Talking food with Kenyan students

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Standard 6 at Rugetene featuring our translator Dorcus

by Haley MacKenzie, QE Scholar and UPEI nutrition student

June 25, 2019

We have finished up another round of home interviews and have left our schedule blank this week because it is Julie’s last week with us, and we want to help with gathering some background information for her master’s project which she will start in September at UPEI, working with Prof Jennifer Taylor.  Julia and I are collecting baseline data from the schools via meal assessments this summer so that Julie can carry out a nutrition education intervention on standard (grade) 6 pupils next May-June.

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Julia and I walking around the class helping to answer student’s questions

We visited two primary schools to obtain feedback from students and teachers on whether our current Food Frequency Questionnaire (FFQ) would be appropriate for standard (grade) 6 students. In this blog, I will focus on the comments and perspective of the students. Julie had prepared questions about whether the students could understand what the questionnaire was trying to measure, which foods were difficult to record, whether there was foods on the list that were not eaten in their community, and whether there were foods missing from the list that were eaten in their community. Julia and I looked forward to joining her because we have been using the same questionnaire in our home interviews and the feedback would valuable in determining the best way to conduct the interviews so that is easily understood.

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Julia answering the student’s questions about Canada

On Monday, the nutrition team and Dorcus visited the standard 6 students at Rugetene Primary. Julie handed out the FFQ, explained how to fill it out, and allowed the students to complete it on their own. Immediately, there was a bit of confusion because the questionnaire was written in English followed by a Kimeru (the local language) translation. We realized that the students understood the English better than the Kimeru, since it was written rather than spoken.

Our first lesson was that the questionnaire should be written in English followed by a Kiswahili translation to avoid confusion. This is because children in grade 6 are taught English and Kiswahili (written and spoken) and are encouraged strongly to use one of these languages rather than the local language.  We were lucky to have Dorcus and Julie to help in translating the foods for us, as many students could not understand Julia and I.

At first, I thought it was because they could not understand English well, but when Julie began repeating what I’d said to the students in English, I realized that they simply could not understand my Canadian (PEI?) accent.

For example, a few students asked me what was meant by ‘other vegetables’ on the questionnaire. I tried to ask about whether they could think of any other vitamins that weren’t included on the list—as their curriculum groups all vegetables into a ‘vitamins’ category—but they could not understand what I was trying to say. In one last attempt to communicate with them without a translator, I repeated myself, but this time pronouncing it ‘veet-a-mins’ and was happy to see the children nod in understanding.

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Next, we asked the teacher to choose five boys and five girls that we could further interview. Julie and I took the girls to an empty classroom while Julia and Dorcus took the boys to a separate empty classroom. We asked them about thirty questions about the questionnaire, general knowledge and practices, attitudes around healthy eating, and sanitation and food safety. We got some very interesting answers and learned a lot about the girls’ ideas about food as well as the general food traditions in the community.

We realized that some children believed that we were visiting to gauge whether their families were rich and/or had a stable life, rather than just collecting data about food consumption and practices.

We learned that, although the mother is most likely to be preparing foods at home, both girls and boys at this age were familiar were cooking rice, ugali, greens, and tea and did so when their mother is not around. Both also agreed that boys eat more food and must do so because they do the hard jobs and thus need more energy for strength.

We were surprised to learn that the majority of students do not wash their hands at school. They explained that there is an issue with the availability of water and that if they were to handwash before eating then they would lose their spot in the lineup for lunch. However, both boys and girls agreed that they wash their hands often at home.  This is a challenge for all schools and it is an important priority for future work.

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Julie, Dorcus, and I collecting the FFQ from standard 6 children at Murinya

On Tuesday, the nutrition team, Dorcus, and Mwenda visited Murinya Primary to interview teachers and standard 6 students, give the deputy to head teacher our feedback report, and drop off some gifts. Julia, Mwenda, and I had visited about a week prior to complete a school assessment on their kitchen and the staff were extremely friendly and welcoming.

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Julia & I giving the kitchen staff at Murinya new cups for uji

Murinya is located next to what they call the ‘slums’—a very poor area where most students live. We had to keep this in mind because the parents could not afford the school fees or donate maize, beans, or veggies from their shambas (farms) to the school kitchen. Consequently, they did not add many vegetables to their githeri and there was not much that we could recommend that they’d be able to implement without parental support/money.

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 Mwenda giving the cook his new solar light bulb system

However, we did talk to their amazing cook, Joseph, about soaking the maize and beans. He told us that he comes in around three ‘o’clock each morning to begin cooking the maize and beans for the day, using a torch to guide him in the dark! When we returned a week later, we were ecstatic to hear that he’s been soaking ever since, that he comes much later in the morning now, and that the students are happy. Julia and I gifted him with eighteen new cups for the nursery children and Mwenda brought him a 3-bulb solar lamp for the kitchen. He was pretty happy, as you can see by the pictures.

 

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Mwenda and I helping Joseph (Murinya’s cook) set up the lights

We followed the same schedule with Murinya as we did with Rugetene; Julie gave the standard 6 class an opportunity to complete the FFQ, then we split up into two groups. This time, Julie and I took the boys while Dorcus and Julia took the girls.

These groups repeated much of what we heard the previous day at Rugetene, e.g. recommending Kiswahili for the questionnaire, mother prepares the meals, and boys eat more food than girls. As many of these children lived in the poor area, they did express that lack of money and water were barriers to their health. We learned that they rarely ever washed their hands due to a shortage of water and they did not believe that the children in their community ate healthy because they eat the same type of foods every day. The children also told us that chicken and goat is very rare in their community, that there are beliefs that a breed of pumpkin is only to be eaten by cows, and that they don’t know the difference between cow and sheep meat.

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 Julia and Dorcus getting a selfie with the Murinya girls they interviewed

Julie and I finished interviewing the boys and decided to peek into the classrooms as we waited for Julia and Dorcus. We noticed that none of the classrooms had teachers as they were busy in a staff meeting, so we took the opportunity to talk to the class.

