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.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Dairy feeding research

Hello Farmers Helping Farmers Blog readers, 

My name is Shauna Richards and I am a veterinarian who has returned to the Atlantic Veterinary College (AVC) to pursue a graduate degree in veterinary epidemiology (study of disease in populations).   My project at the AVC is supervised by Dr. John Vanleeuwen and funded/ partnered with Farmers Helping Farmers, The Canadian International Development Agency, Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, AVC, Vets Without Borders (VWB) and the University of Nairobi. 

The project aim is to determine the cost benefit of feeding additional purchased feeds to dairy cows and calves owned by smallholder dairy farmers in Kenya. Specifically we are working with farmers who are members of the Wakulima Dairy Ltd. in Mukurweini, Nyeri County.  While it may seem obvious that more feed will allow a cow to produce more milk, and allow a calf to grow faster, the concern is if buying these additional feeds will make the farmer money in the short and long term.  

The study plans to purchase grain and mineral for milking cows and feed them in varying amounts to locally owned cows to determine their milk production and farmer’s subsequent income over the first 2 months of a cows lactation.  At the same time the calf of the cow will be fed varying amounts of purchased grain and milk to determine if they will grow faster.  In the long term calves which grow faster will become productive herd members earlier, and therefore make the farmer more money.  

In addition to the feeding part of the study we will be evaluating and sampling milk from the study cows to determine the rate of mastitis in smallholder dairy farms in Kenya. We will also evaluate the pathogens causing mastitis.  Finally we will be evaluating the rate of gastrointestinal pathogens in the study calves. 

This study is unique in that we have 111 farms enrolled and we will make repeated visits to the farms over a 2 month period.  This will provide us with better data in order to determine the cost-benefit of additional feed, the rate of mastitis in cows, and the rate of gastrointestinal disease in calves. 

Aside from providing better data, the repeated farm visits allow us to develop a relationship with the farmers and allows us to make helpful recommendations on how they can improve their dairy farm.  This is important because aside from the additional feed that the farmer is receiving, they are also gaining knowledge.  And while we aren’t allowing them to share feed with other farmers, they certainly can share what they are learning! Following completion of the study we plan to publish the results, and to also disseminate them to farmers who are members of the WDL so they can make sound financial decisions  on their dairy farms. 
I would also like to briefly describe the team members whom are working here in Kenya for future reference in additional blog entries:

Genevieve: second year veterinary student at University of Montreal whom is funded by VWB

Jessie: second year veterinary student at University of Calgary whom is also funded by VWB.

Shepelo: Veterinarian from the University of Nairobi, who is also pursuing a graduate degree in veterinary epidemiology and is running the study with me here in Kenya.

Priscilla: Our local and very talented, very friendly translator, whom I could not do any of this project without!

Ephraim: One of our drivers, who also commonly stands in as veterinary technician on all of our farm visits.

Godfrey: Our other driver, who often provides his milking skills to collect milk samples, as well as provides excellent comic relief.

Gerald: Coordinator at the Wakulima Dairy and for this project.

I hope this blog entry provides some context to the wonderful entries by the 2 veterinary students whom I am working with this summer.  

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Manners and Manure

By Geneviève - July 21, 2013 - 5:59 pm
The inhabitants of Kenya are known for being a warm and welcoming people. After spending a few weeks in their company, I can but confirm this fact. Kenyans are not only thoughtful hosts, they also show a politeness and manners often incompatible with our North-American placid, planning and always-in-a-rush habits. Indeed, what Canadian city dweller wouldn’t be suspicious, sometimes scornful, of a handshake from a perfect stranger met on his way? And who would actually make – or even accept – an unexpected invitation to have a cup of tea in the middle of an already busy work day? Yet these things are common in this country that welcomes me so generously.
According to good manners here, you should greet anyone you meet with a good handshake and a cordial “Habari”, often followed by a series of other greetings. Whether it’s a collegue, a new acquaintance or someone that will remain a stranger doesn’t matter : it’s greeting before talking. And so, when our driver stops the vehicule to ask someone passing by directions to a certain farm, a hand enters by Ephraim’s opened window and must meet the hand of every single passenger, accompanied by many “habari”, before the person, bent over the window, will give us the desired answer. Even one with a wet or dirty hand cannot escape from this human contact : in those cases, he must present his arm, flexing the carpal joint, and the other person can then grap and shake his forearm, just up the wrist.
Kenyans also have the habit of saying “sorry” when some undesirable thing happens to you. Therefore, every time I fall on a slippery slope, every time I drop my pen in the mud and every time I hit my head – which happens every single day because of the acrobatics I perform to get inside the pens – the witnesses will immediately say “sorry”, even though these troubles are entirely my fault.
Generosity is yet another aspect of the Kenyan culture. When we are visiting farms, we frequently leave with a bunch of bananas, papayas, sugur canes, eggs, corn, or avocados as big as a head. We tell the farmers that they don’t have to give us anything, that their participation in our study is more than enough, but they are happy to share the result of their laboured soil, in addition to the time they already spend with us. Besides, I doubt Francis, our cook, will ever be able to make enough banana bread to empty our stocks.
Sharing is an essential value here. Even those who haven’t got much will give you all they can possibly offer if you are in need. This weekend for example, we had planned on going to visit the students from UPEI staying in Meru (they are also travelling for some projects with the Farmers Helping Farmers organization). A misunderstanding kept us from staying at Jennifer’s house (she is an active member of a wowen’s group for community development and used to be their chairperson), since she thought we were coming on the next week and had therefore no more rooms available for Saturday night. Dismayed by this misunderstanding, she wanted us to sleep in her own room rather than to have us staying in a hotel a bit further away. We simply couldn’t accept such an offer, so she almost forced us to at least come at her house for dinner, and she nicely received us even though she already had a very busy evening.
The Kenyans’ generosity is only equalled by the local hospitality. We often receive invitation to sit down and have a cup of tea. Our daily schedule is quite busy and we tend to decline those offers, but the farmers insist, some of them even adding that it is not very polite to refuse. Therefore, except if we really are in a hurry – which seldom happens, with the African beat we are starting to catch – we let ourselves be guided towards chairs, wooden benches or even inside the house, in a small living room, to sit down and to take the time to enjoy our hosts’ company, a much appreciated token of gratitude. They sometimes serve us food and, when it’s the case, it’s usually in enormous quantities. Of course, it is considered rude not to finish your plate…
Farmers wish so much to show good manners as hosts that they insist on having us sitting on a piece of decorated material instead of directly on a log and they tell us not to remove our boots when we come inside their house. Can’t they see that we already are covered in dirt and other filthy things? They don’t seem to care : they wouldn’t accept to see a bit of dust from a log or from the floor going on their guests’ precious scrubs. In front of those very – too? – thoughtful hosts, we smile, but we let them understand that we would actually be disrespectful to such good manners by covering the place with manure.

