoyed was getting to do procedures and skills and different things there that we would never have the opportunity to do here as student nurses,” she says.
“I got to conduct births, help women deliver their babies, whereas here that’s not something the nurses do unless they absolutely have to. It’s something for the OBGYN or the doctor. But there the nurses do that. The nurses have a broader scope of practise and I was able (with training and guidance) to be included in a part of that."

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Making movies and cuddling babies


Megan and Sydney here- the nutrition interns from UPEI.  We have recently returned from Kenya, and wanted to bring you up to date on some of the work we did in July and August (now that it is easier to upload blogs and pictures!).

Over the summer, we worked on three projects: 1) the assessment of food security and diet among women in the Muchui and Ruuju women’s self help-groups 2) using a ‘train the trainer’ model with women ‘champs’ to teach women and men in the broader community about nutrition and healthy family meals and 3) the development of an infant feeding resource to improve the nutritional quality of infant foods and to extend the period of exclusive breastfeeding. This blog is about the final one-where we developed a video which can be used by the local St. Theresa’s hospital to educate women from the community.  It is our first ever experience as directors and videographers!

 Before we developed a video, we had to decide what information was needed, and what approach to take. That took a fair bit of interviewing and research. Our professor Jennifer (Prof Jen) provided us with information and concerns identified from previous nutrition interns [Amy, Harrison (2011); Kaylynne and Christina (2010)]; we also had the guidelines for infant feeding from the World Health Organization which would form the basis for our recommendations. 

Our first step was to meet with women in their homes and in the hospitals to get an understanding of what their infant feeding practices were. We also met with healthcare professionals such as dietitians, HIV advisors and nurses to get an idea of what the teachings around infant feeding were. Most of the women understood that breastfeeding was good for their baby but were unsure of how long to breastfeed for; many women breastfed for only one month before giving their baby solid foods.
We spoke with one of the new mothers (she had a healthy baby boy on July 10th) who had not yet received any nutrition education from Caroline the dietitian (who was hired in 2012 after one of the UPEI nutrition students (Harrison) recommended they do so!). We were concerned about some of this mother's responses. She would be returning to work in three months and would no longer be able to breastfeed her child. She thought that because she was going back to work, there was no other alternative but to resort to a formula made with cow’s milk, bananas and Irish potatoes for her child.  She also told us that her mother said that the baby needed to be fed water immediately as well, or it would become dehydrated.  After interviewing the women and Caroline, we were reassured that one reason behind women weaning their infant too soon, or introducing less nutritious foods was a lack of knowledge and that our video could, in fact, help. We also believe that hiring a Dietitian was one of the best choices that St Theresa's Hospital could have made! Caroline is working with all the new mothers and educating them on the importance of exclusive breastfeeding, and complementary feeding once the child becomes six months old.  Our video can be one tool that she can use to help women from the surrounding community who come to the hospital.

 The information that we got from talking to the women and healthcare professionals helped us to decide what we needed  to include in the video. We developed an outline for the video and had it reviewed by Prof Jen.  After an introduction, we would cover benefits of breast feeding exclusively for 6 months, concerns and myths about breast feeding and infant feeding, and the how/when/what of introducing solid or complementary foods. We wanted to have the entire video in Kimeru with some English subtitles so that it would be understood by local pregnant women and new mothers, and the staff at the hospital.
Megan and a little baby girl

Now it was time for the fun stuff: we got out our high tech video gear (IPHONE) and went into women’s homes, the hospital and Machaka Children's home to get all this information on tape. At Machaka, Grace, the social worker, and Susan, a childcare provider, helped us out as we taped the babies being fed. They were all ready to begin when we arrived; the videotaping went very well and the women were excited to watch themselves on video.  They even called some of their coworkers to come watch it with us!   
Sydney and little Jonah at the children's home in Machaka

We interviewed several woman from the Kiirua area, some of whom were part of our home assessments in June of food security. One women, Harriet, is currently seven months pregnant with her first child. She is a working single mother and we were happy to hear that when she does have to go back to work, she will continue to breastfeed as her baby will be at work with her.  We videotaped her talking about two of the benefits of breastfeeding. Of course, she gave us a cup of Kenyan tea before we left!   

At the women's homes and at the hospital, we were a little rusty at first with the information having to first go through Rose (our translator) first and then one of the women to be videotaped. The women were happy to help and excited to be famous throughout Kiirua!   After two weeks of taping in the community, the hospital and Machaka children’s home, it was time to make our edits, add in English subtitles and get it flowing together nicely. We completed the video and went to the Muchui Business Centre to have the first showing of the video. We wanted to evaluate how effective the video was so we had the women do a short multiple choice quiz before the video and the same one after.  We were pleased that most women chose the correct answer after watching the video. 