This school had not yet received any FHF support, so they were not familiar with mzungus and were quite shy around me. Julie and I entered a standard 7 classroom and introduced ourselves. A handful of the students asked Julie general questions about me and Canada and then one asked if I would greet them. I happily walked around the class and greeted each student with a handshake, pausing at a few that didn’t want to let go.

On the other hand, one student hopped up and ran to other side of the room when I reached him! Julie asked how they would feel if someone were to run from them and explained that there is no difference between me and them nor anything to be afraid of. I told the students that I don’t bite and although many giggled, only a couple would look me in the eye.

The last week has been very eventful and different from our usual schedule, but we have all learned so much about the students and the habits of the community. It has also been extremely rewarding to be able to gift a well-deserving school and see the difference that we are making in the children’s and teacher’s lives. Tomorrow we leave for our break week and we will return with a different perspective after all that we’ve learned this week about the children’s ideas around food, health, and sanitation.

 

 

 

 

Vets Without Borders visitors at Ex Lewa dairy

This is a guest post from Lexie Reed, a Vets Without Borders volunteer who visited the Ex Lewa dairy in Kenya for a few days in August and sent along these photos and comments.
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This is Lexie and her partner, Laura Michalovic, who was also one of the VWB vet student volunteers in Kenya this summer.
I met with some of the farmers on their farms for consultations and had the opportunity to talk to them. They had some wonderful feedback about how FHF volunteer and staff visits have helped them and their cows so I thought I would share the photos and the quotes.
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Judy Kiendel and Rael Nkuene

Judy and Rael have been receiving advice from Farmers Helping Farmers for the past four years. Since then, their cows have gone from producing an average of 4 litres a day to 10-15 litres each. “We have learned a lot about nutrition – about Napier grass, and when to cut it, and about feeding dairy meal to the cows.”

Featured in the photos are Judy, her two farm workers, and Mischek, one of the Ex Lewa board members.
Cyrus Marete 

Cyrus has been receiving advice from Farmers Helping Farmers for the past five years. Since then, his cow’s milk production has increased from 3-4 litres of milk per day to 10-12 litres of milk per day. Farmers Helping Farmers has given him advice on cow nutrition and comfort.

“They taught me a lot about how nutrition and cleanliness affect the quality of the milk.”

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This is the VWB team and FHF employees during the visit to Ex Lewa.

Celebrating a new cookhouse at Michogomone Primary

By Haley MacKenzie

Hello, this is Haley again! I am writing to tell you about a very exciting day I had in Kenya.  During the first week of August, we visited Michogomone Primary school to attend their education day and celebrate the opening of their new cookhouse! Over the summer we have visited Michogomone the most of all the schools: this was our fifth time there! The headteacher, staff, cooks, and students were so welcoming and gracious that Julia and I were happy to return. Along with the cookhouse opening, today was also their end of the year education day.

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Parents cooking lunch for the school’s event

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A small crowd that gathered around me instantly after sitting near the children to watch the dances

When we arrived at the celebration, the students were sitting at desks outside with their parents sitting in the shade across from them and a small tent up with plastic chairs set out for us. We greeted the headteacher Frederick and other guests present for the opening. We walked to the new cookhouse and found about twenty parents cooking outside using about 12 sufurias (pots) to cook rice, stew, and mukimo (mashed potatoes and bananas) over multiple fires. We were amazed by how hardworking and helpful the student’s mothers were! We noticed that the school scouts were marching towards us alongside a vehicle to provide a grand entrance for Jennifer Murogocho and Steven Mwenda. Naturally, the students and parents cheered in excitement.

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The cookhouse opening and education day schedule

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The beautiful display of food the staff had laid out for guests

The schedule for the day started with the staff escorting guests to their staff room, where they had set out cut up fruit, cookies and mandazi (donuts), and prepared tea on the table with pretty flowers scattered around the table. I am surprised time and time again at the generosity that Kenyans offer guests. We prayed, introduced ourselves, and returned outside to begin the entertainment portion of the morning.

 

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Primary school boys dancing and singing dressed in traditional Kenyan attire

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A modern dance put on by older students

The entertainment included five group dances, one solo dancer, a spoken poem, and a play. We had attended events where the children had danced before, but the energy at this event was very different. When the first song started to play, a group of 4-5-year-old boys from the student crowd hopped up and began dancing – almost as if they couldn’t help themselves! The teachers had to ask them to sit down and remind them that they were there to watch. When the first group of dancers began, the parents from the crowd jumped in and began to dance and sing as well! It was evident that the whole community could not hold in their excitement about receiving a new cookhouse. The spoken poem was completed by three older girls and was titled “Boy Child”; the poem included a strong message about the need for young boys to be nurtured, loved, and supported. I was happy to hear this sensitive issue being raised by young, bright women in the form of a strongly written and recited poem.

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Getting ready for the opening of the new cookhouse!

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Julia, Stephen, Haley, and Jennifer in front of the new cookhouse

After the entertainment, they moved on to speeches and the cookhouse opening. Julia and I threw on XL orange t-shirts that read “The Village Feast, Souris Prince Edward Island”. The FHF team introduced themselves, music began, and we danced our way across the campus. It was a beautiful day for this event, but unfortunately the grounds at Michogomone school contains more dirt than grass. As the women danced their way across the yard, we were surrounded by a whirlwind of dust which left Julia and I coughing and struggling to talk. When we arrived at the cookhouse, we danced and sang with the parents before the official grand opening. Julia cut the ribbon and the crowd cheered and even began to dance and sing again! As we entered, this went on for about 15 minutes as the students, parents, and staff explored their new cookhouse. It is hard to put into words how I felt as I saw the pure joy on their faces as they sang to us. This was the ultimate rewarding experience that comes with working with FHF and I am so grateful to have been there to watch it unveil.