Geneviève C. L.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Good Idea

By Jessie - July 17, 2013 - 6:42 pm
Today, as I was rinsing manure from my armpit, I thought about some of my experiences in Kenya so far.  I had just been covered head to toe (literally, some even went in my eyes and ears and mouth) with manure from an unruly cow.  One of the worst I’ve encountered here, actually.  Although I don’t really blame her for protesting the rectal thermometer, it really doesn’t compare to having a rectal palpation done.  Pretty sure my arm has a far greater circumference than that little thermometer.  But she jerked, kicked, and jumped out of her restraints – even testing the sturdiness of the milking pen itself (it held, but a few tense moments passed in which I had devised a strategic plan to prevent her from falling into the 6 foot pit right in front of her, and corner her so that we could have some hope of roping her back in – all the while leaping over 5 foot fences to avoid being trapped in the fragile structure).
I’m most thankful my plan remained untested.
I’m thinking: this is the third farm of the day.  I’m now doomed to spend the rest of the day covered in manure.  I’m sweating from the sun and from the stress of planning an evacuation plan for myself and a thousand pound beast.  I’m hoping that the manure that went in my mouth isn’t harbouring a severe strain of Salmonella or E.coli.  I’m dreading the monstrous hike up the mountain to get back to the car.  I realize that thoughts along this vein enter my brain almost on a daily basis.
It made me wonder why I thought Kenya might have been a good idea.
When I got to the top of the hill, I was greeted by my new driver, Godfrey.  He laughed immediately upon seeing me and told me I was ‘SO CLEAN.’  I couldn’t help but smile.  On the way to the next farm we shared bananas, and chapatis (a most delicious flatbread which we take turns buying each day).  We joked about the outrageous cow.
We carried on with our day – getting more covered in manure, spilling iodine all over my pants, sweating profusely and struggling through communication mishaps with our farmers.  We shared chai tea with two families. I chatted with a group of 8 or 9 boys and learned what animals they had on each of their farms, what they wanted to be when they grew up, and how to take care of pigs.  We laughed as our team (Shepelo, Godfrey and I) ate more bananas and avocadoes than I have ever consumed in a week, let alone in one day (I ate 6 bananas.  In one day).  We almost cried we laughed so hard over Shepelo’s story of the leaking hot water bottle in her bed.  We were invited in for supper at our last farm and couldn’t believe the size of the bowls of stew and rice put before us.  We finished enrolling our last farm in the study – farm 110.  We came home to another huge dinner prepared by an ever-smiling Francis.
Although each day brings its’ own struggles, by the end I’m always reminded why Kenya was a good idea.  The people I have met, the team I am working with, the positive impact that the research is already having, the growth in my practical skills, and, well…let’s be honest – the food.
Yesterday we visited a farm where the farmer had 2 cows and a calf.  After we had finished our work, he invited us in for tea.  His wife had
just passed away the month before.  He has a beautiful farm, and is taking our advice and rebuilding some of his pens to increase cow comfort.  He asked me if I planned to come back to Kenya in a few years.  I said I hoped I could come again.  I told him I would visit again in a few weeks – but he insisted that I come in a few years.  He wanted me to come back to his farm, because he wanted to show me the improvements he would make after 3 years’ time.  He told me he hoped to grow his herd to a maximum of four milking cows, because he knew that is all
that he could handle.  He mentioned that he has already seen a gain of 2 L per day in his milking cow for the past two weeks he has been involved in the study.  He was very pleased with this, and wanted to increase his ability to feed and care for the cows in the best way he could.
I sit with a person like him – someone who is realistic about their limits, trying really hard to take recommendations to improve the farm structure and cow production, and who is a proud Kenyan – and I can’t help but feel a little overwhelmed to have been given a little window into his life.  I think to myself – partnering with people like this are what makes Kenya a great idea.
It might even make me thankful for the manure in my armpit.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Nutrition teams finish home assessments of food security