Sydney(L) and Megan's (R) CME presentation
The last showing of the video was for the healthcare professionals at the hospital because this is where the video will be used the most.These CME, or continuing medical education, presentations are a bit nerve racking because they are around an hour and 15 minutes and the people that come are all health professionals…doctors, surgeons, nurses, clinical officers, etc. (We waited 45 minutes for people to show up...we are finally learning to live on Kenyan time!)  The presentation went fantastic which was great, because the Minister of Health happened to show up…. Talk about intimidating!! After the presentation, she said she loved the presentation and said it was one of the most creative things she’s seen. She asked for a copy to take back with her. How cool!   Caroline also asked for a copy of the video for herself and we hope that she will use it as a resource within the hospital and community.   By the way, a small TV and DVD player was bought with the money from last year's UPEI Students for Development fundraising dinner which will be used in the Maternity ward to show the video. 
Overall, the video recording went really well, considering it was both our first ever experience producing a movie.We showed it to Prof Jen a few days ago, and she was pretty pumped about it.  We had raised money for a small TV and DVD player in the hopes that the video will be shown at the MCH (Maternal & Child Health) clinic at the hospital, and will help educate pregnant women, new mothers and their families to give babies the best possible start in life.  We plan to have a screening of the video in the Department of Applied Human Sciences this fall- we will keep you posted on that!


Monday, August 19, 2013

Farewell Kiirua!

I am sad to say that we are entering our last week here in Kiirua.  It has been an exciting 12 weeks in Kenya; we have learned so much about ourselves through our work in the hospital and in the communities.

We have met so many amazing and inspirational people here in Kenya.   A few weeks back, we were invited to sit in on an HIV support group, held by staff at the hospital once per month.  This was a positive and emotional experience for me as I witnessed so much strength and courage during that meeting.  Members were so supportive of one another and their happiness and determination was noteworthy.  During the meeting, individuals asked questions ranging from diabetes  management to making healthy lifestyle choices.  They were very grateful of our presence and asked us many questions.  We have had limited exposure to HIV/AIDS in Canada so we told them that we wanted to learn from them.  This was one of many experiences that has opened my eyes to how truly privileged I am to live in Canada and to have my health.

My time in Kenya has given me newfound respect for individuals that live in substandard conditions.  The people of Kenya have a contagious spirit that makes you look at life in a whole new light.  Kenyans are hard working and innovative-they make the most of what they have.  I have witnessed numerous occasions in the hospital where staff members have had to use alternative methods because they have limited resources.  I have seen surgeons use bladder catheters as surgical drains because drains are limited and reserved for emergencies.  Although they don’t have the resources that we have in Canada, the things they do and the choices they make are safe and logical.  They take things to a new level, something that Canadian healthcare professionals never have the need to do.  They are creative and they are successful.

Although I have had limited opportunity to work within the rural Kenyan communities, I have witnessed the incredible strength and willpower of the Kenyan women.  These women are unlike any I have ever encountered.  They work long days; managing their farms, collecting firewood, and feeding and dressing their families while maintaining an air of grace and pride.  The women will go to bed hungry if it means that their children have had sufficient food during the day.  The women were very grateful of our presence and welcomed us into their homes (Karibu).  The work of Farmers Helping Farmers and the support of CIDA have improved many of these women’s lives drastically.  Many have screenhouses for their crops to grow, water tanks for clean drinking water and kitchen gardens, where they can grow green vegetables and vitamin A rich vegetables for their families.  By making these changes in the community, these organizations have started a health promotion initiative that will hopefully minimize hospital visits for these families and improve their overall health.

I leave Kenya feeling grateful that I have been given this opportunity.  It has helped me grow as an individual, made me excited about my career, kindled a love for travel, and compelled me to do further trips that work towards making communities sustainable.  I hope to be able to share my experiences with others so that they feel compelled to witness what I am witnessing.  As well, I hope to inspire others to become involved with Farmers Helping Farmers or other organizations, to do their part in helping underdeveloped communities grow stronger. 