After the opening, the parents, staff, and guests walked back across the yard to eat lunch. The parents had prepared a carrot beef stew, mukimo, and rice. After lunch, the education day events began. By this time, it was already past 3:00 pm so we had to excuse ourselves so that we would have time to go to town for groceries before sundown. The headteacher understood our request but asked that we stay another 10 minutes to see how they do the awards for students, which was no problem. A man stood up and called five students up to be recognized for their academic achievement and as a reward, handed each of them 500 Kenyan shillings (~$5.00 US). Just before we left, the headmaster formally thanked FHF for their help and even gave us an award that reads, “we value your contribution greatly’! We all got pictures with the headmaster and thanked him for his kindness.

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Beautiful award given to Farmers Helping Farmers by Michogomone school

Overall, it was a very happy day spent with the school and the community with lots of smiles and dancing. I am thankful to have had the opportunity to do the honours of opening the cookhouse at Michogomone, as I know that the staff and students are well-deserving. I trust that they will make good use of this new resource and look forward to hearing from the headmaster next semester!

Winding Down but Not Slowing Down

By: Hanna Hone and Chantel Doyle – QES Vet Interns – Aug 15, 2019

This week in Meru County began with a tour of a Dairy we had not visited yet, Ex-Lewa. Like other Dairy groups, they have an extensive animal and agriculture store where farmers can buy supplies based on milk credit, and the cost of purchases is removed from their milk payment at the end of each month. This acts as an incentive to join the Co-op because it aids to optimize the farmers’ crop and milk production by buying things on credit when they need it rather than wait until they can afford it. We were proud to see that Farmers Helping Farmers has donated both seeds and seed dispersal equipment to the Ex-Lewa Dairy so that the farmers can seed alfalfa and other seeds and therefore have easier access to good quality forage. 

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(Pic 1: Checking out some garden toys; Hanna with a Lucerne seeder) 

The Ex-Lewa Dairy Chairman – Murori Munya – also showed us a new project; the milling room where the dairy produces its own in-house dairy meal with a well-rounded and balanced formula. The Dairy regulates the ingredients and quality to help farmers increase the health and milk production of their cows. Our tour was followed by a presentation on zoonotic diseases by the Ontario Veterinary College students working with Vets Without Borders-Canada, Laura and Lexie. We were excited that our Canadian friends were finally in our neck of the woods after presenting at multiple locations throughout the summer. The seminar took place at a member’s farm, and after prayers and introductions, they educated farmers on good hygiene practices and biosecurity before diving deeper into the symptoms, prevention and treatment of various zoonotic and reportable diseases, with the help of a translator. 

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(Pic 2: Vets Without Borders Ex-Lewa Seminar; Laura, Lexie and translator Priscilla) 

We were so impressed with their poise and confidence presenting such an intricate topic, and their ability to effectively answer difficult questions from the farmers. Of course, they have been doing this all summer, so they have honed their messages and are a well-oiled machine now. They even provided summary sheets for them to take home should they forget any information or want to share the main points of the presentation with friends and family. This event was held outside and, as the sun beat down, many people were visibly concerned for our health. This concern quickly turned into sheer panic when Hanna had yet another epically timed nosebleed, which they attributed to too much sun exposure. Luckily our trusted driver Kenyatta was able to clarify to the farmers that she was fine and that it ‘just happens sometimes’. 

 

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(Pic 3: The Immortal Beast) 

The following day we were reunited with the Gypsy!! Yeah! Just when you think she’s out for the count she rebounds like a champ, and with the new steering column, was ready to hit the farms again. We returned to Naari to recruit more farms and locate and examine previously vaccinated cows, but of course, in classic Hanna and Chantel fashion, we also discovered a needy dog. This sweet pup had what looked like a small superficial wound that was not healing properly. After some soaking and debriding we uncovered that it was actually very large and extended from the base of the right ear to the shoulder. What caused it will always be a mystery but, after providing some pain medication, we were able to clean up the poorly formed and infected scab, disinfect the wound and provide a protective antibiotic topical spray 

 

(Pic 4  – The scab that never ended; and the wound mostly healed). 

 

A daughter of the family stuck by our side during the entire process and the dog was comforted by her presence. It was endearing to see such a strong bond between them. She also provided a room in the house (this is a big deal!) for the dog to heal over the next few days, as the previously worn metal chain would irritate the injury site. Surprisingly, an infected wound is pretty low on our “grossness” scale, especially in comparison to the ticks that have quickly “crawled” their way up to the top of this scale. Our down time during one of Thursday’s interviews was spent picking off and squishing the hundreds of ticks attached to the farmer’s cows. We explained that, not only do ticks spread disease but they also put a huge physical strain on the animals. An infestation of this magnitude results in blood loss causing anaemia, decreased immunity, and stress which can all contribute to decreased milk production. We ended up treating one of her cows for East Coast Fever and tried to reinforce the idea that prevention is always cheaper. Ticks are more than just a “gross nuisance” and we always encourage farmers to zero-graze, cut forages one day and feed the next (so ticks on the grass will crawl off), and spay regularly/weekly with an effective insecticide. 

 

(Pic 5 (x2): Hanging with the Homies) 

 

As per usual, we made more furry friends this week – see the photos. We made some amazing human friends this week as well. An entire crew of curious children helped us navigate our way to each farm while adorably fighting over who was going to carry our supplies. They were great company and proved very helpful filling our bucket to scrub our boots, handing us the level for measuring heights and passing us supplies but also being quiet and respectful when necessary. The language barrier was no match for our drive to have fun, and our free time was spent having piggyback races and goofing around, as we waited for Daniel to finish his part of the farm visit activities. 