Megan and Sydney here-the UPEI nutrition interns for 2013.  After a long and eventful month, the food security assessments of 2013 are officially under wrap!    We have visited homes of 26 women from the Muchui and 12 women from the Ruuju Women’s Self Help Groups. During our visits, we have assessed women’s food security using a standardized validated questionnaire which assesses everything from their worry about having enough food for their families to how often they have ate less, missed meals or entire days of food or went to bed hungry.  
Doing our first interview with Penina in Ruuju
We have also assessed what they are eating, and how often they are having the nutritious foods grown in their shambas (farms), with the help of Farmers Helping Farmers agricultural projects. (More on that in another blog!) 
After doing 38 interviews, we have come to love and respect these women and for the hard work they do day after day just to keep food on their table for their families. They greet us warmly with big smiles, and often give us Kenyan tea, or insist that we take a papaya or eggs home with us.  We have noticed a substantial difference between the two communities. Even though the communities are only 1 hour apart, the climate, the resources and the people are very, very different. It is dry in Muchui, but most of the women have a substantial amount of land and screen houses or greenhouses. In Ruuju it is very tropical, but the women have very little land and most of them do not have screen houses or greenhouses.  From what we have seen, Muchui is far more food secure than Ruuju. Many of the Muchui women are able to eat the kinds of foods they prefer and the kinds of foods that they need. Most of the women answer ‘no’ to the questions ‘did you go to sleep hungry at night’ or ‘was there ever no food to eat of any kind’. However, they are still answering ‘yes’ to ‘did you worry that your household would not have enough food’.  It appears that almost all women, no matter what community they are from, are worried to some extent about where their next meal will come from. 
We gave every woman we interviewed a bottle of fortified vegetable oil as a small token of our appreciation. This is Purity, who is a very successful farmer!
The good news is that we have observed a strong correlation between the condition of their crops, and their food security levels. Basically, the healthier the crops are, the more food secure the women tend to be.

The women of Ruuju seem to be far more food insecure. Almost all of the women are only eating two, small meals a day and all of which have very little nutrient value. The women are answering ‘yes’ to ALL of the questions being asked about food security, and it is happening over 10 times per month. This is WAY too often.   
Interviewing Sarah in Ruuju under a canopy of banana trees. Our amazing translator Rosemary is in white.
One woman that we interviewed last week in Ruuju, sticks out in my mind (Sydney) as she has been the most food insecure that I have seen so far. I keep meeting and interviewing women and I think “it could NOT get any worse than this”… but, unfortunately, It does. Some of the stories are inspirational and some of the stories are absolutely heartbreaking. Anyway, when we arrived at the woman’s house in Ruuju, her son came up to Megan and I and passed us a note written in English. Half of the page he used to thank us for all we have done (I suppose he means FHF and the previous nutrition students) and that he and his mother are so appreciative. The end of the letter went on to ask us if we were able to pay for his education so that he could get a better paying job and help out his mother. At first I thought it was really awkward and inappropriate that he gave us the letter…until we interviewed his mother. I suppose desperate times call for desperate measures. It is she and her 15-year-old son living in the house. The house was nothing more than a wooden box with a roof and some foam on the floor to sleep on.  We couldn’t sit inside because there was nowhere to sit. So we resorted to sitting on the edge of the chicken coop. This woman’s 24h recall consisted of rice, beans, water and passion fruit. That’s all she had to eat for the day and that is most likely all that she has to eat most days. She said her last good harvest of maize and beans was in August of 2012! This explains why she has become so food insecure. Her crops are not growing now, she does not expect to have a good harvest this season, and we can only hope the season after this one, will bring a miracle. This woman reported to going to sleep hungry over 10 nights in the past month, she often has no food to eat of any kind, and she has also often had to eat smaller and fewer meals then she felt she needed. It was heartbreaking to see this.  When we left her property, she ran into her house and came out carrying about 15 avocados with huge grin on her face. I looked over at Rose (our translator) and said that I didn’t want them, that I wanted this woman keep her avocados and to eat them everyday. Rose said I had to take them and that it was this woman’s only way to say thank you to us. It would have been rude if I had not taken them. So Megan and I took the avocados, and left the smiling woman behind. I wish that I could come back every year and work with the women, and personally see the changes we are making. I wish there was more that I could do.  (Jen sent money for a bag of maize for her, which will help in the short term…) It is especially hard for me (Megan) to go into their homes and see how hard they work but then go out into the community and see men sitting around the shops doing nothing but chewing Khat (a drug that is legal here).
A typical scene with men gathering at the shops
             In 2012, nutrition interns (Janet Gamble, Samantha Smith and Fergie Wallwin) found that women with a screen house or a greenhouse were less likely to report high levels of food insecurity compared to women without a screen house or greenhouse. For example, the number of women reporting experiencing anxiety about having enough food, reduced quality of food and reduced quantity of food these concerns was significantly lower among the women with screen houses or greenhouses compared to those who didn’t have them. These findings suggest that the presence of a screen house or greenhouse significantly buffers the negative impacts of poverty and crop conditions.  We are just now analyzing the data from this year’s interviews, and will be preparing a report for Farmers Helping Farmers so that they can see whether their initiatives (funded by CIDA) have continued to have this positive impact. Based on what we observed, we expect more good news about the impact of this agricultural and nutrition project.  
A Screen house, which protects crops from birds, insects and harsh sun and wind!
The two Biology students, Alicia and Jen, accompanied us on the Muchui home visits. (We did the Ruuju interviews ourselves).  By having them come to the interviews with us, we were able to learn a lot about why they were here, and the benefits of the energy efficient stoves provided by Farmers Helping Farmers. We will leave it to Alicia and Jennifer to talk in more detail about that!
I (Megan) am so grateful to these women for allowing us to come into their homes and get some insight into the way they live their lives. These women are extremely strong , and it is meeting them in their homes that have given us a real Kenyan experience that would not have been possible had we traveled here for any other reason. One of my favorite parts about walking to the women’s shambas (farms) were the children we would see along the way: they are so well behaved and happy whether they are rolling a tire down the side of the road for fun or working and carrying a bag of maize on their back.  Overall, even though they have been hard sometimes, we have loved doing the home assessments and we are sad to see them come to an end.