-Danielle Perry; Nursing Intern

Friday, August 2, 2013

Vet team working in Mukurwe-ini , Kenya

Vet team working in Mukurwe-ini doing research on feedning cows and calves owned by farmers who ship milk to the Mukurwe-ini Wakulima Dairy Ltd.
Left to right
Dr. Shauna Richards (AVC'10), Dr. Gertrude Shepelo (UoNairobi'12), Genevieve Luca (FVM'16), Jessie Wilkins (UoCalgary'15) and Dr. John van Leeuwen (AVC Professor)

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The People You Meet

By Jessie July 23, 2013 5:47 pm
We came at night – it felt strange because we typically don’t go out after dark falls.  As we walked to the door, I could see a beautiful set of smiling teeth and a pink dress suit.  Our host greeted us warmly, and took us up the front stoop.  As we were about to go in, she whispered that she was just finishing hosting a big celebration for a recent graduate of IT school.  She apologized that they hadn’t quite left yet, but were about to leave shortly.  We took off our shoes and she opened the door.  There were about 30 people inside, all with their heads bowed – they were praying a blessing over the new graduate.  We paused at the door to let the prayer finish.
As we entered, we shook the hands that came from every direction and were quickly shown a seat.  All of a sudden cake appeared before us, and food started to multiply on the kitchen table.  We chatted with some of the guests, then filled our plates to overflowing with mokimo (potatoes), githeri (bean stew), lamb, chapattis, fresh fruit, and rice.  It was delicious.
Then our host was freed up enough to sit and have a chat with us.  I was already in awe of this formidable women and her hospitality.  There had been a little mix up.  We were supposed to stay with her over the weekend, but somehow the dates got miscommunicated and she already had a houseful of guests from the graduation celebration.  She insisted that we still show up for a meal – all without ever having met us before.
Jennifer Murgocho works in association with an organization that were are working with in Kenya called Farmers Helping Farmers.  She is based in Meru – and we were visiting for the weekend.  She told us about her involvement with Farmers Helping Farmers.  She detailed the schools, women’s groups and communities that she has worked with, and the changes she has been a part of in the years past.  As we sat and listened, I reminded myself what a privilege it is to listen to someone talk about their true passion.  It’s even more of a privilege to see that passion turn into reality through the course of their life work.  There are some people that I have sat with in my life that leave me deeply inspired and hopeful.  Jennifer was one of those people, with one of those incredible stories.
I was reminded that a life well-lived goes far beyond a job.  A life well-lived is passionate enough to host a graduation celebration with a large guest list.  To invite complete strangers into your home for a meal.  To make people feel welcome, cared for and understood.  To be compassionate enough to see areas that need improvement, brave enough to act and committed enough to follow through.  These are great life lessons for a veterinary student to learn and remember.
I can’t say I’ve ever had milk directly from a cow.  It was boiled of course – to kill all the nasty pathogens that raw milk can harbour.  I’ve never been able to directly attribute my milk products to a specific cow.  It’s kind of an odd feeling to look at a cow while you are drinking the milk it made a few hours earlier.  But when I think about it, and it’s really not all that odd at all.  And it’s far more rewarding to see a product go (as we say in food safety courses) from ‘farm to fork.’
It was freezing on Monday, and the warm milk was a welcome gift.  There were four of us on the farm that day and we each had a glass.  I’d estimate that we drank roughly a litre of the farmer’s milk.  In Kenya, farmers are paid 27 Kenyan Shillings per kilogram of milk produced.  That’s just over 30 cents Canadian.  For many farmers, the milk proceeds are a large proportion of income for the household.  Most cows in Kenya are producing roughly 9 kg per day, compared to a typical Canadian cow which produces roughly 32 kg per day.  It’s also important to keep in mind that most farms in Kenya have less than 3 actively milking cows at any given time.
So this hot milk on a cold Monday morning was not just a simple gift.  The farmer’s name is Waruguru.  She told us how two of her daughters passed away, so she is responsible for feeding and caring for the cow.  She has one daughter left, who was there to help answer some of our questions and help with the farm.  Her grandson was there as well.  The teachers strike ended on Monday, with most students heading back to classes.  His presence on the farm likely means that school fees are too expensive, and he is not able to attend classes.  He was incredibly helpful – holding the calf, getting me soap, moving the cow into the milking pen, and holding supplies for me.
While Jennifer inspired me with her courage and commitment, Waruguru inspired me with her kindness and generosity.  Her gift to us was of high personal cost and I’m deeply appreciative for it.  Two stories from two strong Kenyan women who have big enough hearts to give – at times beyond their means.
And this is why I love veterinary medicine, and why it’s so much more than just a job to me.  Students that want to become vets because they love animals and dislike people are misled.  People are our job.  A veterinarian gets unique insight into the lives of the people owning animals and the ability to make a real difference in both the lives of the animal and it’s human.
And once in a while, their humans make a real difference to us, too.