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(Pic 6: We work hard and play harder) 

The children also pointed us to a kitten that desperately needed help. She had returned home hopping, but had progressed to hind end paralysis by the time we arrived less than an hour later.  She was bright alert and responsive, didn’t protest our range of motion examination, despite the trauma, and maintained a weak withdrawal reflex and peripheral pulses. Unfortunately she had no cognitive proprioception and was unable to bear any weight. We administered a steroid and set her up a good warm and dry recovery area with a make shift litter box and milk bowl. We recommended monitoring closely, rotating sides to protect blood flow and nerve function in both legs, and giving ample time to recover. This was a very difficult case to see both emotionally and medically since we had very few diagnostic options to assess how severe her injuries may have been. We are very grateful to her family for being willing to follow our care instructions and we are hoping for the best every time we call to check in.
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(Pic 7: Paralysed kitten -nothing could phase this sweet brave girl). 

Since this is one of our last weeks here in Meru (…. silent sobs), we decided to have some guests over on Saturday for tea and snacks to show our appreciation. We had the pleasure to work with a variety of amazing people and will cherish those relationships forever, so we wanted a chance to say goodbye in person. As we prepared for the evening’s event you would think we’d be focused on cleaning up and prepping food, but alas we were found over at the neighbours’ with their cow. One of girls caught our attention while we picked wild flowers for centerpieces and expressed that something was wrong while pointing at the heifer’s head. Upon examination she had a gnarly infection brewing inside one of the horn hubs after a late dehorning. As a cow grows and horns emerge as ‘nubs’ they should be dehorned as soon as possible by a professional who can provide local anaesthetic and pain management. What many farmers don’t realize is that as the horn grows, it becomes a hollow continuation of the skull sinuses. So when the horns are removed, holes in the sinuses remain in the skull. If nothing is given for preventing infection and flies from entering the wounds where the horns used to be, the risk of infection is very high and that is what we witnessed that day. Without signs of infection elsewhere, we decided to flush with dilute hydrogen peroxide followed by dilute iodine, and finished with a topical antibiotic spray that doubles as a fly deterrent. We will continue this treatment for the next few days while allowing the infection to drain and the wound to heal from the inside out. Afterwards, there was very little time to finish getting ready for our guests but we have never once regretted spending time helping out the animals and still had a lovely evening catching up with all our Kenyan friends! 
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(Pic 8: Farewell friends) 

If our farewell party wasn’t enough of a wake up call to how little time we have left, Sunday sure was! Our driver, Chantel, shuttled us to our last ever market day and we basked in the ‘oh so familiar’ stares and dropped jaws that we will inevitably miss. We were able to get some beautiful fabrics with exciting patterns and bright colors that remind us of Kenya and even tried on some traditional winter hats! 
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(Pic 9: Haley and Chantel. Perfect for Canada, wouldn’t you say?) 

We sure have come a long way from being overwhelmed by the bustle and chaos that is market day. We know our vendors, barter for goods and greet some familiar faces from the community along the way. As we embark on our last week working here in Meru County we will not be taking any time for granted. There are many more candidates to recruit, blood draws to complete, animals to treat and goodbye hugs to give! 

 

H&C

The Lion King Chronicles

By: Hanna Hone and Chantel Doyle – QES Vet Interns – Aug 1, 2019

​This week, on the adventures of Hanna and Chantel, we bring you the conclusion of the neuter surgery on Simba. We arrived at the farmer’s house with a newly refurbished surgery including a familiar catheter (or three, just in case), two insulated hot water bottles to keep his core temperature up, a scale to accurately weigh him, and dry towels and blankets to cushion him during surgery. We set up our “surgery suite” for the second time, gave ahigher dose of sedative (xylazine), placed the catheter without issue, and injected with the newly calculated dose of anaesthetics (propofol and ketamine). This time, Simba went down without a hitch and we proceeded with the neuter. Dr. Daniel Muasya carefully dissected the granulation tissue that had once been the scrotum, followedthe spermatic cords and soon discovered that one of the testicles dropped off due to the banding. When we originally examined Simba both testicles were clearly palpable in the scrotum that was banded, and palpation and exploration during surgery resulted in only one. He isolated the single intact testicle and spermatic cord, which heligated (sutured) before tackling the free cord and traumatized tissue. The ligations of both cords ensured thecessation of blood flow and we were free to snip off the testicle and close the incision to complete the neuter. We closed in two layers; the subcutaneous layer followed by the skin. Chantel scrubbed in to assist with handing off instruments and the final suturing, while Hanna monitoredvitals and mixed new anaesthetic drugs to administer, or “top up,” when necessary. While we managed to keep Simba at a surgical plane of anaesthesia, he still metabolized the drugs faster than expected. We checked him regularly for signs of getting too light and top up was always on hand! He maintained stable vitals and responded quickly when we administered more anaesthesia. When we were happy with the final results we removed any blood from the surrounding skin and hair and sprayed the site with an antibiotic spray to deter licking and prevent flies from being attracted to the area.

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(PIC 1: Second time is the charm)

We also gave a long acting injectable antibiotic to ward off infection and an anti-inflammatory for pain. Although the surgery and anaesthesia weren’t as smooth as they would be under gas and there was no sterile surgical suite, overall the field procedure was a success and Simba recoveredwithout issue. The hot water bottles proved very helpful as his core temperature never dropped below 37 degrees Celsius (normal is 38-39 degrees Celsius) and he was up and walking around before we even left the farm. We asked the farmer to keep him in a clean enclosed area for the next few days, explained what to look for in regards to infection and asked him to call us if anything at all seemed “off” or if he had any other questions. After 2 days of not hearing from him, we called to check in and Simba was doing great! There were no signs of infection and he was eating and drinking normally- we were happy.