Our next project, which we are excited to get started on, is an infant feeding video for the hospital here in Kiirua. This video will focus on breastfeeding and infant feeding.   Stay tuned for our experience on directing a video in Kenya…it could get interesting!

Megan and Sydney (Meggie and Sydee)

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Mukurwe-ini and the surrounding farms

By Geneviève 12:36 pm
Mukurwe-ini is located in the highlands of Kenya. Therefore, the moment we take the car, countless green hills rise before our eyes, with Mount Kenya in background on days where the sky is clear.
The village swarms with activity all day. On one side of the main shopping street, you find stands – with a structure seemingly made of branches more than wood planks – where they sell clothes, fruits and vegetables; on the other side are shops cramed into a small but long building. That’s where we sometimes buy fries, which comme in a double plastic bag, mixed in with toothpicks to use as utensils – one who does not pay attention to his snack can easily regret it.
We have observed that certain kinds of shops seem more popular, or at least are spotted more often in this area. Indeed, in a same village, we counted many beauty salons, a good number of Safaricom shops (Safaricom being a local mobile network company), a lot of small bars seemingly deserted, and countless butcheries in a competition for the one with the most promising name :  « Quality 2013 Butchery», « Meat Garden » and « Pork City » are some seen examples.
As soon as we move away from the center of the village, the scenery changes completely. We leave the asphalt roads to take dirt paths where even 4X4 vehicules wouldn’t venture without thinking about it. The day before yesterday, for example, Ephraim (our driver) was forced to go in reverse gear on a slope on which we couldn’t heave ourselves up. But Ephraim is not one to give up that easily. He was actually reversing to take a run up, not to turn around. Concentrating as if his mind could increase the power of the old car, he hit the gas, reached the three-quarters of the slope, then stopped the vehicule – right in front of a group of children. There was no way he could lose face. And so Priscilla (our translator), Shauna and I got out of the car and started pushing. We had to run, followed by the children, to keep up with the car that constantly needed a push, wrapping us in a cloud of CO2 and reddish dust. Yes, we vanquished the hill! The kids stared at me with amusement as I shouted out loud to celebrate victory.
To get from one farm to another, we drive up (when we succeed to) or down, through or around hills and hills. We pass people – very often women – carrying loads of firewood or Napier grass on their back and with a strap going over their forehead. We also see cyclists that rather walk next to their bikes instead of getting on them, motorcycles (bota bota) and, rarely (you can understand why), another car. Streets have no names, doors have no addresses; it’s only with the indications Priscilla receives on her phone and sometimes with the help of an additionnal passenger that sits in the back with us – or even on the passenger’s seat with Priscilla – that we can reach the right place.
Then again, seldom have we really arrived when the engine is turned off : some farms have no roads that lead to it, others are accessible only by walking on the neighbours’ property or by going throuch a labyrinth of branches and exotic crops.
Few are the farms that have all their components – main house, kitchen, shed, outhouse, water tank, numerous pens and cages for different species – on a same landing on the hill. Therefore, before doing anything with the animals, we must climb up or tumble down slippery slopes on which our only help – when present – is what could hardly be called stairs unevenly digged in the reddish dirt. Since we have to carry our material in a cumbersome trunk, we barely see where we step. The cows are usually on a lower level and the path to get there is even more rustic. How on earth did the animals get there in the first place?
The landscape is certainly beautiful, but to drive and walk there is not an easy thing to do! Once I’m back in Quebec, my legs of steel will not deign to take the elevator anymore and will get me right up any real staircase.


Typically We…

By Jessie July 9, 2013 5:56 pm
6:40 am: Alarm goes off.   Grr.  Never been an early morning person.  Not going to start here.
6:55 am: Pull myself out of bed and head straight to the shower.  Start to feel less angst towards the world after hot shower.  Pause to be thankful for said hot shower.
7:15 am: Francis (our cook) has prepared a hot pot of coffee and has laid out our breakfast foods.  Bless his soul.  I consider bringing him back with me to Canada.  Drink coffee, angst is completely evaporated.
7:30 am: Eat breakfast, make PB & J sandwiches for our lunch.  Try to go to the bathroom at the last possible moment before leaving to prolong the inevitable trip to the outhouse on a farm.
8:00 am: Taxis arrive for the morning, we pack up all our supplies for the day, suit up in our scrubs/coveralls/steel toe rubber boots and
make our way out the door.  Discuss the plan for the day with Pricilla.  Greet Ephriam (our driver) with a big smile.
8:40 am: Finalize our plans and get in our taxis.  Head to the first farm of the day.  Kenya will forever be remembered in my mind by the smell of earthy dirt.  Red dirt l that sits thick in your nostrils and winds up and down the hills in impossibly narrow and uneven roads.
9:00 am: Arrive at the first farm.  Small bladder nags and my plan to put off the outhouse is ruined.  Ask where the toilet is.  Open door, go in.  Try to adjust eyes to the complete blackness and pray I don’t fall in the hole.  Clean out the pockets of coveralls so that things don’t fall in the hole.  Pee.  Hope no one can see through the holes in the boards.  Remind myself to restock the Kleenex in my pocket.  On a good day, avoid getting locked in the outhouse.  Okay, ready for work.
9:30 am: Use my stethoscope to listen to the heart of the mother cow.  Sounds weird, not a murmur, but muffled – suspect pericardial effusion.  Tentative diagnosis: traumatic reticuloperitonitis – nail puncture into the heart sac.  I’ve never heard this before so call over experienced veterinarian to confirm.  Using her stethoscope she listens carefully and states it is normal.  Ego slightly bruised, but glad for the cow that it’s nothing.
10:00 am: Finished all tests at the first farm, pack everything up, get in taxi and go to the second farm.
10:30 am: Admire beautiful Kenya as we drive.  Open the window, smell the dirt, look at the rising hills, try to see Mt. Kenya on clear days.
10:45 am: Arrive at second farm.  Listen for ruminal contraction sounds.  Sounds okay.  Flick around my stethoscope to listen for a ping (indicating abnormal gas accumulation).  No ping, but sounds strangely muffled.  Look at stethoscope.  Laugh as I realize the drum is full of water.  Duly noted.  Stethoscope full of water = sounds like pericardial effusion.  Dry out stethoscope.  Muffled sounds disappear.
11:00 am: See Ephriam playing with the kids on the farm.  Joke that he must be the Father of all Kenyan children, because he LOVES kids. Thankful for a driver that is kind, generous and so helpful.  I wouldn’t expect a taxi driver in Canada to be willing to jump in a manure filled calf pen to help hold the legs, or one who is willing to carry our box of supplies up and down the hillsides.
11:50 am: Say good-bye to our new friends.  Receive a bag of papaya or avocados or passionfruit or sugar cane or an invitation to tea.  Decide to start a new sport for the next Olympics: extreme mountain climbing in steel-toed rubber boots.  Out of breath.  But thankful for the calves of steel I’m developing.
12:00 pm: Hand sanitizer.  Eat PB & J sandwiches for lunch between farms.  Open the window and lean out to prevent car sickness on bumpy roads.  Thankful the breeze is cool – it’s winter time in Kenya.
12: 30 pm: Arrive at third farm.  Greet all the children.  They are afraid at first, but warm up over the course of our visit.  Wade in ankle-deep manure to move cow into the milking stall.  Take measurements, do physical exams, collect blood samples, check for mastitis, ear tag and deworms animals.  Walk over to the goats to say hi.  Finally the children are talking.  Repeating our names and everything else we say.
1:30 pm: Realize three of the cows on the farm have mastitis.  Collect samples for culture and teach owner how to treat using an intramammary infusion.  Avoid getting kicked by having the owner tie the cows legs in a hobble.  Sometimes this works.  Tail-jack and shove the cow
into the fence as a second precautionary measure.  Some cows are lovely.  Some are wild and blame every misfortune they have ever experienced on the one wearing the scrubs and rubber boots.
1:50 pm: Finish taking measurements from the 5 or 6 cows and calves on the farm.  Getting a bit tired and a lot hot.  Scrub down arms and boots for the 3rd time today.  Discover the manure on my arm I was trying to get off is actually a bruise, but have no recollection of where it came from.  Repack the car, hop in and head to the next farm.
2:30 pm: Arrive at fourth farm.  Through some miscommunication the calf is too old to participate in the study.  However, this was not realized until 20 minutes into the conversation and physical exam.  Pack up and continue on our way.
3:00 pm: Join the Indy 500, mountain-side dirt-road version.  Ephraim likes to go fast at the end of the day.
3:45 pm: Arrive at the last farm of the day.  Take measurements, head back home.
5:00 pm: Walk in the door.  Smell dinner.  It is a cruel joke because we are so hungry, but dinner isn’t until 7.  Walk into the kitchen to chat with Francis and see what the wonderful smells are.  Can’t wait for dinner.
6:00 pm: Clean boots.  Pick out mud and manure with a rusty nail.  Do clean up from today, load the boxes for tomorrow, do paperwork for tomorrow.
7:00 pm: CHRISTMAS EVERYDAY.  Francis leaves food in covered pots and we get to open them like Christmas presents each night.  It doesn’t get old.  Francis needs to get his passport ready – he’s coming back with me to Canada.
8:00 pm: Hang out, finish up any extra work for the next day.  Write, read, relax.  Sun is down, can’t go outside of the compound.  Armed guards have arrived for the evening.
10:00 pm: Inspect bedroom for spiders.  Kill all the insects.  Give verbal warning to those in hiding.  Get ready for bed and crawl under the mosquito net.  Make new hole in mosquito net as I pull it over me.    Read.  Sleep well after a long day working outside in the fresh air.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Beatrice and African Time