​Monday’s surgery was an awesome way to start the week, and after more days of visiting farmers and collecting data, we began our last long weekend adventure in Kenya. Daniel left to attend a conference in Ethiopia so we used the time to explore. Our entire crew dashed off to Naivasha to do some hiking, sight-seeing and, our favourite, animal watching!!! Upon our arrival in the city, the first thing we did was get coffee at the mall’s Java House to refuel and then settle into our accommodations. The next day we visited Hell’s Gate National Park, which acted as the inspiration for a little film called The Lion King (don’t know if you’ve heard of it) but upon entering the gates we could immediately see why. There were high rock faces with warthogs, zebras, water buffalo and gazelles grazing and foraging the grassy savannah at their bases. Our first stop within the park was the beautiful Gorge where a ranger took us on a hike up, down and through the most beautiful landscape we’d ever seen in our lives. As we walked, we touched both walls and craned our necks upward to take in the full scale of where we were. The final stop was “The Devil’s Bedroom” and the rock formations were absolutely out of this world!

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(PIC 2: Feeling a little small along the wall)

We were then brought along another route to see six famous hot springs that range from lukewarm to scalding hot and we were again mesmerized by what the earth can really do. At the end of the hike was a large Maasai market where we picked up many souvenirs but Chantel also thoroughly enjoyed the free market of obsidian, a jet black volcanic rock formed by the rapid cooling of lava without crystallization and a big part of the Hell’s Gate landscape.After we finished the hike we spent the remainder of the afternoon relaxing in the cloudy blue water of the hotspring pool. The locals call it a spa and we totally get why; the mineral water coated our skin and made it feel alive again! It was the perfect way to finish up our day and reset our minds and bodies before another day of adventure.

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(PIC 3: Spa day anyone?)

Rather than stay at a resort by the lake, we opted to stay in Naivasha city and it is amazing to see the parallels between that and rural life here in Kenya. In a city of over 90, 000 people, Naivasha residents are still accustomed to seeing animals- like goats, cows and donkeys- wandering free on the streets. As we walked to the market in the morning, no one batted an eye at a Holstein who trotted down the sidewalk as though she owned the place, or a goat that scavenged on the corner. Although we have grown accustomed to seeing these types of things in our rural town of Kiirua we didn’t expect it here.

The next day we got up extra early for a boat ride on Naivasha Lake. Now, no regular boat ride would get us out of bed early on vacation, but this one was to see one of Chantel’s absolute favourite animals, the hippos! We met up with our boat Captain, Dan, and jetted onto the lake to witness wonderful species of birds flying around us and admire all the brave fishermen suspended on half submerged trees in the hippo infested waters! Within minutes, we saw our first hippo wading in the shallow water by the shore. Captain Dan had an arsenal of hippo facts including the fact that they actually walk along thelake bottom rather than swim, hence they’re commonly found close to shore. And did you know that they can hold their breath for up to five minutes at a time? It was such a treat to see their eyes, nostrils and twitchy ears peeping out at the surface of the calm, blue water, and we were even lucky enough to watch two of them lumber close to shore to rest in the sunshine.

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(PIC 4:Happy Happy Hippos)

According to Captain Dan, these “giant water pigs,” as we like to call them, are “ not violent, they’re just extremely aggressive.” This made us chuckle but also clutch our life vests a little bit tighter. He went on to explain that a hippo will not charge you if you keep your distance and respect their territory, but if you disturb them while they’re taking a five minute nap or protecting their young, for example,these intimidating herbivores will have no problem taking you on. Luckily, the boat drivers in the lake are trained to read the hippo’s body language and we were lucky enough to see a whole family of seven or more all peering through the water and checking out the situation. After taking in what we’re sure was only half of what Navaisha Lake had to offer, we were dropped off at Crescent Island – a privately owned game park. This is a unique place that is void of predators so visitors are allowed to freely roam amongst the wildlife. We started off with a picnic lunch at the top of a hill overlooking a herd of zebras. Herds of gazelles and wildebeests stampeded across rolling hills and we then climbed a tree and watched some water buffalo rest by the water.

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(PIC 5: You know we could not resist climbing the nearest tree)

We marvelled at large flocks of pelicans and walked amongst a family of giraffes before watching monkeys swing and chase one another through the trees. To say it was a surreal experience is an understatement, and it made the sunburns that we got 100% worth it!

Because we had cooked dinner at our accommodations the night before, we decided to go out for dinner on our last night. We exhilarated our taste buds with some delicious food (once the power returned to the restaurant) and reminisced about the weekend we just had! You never know what to expect when you book a weekend get away and then make plans as you go but it would be impossible to choose a highlight of this trip. Each experience left us amazed and humbled. However, nothing is perfect and our unbelievable luck came to a halt when we found ourselves in quite the traffic jam on the way home. One of the weigh scales was down and there were miles and miles of trucks at a dead stop. Luckily for us, in Kenya the designated‘road’ is more of a suggested route and any vehicle that did not need to pass over the scale hit the dirt. We were literally off-roading through the savannah and following a caravan of cars and bikes all taking their own unique route to get past the jam. After a solid few hours of bopping around in our vehicle, we made it back to the tarmac and proceeded to a smooth safe ride back home.

Once at home, we met up with our London friends from the wedding and filled them in on our weekend. We gave them travel recommendations based on our experiences as well. We also got to hear about their work and stay with their host family. Sometimes it’s a relief to speak in English to other English-as-a-first-language people without worrying about miscommunication, and it’s always a pleasure tomake new international friends. This world is smaller than it seems and you never know when a reunion opportunity may come about! We laughed about shared stories of generous gifts of fruit, eggs and tea and our struggles navigating some of the cultural differences. After catching up, we said goodbye to our friends and made it to the market in the nick of time to pick up groceries for the rest of the week. The Sunday market is always bustling and the energy in the air is contagious. We are fully pumped to finish out our last two weeks here in Meru County, and we plan to continue optimizing every day. And as always, we will keep you all updated on our adventures!

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(PIC 6: Are we in the Lion King?)