Beatrice and African Time

By Jessie July 4, 2013 6:30 pm
The teachers across Kenya have been on strike since we arrived.  No students are going to school right now.  It’s been two weeks, and everyone I have talked with is hopeful it will end this week.  I’ve spoken to many worried parents, a frustrated teacher, and children who are disappointed to be staying home.  Most of the children I have met love school and wish they could be there.  The teacher was worried that they are missing out on a crucial time of year.  She also let me know that while there are no teachers in the schools, kids are not able to access the materials needed to continue their studies (like textbooks).
So I wasn’t surprised in the middle of the afternoon to hear ‘Hello?  How are you?’  in short, clipped English.  Not just once, but four or five times.  I couldn’t see a face to match the high little voice.  I walked behind the house to the hedge, and saw a face just barely able to peer over the top of it.  The young girl must have been standing on something to look over the 8 foot hedge.  I waved and replied to the young girl.
I asked her what her name was, and she told me it was Beatrice.  I told her I was glad to meet her, then walked back a few meters to finish washing my laundry.  As I worked, Beatrice kept popping over the fence to show me her greatest treasures.  First a little puppy, then a small child.  She raised the child, then suddenly they both disappeared and I heard a thump, then a little commotion behind the hedge.  Oops.
No screams though, so I assumed they all landed safely.
Since then, every evening as I scrub my boots I hear a little voice shouting ‘Hello Jessie.’  I’ll walk over, and Beatrice and I will have our daily chat.  The other day, I heard her quietly repeating over and over – ‘Please, make yourself at home and feel welcome.’  Not quite loud enough to really convince me that she wanted my attention, but that I could tell she was practicing for our next chat.
Kenyans have a different use of ‘you’re welcome’ than Canadians do.  To me, it’s an acknowledgement after a thank-you – mostly an empty sentiment that is kind of devoid of any true meaning.  The Kenyans will proclaim it before anything else is said – they want to make it clear that they are happy to see you and that you are actually welcome.  It makes me smile a little each time – both at the discrepancy in meanings between the two cultures and at the genuine sentiment behind the delivery of the words.
We’ve joked often with people about ‘African Time.’  As Canadians, we are in a rush to get things done, complete the task, have that meeting, and move on to the next thing.  The people of Kenya are more focussed on relationships.  It’s important that everyone has been greeted properly (with a hearty handshake and ‘You’re welcome’), that everyone is present and that everyone can contribute.
It can easily be a source of frustration for us goal-driven Canadians.  We have a limited amount of time here, we have ambitious goals for out project, we have checklists a mile long to complete.  However, ‘African Time’ seems to have evolved out of a desire to center life around relationships.
I don’t think that’s a bad way to approach things.
Connection and a feeling of community is rooted in relationship, and relationship is essentially based on shared experience.  If you haven’t invested in shared time to create relationships, you probably won’t leave a strong impact.  I’ve always believed that people rub off on
each other – whether it be positively or negatively.
I’ve also always believed that although you may meet thousands of people in your life, the ones that you remember are people that have taken the time to show an interest in you, and genuinely care about you.  You may only know them for a short time, but they remain in your heart because you created a shared experience.
The benefit of ‘African Time’ is that it lends itself to creating opportunities for relationship.  A few days ago, we stumbled upon some disorganization that could be attributed to African Time.  I sat outside on the stoop for over an hour with Shepelo (a Kenyan graduate student
heavily involved in the project).  We laughed about some of the funny experiences in life and consoled each other over some of the more difficult ones.
I learned a lot about Kenyans in that conversation, and I’m sure Shepelo learned more than she wanted to about Canadians.  Earlier in the week she was shown a pamphlet created by the government of Canada about working with Canadians.  As she carefully read each page, she smirked and with a great measure of wit intoned; ‘This will teach me how to work with Jessie.’  And here I thought sarcasm was a fairly advanced and characteristically Canadian form of humor.  Shepelo learns quickly.
It’s not always easy understanding each other’s cultural quirks and usually a lot of meaning can be lost in translation.  But there is one thing that speaks across cultures – a big smile and a ‘You’re Welcome.’

A Child’s Heart

By Geneviève July 3, 2013 5:46 pm
One of the first things you may remark when travelling in rural regions of Kenya is the presence of children. You can imagine that they remark us quiclky too, since we are wazungu*; they approach and watch us with an endearing ingenuousess. Indeed, as soon as we set foot on a farm, they gather around us, young eyes scrutinize us with curiosity and small mouths can hardly help giggling as we contort ourselves to get into a pen.
Kenyans seem to hold their children (and all the neighborhood’s) in high importance. Of course, young people are a precious help for parents with a more modest educational background. It did happen that the eldest daughter of a family, the only person who could read English, assured us that she would help her mother follow the feeding instructions correctly. However, you can perceive in their eyes that Kenyans care for their youngsters more than just for help.
It’s true that this youth is lovable : lively, keen to help and equiped with intellectual curiosity. At the moment, teachers are on a national strike but, unlike what is expected at home, kids are not cheering at the idea of not going to school. All desire to increase and perfect their knowledge of the world.
Jessie is amazing with kids. She is always ready to take the time to present herself and to ask their names and age. I like them too – in fact, I am a bit disappointed when we don’t meet any children on the farms – but I have to admit that I focus on my task first. Yes, my darlings, you can play ith my hair; I won’t mind, but after I am done with the CMT** on this cow that’s trying to knock me out. Once we finish gathering the information, if we have some time left there, we are happy to speak to them even more, to teach them hand games or to let them try our stethoscopes – the joy that appears on their faces is worth the patience it takes sometimes to get them to stop hiding behind their big brothers or sisters.
We cherish those moments of happiness, like yesterday, when the children gave us lovely colored charms that they made themselves – we first had to wash our hands marked by farm labour before we could accept them decently.
More than the hills and lakes, more than the plants and wildlife worthy of a poet’s dream, the real treasure of this country is the pure open heart of the children and the loving care that adults give them.
This blog entry does end with a sentimental touch; you just have to deal with it.

*Wazungu : Plural form of muzungu; Swahili word meaning « European » or « something strange », but mostly referring to any white person.
**CMT : California Mastitis Test

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Blogs by Jessie Wilkins and Genevieve Luca sponsored by Vets Without Borders

107 Years

After we had finished our work yesterday, we had the opportunity to visit the family home of our translator, Priscilla.  There we met her mother and her grandmother – who is 107 years old.  She greeted us with handshakes and warm eyes, although she could speak
no English.  It is a rare opportunity, even in Canada to meet someone with this many years behind them.  I stopped for a minute to appreciate how many steps those feet have taken in a place like Kenya, and how much change her eyes have seen in the past 107 years.  It doesn’t matter where you are from, it’s always a humbling experience to meet the elderly and appreciate some of their life story.
We’ve been in Kenya for a week now, working on our project for 4 full days.  We are doing research in partnership with Farmers Helping Farmers, the University of PEI and the University of Nairobi.  The purpose of the research is to see if dairy farmers in Kenya will be able produce more milk and higher quality offspring if the nutrition of the cows is increased.  The farms are small by Canadian standards, with 3-5 cows on average, and the farmers are primarily women.  We hope to find that improved nutrition will increase production and be cost effective for the farmer.  Increased production should be obvious, but the higher costs for good quality feed may be an unreachable goal for a farmer.  The decision to feed a cow or a family is a real consideration here.  The money must be taken from somewhere else – on subsistence farms there may not be a large pot to shuffle money around in.  Our challenge will be to prove that feeding better will be more economical in the long run for the family.
I’ve always felt a bit uncomfortable that the ‘birth lottery’ landed me in a place that doesn’t struggle for basic daily needs.  I’m a proud Canadian and thankful for my home, but it has always bothered me that a large percentage of the worlds’ population has to struggle to meet basic needs.  There are some things l think people everywhere should have access to – respect, health care, water, a shelter and food.  Despite the wealth available in the world, I have met many people that still aren’t able to satisfy these needs (even in developed countries like Canada).  I’ve seen it myself, it’s impossible to ignore.
My decision to participate in a summer internship with Veterinarians Without Borders this summer was heavily influenced by a desire to be involved in a project that has potential to increase equity among people.  Although I expect to have opportunities to contribute in Kenya, my larger hope is that I will go home with ideas on how to promote and participate in international development from Canada as well.  I hope
I can begin to develop realistic expectations of what international development really means, and an appreciation for some of the methods used.  My expectation is not to save the world, but to provide a small piece of the puzzle that our skill set as veterinarians will allow us to contribute to.
So our past few days have been spent knee-deep in manure, slipping down steep hillsides to reach the cows, and having kids stroke our strange-looking hair while we are busy listening to ruminal contractions.  We will have ample opportunity to fine-tune our veterinary skills and hopefully provide meaningful resources that can help increase milk production – which has already been a rewarding experience.
However, I think the moments that will last with me and continue to inspire passion in my heart for international development are the ones like yesterday, when we met Priscilla’s 107 year-old grandmother.  Her hunched back and worn face tell the story of a hard life.  I hope that we can be a very small piece of the puzzle that could improve the quality of life for her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Stay tuned, between me and my Francophone counterpart, we will fill you in with more details of the trip as it progresses!