-H&C

Never a Dull Moment in Meru County, Kenya

By: Hanna Hone and Chantel Doyle – QES Vet Interns Aug 1, 2019

Hi everyone! It’s finally starting to feel like winter here in Africa. July is their coldest month and we are starting to feel it as this week has been chilly and misty; a stark contrast to even a week ago. Realistically it’s been 15-20 degrees each day, which means there’s no reason for complaints from us Canadians, we simply bundle up for the ride.

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(Pic 1: Chillin’ in the mist)

Since the nights get chilly, we decided to make use of the fireplace in our living room for the first time! We bought some firewood from a local shop that builds desks for the schools in the area. Luckily they had a lot of extra wood so we got a great deal and showed up at the house with a full trunk load. The last couple of weeks have been pretty straightforward but we saw multiple cases this week that made up for it. Plus, we followed up with Simba; the dog with the banded testicles that we promised the owner we would perform a neuter on. From a 9-month-old heifer with acute neurological signs, to a cow with an ear infection and even one with a swollen jaw, it’s safe to say that we are always kept on our toes.

On Tuesday we were in Buuri visiting farms and collecting data like any other day. However, at the last farm things started going south, and quickly. As we entered into a heifer pen to get started we haltered and tied the first one like normal. During that time she seemed completely calm but once she was tied up, she began to wobble side to side and lay down. These types of behaviour very uncommonly happen in calves. Those that are extremely “flighty,” or anxious, tend to have the opposite reaction, which is to jump and run and do whatever they can to get away,particularly when they are initially untied after a fall. However, this girl did not immediately leap to her feet and at that point we highly suspected that something else might be going on. With her head held up and her temperature, pulse, and respiratory rate all within normal limits,we continued the exam with her lying down. As we did our work-up, we noted pale mucous membranes within the vulva and the ocular membranes. When we let her go, our fears were quickly confirmed as she stumbled across the pen; this was not just a fear or stress reaction, there was something more sinister going on and it was progressing quickly. As we continued to gain more information, we decided to try and take a look at her oral cavity but were unable to open the jaw. This was very concerning and we began discussing differentials but nothing fit all of her symptoms and clinical signs perfectly. Our problem list included acute ataxia and confusion (stumbling, unbalanced, weak, failed attempts to rise), pale/gray mucous membranes, lockjaw, tachycardia (increased heart rate), bradypnea (decreased respiratory rate) and breath sounds with progressively increased effort and straining but there was no fever. Due to the acute onset and lack of fever our highest differential was a toxicity of some sort and we inquired to the farmer about feed. It turned out that they had started feeding crop waste from Irish potatoes that morning. Unfortunately they contain a compound called solanum which can be toxic to cattle and causes acute onset of neurological signs.

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(Pic 2: Irish potatos; a source of solanum toxin)

Like so many other rural areas, Meru County does not have a lab to allow us to do further diagnostics. This left us with limited information with which to make treatment decisions. Based on our extensive physical exam, a detailed history, and active brainstorming with our team we chose to treat with: fluids, specifically isotonic saline IV, to help flush out any potential toxins in her system; an injection of a steroid dexamethasone IV and an antihistamine IM to help with any inflammatory processes occurring. We also advised the farmer to remove any of the other feed in the pen and only feed grasses for the next few days in addition to isolating her in a safe flat cushioned area, and then crossed all our fingers and toes for this little girl. Luckily both of us love a challenge and having to be adaptable in rural field work, well large animal medicine in general, is what we find so exciting and engaging. From the time we arrived to when we started treatment we went from having a calm heifer standing in a stall to a down heifer severely struggling to breathe and we were not optimistic about the prognosis. By the time we left we were amazed to see herable stand on her own for small periods of time but still made sure to warn the farmer that she could relapse and would need to be observed very closely overnight. When we left that farm there was a real mix of feelings including defeat, curiosity and hope. Even with further research when we got home and a consultation with Dr. John, we were still unsure of our diagnosis and course of action. Through some miracle, when we called the next morning for an update,the farmer was quite happy to give us some relief that the heifer had recovered and was walking, eating and drinking normally! Proving once again that cows are some of toughest animals on the planet, and that animals don’t read our textbooks or follow the rules in regards to disease presentation! Many times, medicine can be messy and you won’t always have every piece of the puzzle. We followed our gut, gained as much information from what was available, used our training and were blessed with a happy outcome!

Another neat case we came across was a cow with an ear infection! This may not sound very exciting to most, but something that is so incredibly common in small animal medicine is very rare in adult cows. We took time to look into treatment overnight as well as refresh ourselves on bovine ear canal anatomy and returned the next day with a treatment plan while Daniel finished up his interview. The farmers had noticed the discharge from the ear and were previously advised to treat the ear canal with hydrogen peroxide. Unfortunately this cow had been dealing with the infection for four months with no progress and we suspect these treatments were doing more harm than good.  We took time to carefully clean the gunk out of the ear with saline soaked gauze before flushing the canal with saline and drying it. We then followed this with a 5% iodine solution swab to disinfect the canal and another wipe out with gauze before treating with an antibiotic. Because of our limited resources we decided to use a lactating intramammary treatment topically and off-label. It contains two antibiotics that are effective against the common suspect organisms and safe to use topically on the epithelium of the ear canal. As a bonus, one tube is enough to last the famer 5 days of treatment, and the shape made administering the medication into the ear canal easy. While this was definitely not something we were expecting when we arrived at the farm, it was fun to transfer our knowledge and experience with canine ear infections and adapt our resources to come up with an effective plan!

​Toward the end of the week we were being escorted around the Buuri zone by one of the Dairy executives;Purity. We had only used a couple doses of vaccine that day, and rather than waste the other doses, we treated some of her open cows and heifers with the vaccine. Purity’s farm is doing very well and doesn’t qualify as a small production dairy, so her animals were unable to be placed in the study, but they got the benefit of the vaccine anyway, rather than throwing out the remaining vaccine (once it is mixed, it only last a number of hours). While vaccinating one of Purity’s cows, we were asked to look at a suspicious swelling on the right side of the cow’s face. Through palpation we discovered that the site was solid and firmly attached to, or a part of, the lower jaw! There was also some edema but the lymph nodes felt normal.

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(Pic 3: Cow with Facial swelling)

Our top differential was “Lumpy jaw”, a disease that develops due to a bacterial infection by Actinomyces boviswhich gains access to the jaw through small wounds in the mouth that are usually a result of ingestion of tough or thorny feeds. Unfortunately once the infection is in the bone, it is very difficult to treat and we didn’t have the means to provide effective treatment. We will check back next week to assess any changes but informed Purity that, if indeed the infection was in the bone, an available local veterinarian could provide an extended course of antibiotics to try and combat it.

We dedicated Saturday morning to revisit the case of Simba and eagerly showed up at the farmer’s compound to proceed with the neuter procedure.

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(Pic 4: Surgery suite set up)

On initial exam, he seemed healthy and normal and we were all set up to get going. Because most of our gear is tailored to large animals we had to scrounge for a smaller catheter, which we found in our human first aid kit, to provide IV access for our anaesthetic drugs. The sedative Xylazine was administered IM and had a nice effect while we got the catheter in place. Because this catheter was meant for humans…none of us were familiar… we fumbled through and broke the first one due to a button that we quickly learned recoiled the needle. Luckily we brought a back up! The second attempt (while not perfectly smooth)went better and we were confident we had access. Simba’sIV mixture of Ketamine and Propofol; a dissociative and anaesthetic respectively, seemed to take effect but unfortunately this only lasted long enough for us to finish the first scrub. We placed him on our makeshift surgery table and monitored closely as we “topped up” his dosage again and again but he continued having responses to stimulation even with a local block around the testicles. He had palpebral responses, lack of ventral medial eye roll and mild tongue tone. We were not comfortable that he was in an appropriate surgical plane to proceed with the procedure and we were quickly starting to max out on doses that are safe to give. We decided to give the last dose IV in the other leg in case it was the catheter placement that was causing the drugs to be less effective. Despite our best efforts he refused to succumb and we maxed out the amount we could safely give without compromising his vitals any further. We called off the neuter and knew we’d have to come back with an updated surgical plan. We had a great snuggle in front of a charcoal burner in the little shed the owner set up for his recovery while we awaited his body temperature to normalize after the use of the anaesthetic drugs.

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(Pic 5: Simba recovering, snug as a bug )

Unfortunately Simba will have his testicles for a couple more days but we aren’t giving up and promised to return on Monday to try the procedure again.

We restricted Saturday’s work to a half day so we could attend the wedding party of a Meru County couple in the afternoon.

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(Pic 6: Speeches under the tent with the Bride and Groom)

While the surgery wasn’t a success the party sure was! We could not understand any of the speeches that were taking place but got pretty excited when a familiar word popped up. We were seated with two other “mzungus” who were here from London to work with school children and being hosted by one of the wedding guests. It was nice to be able to speak some English, meet other travelers and hear about their experiences. Despite the language barrier, it was clear the MC was quite the crowd pleaser with his eccentric booming voice and the non-stop laughter and “awws” from the crowd. We personally loved the dancing. Men and women alike frolicked around the couple as they were cutting their cake and receiving their gifts, and the bride was dressed head to toe in layers of her new presents by the end of the song. We learned that the couple is scheduled to exchange nuptials in December in a far away location so the party was a way for local friends and family, who would be unable to attend, to share in the celebration and dote on the happy couple. The energy in the room was very supportive of the new bride and groom and it was nice to be involved. As another amazing week here in Meru comes to a close we are eager to see what the last few weeks have in store as we start to prepare for our return to school. In the meantime we will keep you updated on our adventures and be sure to let you know what happens with Simba on Monday. Wish us luck!

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(Pic 7: Dream Team)

Sincerely,

H&C

CHAMPs are champs at sharing nutritional messages with Kenyan women

By Haley MacKenzie

Hi again – this is Haley, one of the nutrition students. I wrote this blog Jul 21 but it didn’t make it onto the Farmers Helping Farmers site till now. (Prof Jen apologizes for the delay!)  

I am excited to tell you that we have finished up our last school feedback report and our fourth women’s group of the summer! This leaves us with just one more women’s group to interview (15 women) and one school assessment. This week, we also held a second CHAMPs nutritional seminar.

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Photo 1: Julia, Dorcus, and I with our five Gatima CHAMPs! 

Last month, Julia wrote a blog about our first CHAMPs session with the Gatima women’s group. To recap, we taught five women from Gatima women’s group about nutritional messages, gave them laminated copies of the messages, and asked them to teach them to their group via a nutrition seminar and cooking session. We had thirty participants join us to learn the messages and help to prepare ‘super’ githeri and ‘super’ chapatti: both of these staple foods have added vegetables from the women’s kitchen gardens. These women did such a wonderful job that we invited them to teach these messages again, this time to a new women’s group called Upendo Safi.

This time around was a bit different, as we did not have our professor Jennifer Taylor to help us with the planning. Julia and I had to set up a meeting with the Gatima CHAMPs to confirm their interest, set up a meeting with the Upendo Safi executive to determine if this was possible, organize a time and location, decide which food would be made, who would buy it, and who would bring it, how the women would be transported, printing, gifts for participants and CHAMPS, and much more. Nevertheless, we successfully planned the session with only a few minor hiccups.

We decided with the Upendo Safi group that we would have the event on Friday at 11:00am, and that we would be cooking super githeri and super uji. We would prepare the githeri (stew) with maize, beans, potatoes, tomatoes, onion, carrots, and pumpkin leaves and the uji (porridge) with a flour mixture of whole grain maize, finger millet, and millet, with grated carrots. Julia and I also cut up fruit for the women to eat for a dessert (this provides vitamin C which increases iron absoription). We learned from our last session that we should consider the weather, so we ordered a tent and chairs from a nearby church. We expected twenty women to attend, so we brought certificates and necklaces to gift the participants.