Kenya 2013 Introduction

By Geneviève 12:55 pm
Introduction au projet Kenya 2013
Bonjour à tous nos lecteurs,
Nous achevons notre première semaine au Kenya et, après six jours de travail, nous profitons d’une journée de repos bien méritée. Jessie et moi avons maintenant le temps de vous tenir au courant des débuts de notre périple au Kenya. Nous avons conclu qu’étant la French-Canadian du groupe, la tâche m’incombait de rédiger un article en français, ce qui est loin de me déplaire. Cette première publication sera plutôt une mise en contexte; les suivantes seront sans doute plus descriptives ou anecdotiques.
Notre projet au Kenya, en association avec l’organisme Farmers Helping Farmers, consiste à collaborer avec une coopérative locale, Wakulima Dairy Ltd., afin d’évaluer le rapport coûts/bénéfices d’une meilleure alimentation pour les vaches laitières en lactation ainsi que pour leurs veaux nouveau-nés.
Je suis arrivée à Nairobi le lundi 24 juin vers 1h30. Après un semblant de nuit dans une auberge (« Guest House »), j’ai rencontré mes deux mentors, Dre Shauna Richards (la responsable canadienne du projet de recherche) et Dr John Van Leeuwen (son superviseur). Nous avons passé l’avant-midi au Nairobi College of Veterinary Sciences avec Dre Gertrude Shepelo (la responsable kenyane du projet de recherche) afin de réviser les documents et questionnaires du projet.
En après-midi, nous sommes retournés à l’auberge, où nous attendait Jessie, arrivée quelques heures plus tôt. Nous avons fait connaissance et avons clarifié quelques aspects du projet. Le lendemain, nous avons pris la route de Mukurwe-ini, village au cœur de la région où se situent les fermiers associés à la coopérative. Ce n’est que mercredi que le vrai travail a commencé.
Wakulima Dairy Ltd. nous fournit à chaque jour une liste de fermes comprenant une vache en fin de gestation ou qui a vêlé il y a moins de cinq jours. Pendant que Shauna et Shepelo remplissent un questionnaire avec le propriétaire de la ferme – non sans l’aide de notre traductrice Priscilla – Jessie et moi nous chargeons de l’examen général des bovins, de vérifier la présence ou l’absence de mammite chez les vaches en lactation, de prendre un échantillon de sang pour chaque veau à l’étude, d’étiqueter (« tager », en bon québécois) la vache à l’étude ainsi que son rejeton, de repérer les éléments du logement à améliorer, etc. Les fermiers reçoivent également des instructions à suivre concernant l’alimentation de la vache et du veau à l’étude. Les deux premiers jours sur le terrain, nous travaillions tous les cinq ensemble, mais désormais, nous sommes séparés en deux équipes pour couvrir plus de fermes : Shepelo avec John; Shauna avec Jessie et moi.
Chaque équipe visite de cinq à six fermes par jour; chaque ferme comprend habituellement d’une à quatre vaches, de zéro à quatre génisses et de zéro à trois veaux. Nous ne parcourons pas nécessairement de longues distances, mais il faut considérer que nous conduisons sur des chemins de terre étroits serpentant à flanc de collines escarpées. Cette géographie particulière nous donne droit à notre petit orchestre privé, composé du chant de la suspension, du roulement tonitruant du moteur, du vibrato des portières, des percussions dans le coffre arrière et d’autres sons dont il vaut sans doute mieux ignorer l’origine.
Le soir, nous retournons à la maison que nous louons, non loin de la coopérative, où nous attend Francis, notre cuisinier, avec un souper constitués de plats locaux. Une fois repus, nous préparons la paperasse pour le lendemain et discutons de sujets divers.

L’interaction avec les habitants de la région, les différences culturelles, les paysages exotiques et l’expérience que nous acquérons sont des sujets trop vastes pour être abordés dans une première publication.

Au plaisir de vous faire rêver davantage dans les semaines à venir,

Jessie et Geneviève

Nursing in Kenya

Hey! Vanessa here. I'm one of the two nursing students in Kenya this year. I just wanted to let everyone know how things are going at the hospital. Today I started my first day in surgery after spending four weeks in maternity. While I don't think surgery's my thing since I have bad feet, I loved my first day! On Mondays there aren't a lot of surgeries, but we had a woman come in who needed a cesarean. The nurses here have a broader scope of practice and actually get to scrub in on surgeries and assist. For this surgery, I got to assist and I learned so much. Another nurse scrubbed in with me so that she could take over in case anything went wrong, but it was a very smooth procedure. The doctor was great. I knew generally what was expected of me since I have seen several cesarean births before, but he let me know exactly when to hold what, and he explained his rationale along the way. I can't wait to go back tomorrow, but after four weeks of this, I think I'll return to maternity.

I feel like I'm becoming so much more comfortable with my nursing skills here since everyone expects a lot from me, and I need to be confident in what I'm doing. Since our maternity rotation at home is mainly focused on post-partum (after birth) care, there was a lot that the nurses taught me during my rotation here. It's really interesting how things work in this hospital. The nurses have a lot more responsibility in labour and delivery too, as they conduct the births and pretty much do everything unless there's a major complication. Being almost a nurse myself, they have been teaching me everything they know that I haven't gotten a chance to learn. The nurses and doctors here sure are knowledgeable! I love being a part of the doctor's rounds because he speaks very good English and he is usually teaching a clinical officer while doing the round. Here, a clinical officer is like a doctor, except they don't perform major surgeries. The doctor, as well as the rest of the staff have been very receptive to any questions that I might have. They are also very eager to learn how we do things in Canada. While I only spent two days in labour and delivery back home, I learned a lot in class and still have a lot of knowledge to share. I have been making some suggestions and questioning a few things, but, for the most part, I have been very impressed by how things are done in Kenya. Most of their standards are similar to what we would do in Canada. Some things are always practiced, so I make sure that I uphold them when I am performing the procedure, and I try to encourage sterility or whatever it may be when appropriate.

Overall, I am having a wonderful time in Kenya. I am learning so much about their hospital and their culture, and I love teaching about Canada and our standards.