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Photo 2: Helping to set up the tent for the seminar

When we arrived Friday morning, we found that the women had soaked the maize and beans and were already cooking the githeri! We began to peel, grate, and chop carrots, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, and pumpkin leaves. Our driver dropped us off and left to pick up the Gatima CHAMPs. About an hour after arriving, the CHAMPs and some members of Upendo Safi were helping to cut vegetables and men had arrived to put up a tent. I expected that the tent and chairs would arrive in a pickup truck of some sort, so Julia and I laughed when a boda-boda (motorcycle) arrived carrying long poles, the tent, and twenty chairs! We realized that it was getting close to 11:30am, which was the time that we thought we would begin teaching, but nearly half of the participants hadn’t arrived yet. We asked the chairlady of the group where everyone was and it turns out they thought it was starting at noon, so we didn’t end up starting the session until 12:30pm. We used this extra time to chat with the women, greet the cat and dog, and play with the women’s children.

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Photo 3 : Our CHAMPs cutting carrots for the githeri

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Photo 4 : Julia cutting pumpkin leaves the Kenyan way

The participants arrived one by one and jumped in to help prepare the food. Kenyan women love to cook! When everyone had arrived, we directed them to sit in the chairs in the tent and the CHAMPs took turns teaching and checking on the githeri. The CHAMPs did a great job of delivering the messages, very similar to the previous CHAMPs event. The participants were very interested in the messages and asked Julia and I many questions, some we did not even know the answers to! The women were curious about healthy eating and were inquiring about other Kenyan foods that we are not familiar with making; luckily, Mwenda was present to translate and answer questions about these foods using the nutrition knowledge that he has accumulated from working with FHF.

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Photo 5: The Gatima CHAMPs delivering the nutritional messages

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Photo 6: Session participants trying super githeri!

All in all, the CHAMPs session went very well. We were happy to have the opportunity to share our messages with a group outside of those that we are working with this summer and it is always fun to cook with the women! After the session, the participants were so thankful for the messages, meals, and gifts that they began to sing to us. You can see that we are all smiles in the picture!

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Photo 7: Group photo of all participants and CHAMPs

 

Of maize and moles and celebrating a cookhouse

By Julia Heckbert

This week we finished up our last school meal assessments for the summer!

Starting with Muruguma Primary School earlier in the week, we came face to face with some interesting challenges. Since we arrived at the school during the last week of school, we learned that they had run out of beans for the children’s lunches and only had maize flour left for the uji.

The day before, the lovely deputy head teacher had gone out and personally purchased 20kg of beans to get the school through the next week. This meant that fewer beans would be going into the githeri at lunchtime and polished maize was used instead of whole-grain maize (we recommend that latter since it is more nutritious). We were told that the polished maize expands more when cooked compared to the whole grain and would therefore be able to feed more students and keep them full. Even though the lunch would provide fewer nutrients, the school was doing the best they could with the resources available. 

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(Picture 1: Students lining up at the cookhouse at Muruguma Primary to be served)

In between the serving of uji and githeri, we watched as some older students secured a trap outside of the screenhouse that has been provided by Farmers Helping Farmers. The school had been having trouble with moles digging under the screenhouse and eating the vegetables, so they planned to trap the pest. As Steven Mwenda (FHF staff) tried to explain how the trap worked, the students dug holes and wet the soil to secure the line of a tube with mud using a potato as bait.

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(Picture 2: One of the students building a trap to catch moles in the garden)

Although the trap may not be the most humane, it was a clever way to use the resources available and ensure that the vegetables would no longer be consumed by animals. Both I and Haley had never seen a mole and we were fascinated with this new skill the students seem to possess.

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(Picture 3: Steven Mwenda and the students explaining to Haley how the trap works)

During this last week of school, students and teachers were busy writing and marking exams. On top of that, the school was also building new toilets for the students. It was interesting to see how they were being built because they are nothing like those in Canada. In this community, most people have toilets that consist of a hole in the ground with a shack built around it. This particular set of toilets was a mixture of cement and wood but ultimately has the same design.

Having latrines (toilets) and handwashing stations at schools (which FHF has installed at some schools) is so very important since it helps reduce the number of children that have parasites (worms). Children who contract worms can lose as much as 30% of the nutritional value of their food, so it is really important to do try and reduce the number affected by worms.

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(Picture 4: New student toilets under construction)

While assessing the meals at our last school (Michogomone), we were able to see the new cookhouse that was almost finished being built!

The men building the structure were hard at work finishing up in order to open the cookhouse for the beginning of August. It is exciting to know that the students and the cooks will benefit from this cookhouse, which is funded through the Souris Village Feast!

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(Picture 5: The new cookhouse under construction at Michogomone)

After visiting many schools, it has become very routine to measure the ingredients and pots being used in the cookhouse. We have even managed to pick up some words in Kimeru and Kiswahili in order to help us be understood when talking to cooks. We are always happy to see cooks adding leafy greens to the githeri. At Michogomone, both kale and a new green we have not seen (Russian Comfrey) were used in the meal.

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(Picture 6: The cook (Sarah) washing the leafy greens in preparation for cooking)

When talking with the headteacher, we learned that they use the maize and beans grown on the school farm in order to supplement parental contributions to the meal program. This was great news!

When the school is able to provide some maize and beans for the meals on their own, it reduces the demand on parents to provide as much, which is particularly important during dry seasons when food is scarce at home. Hopefully, the school will be able to produce even more crops for their school!

Since we have now finished up our assessments, we will be focusing on the completion of our home interviews for the remainder of the summer. We have learned a lot from visiting the different schools and have begun to understand the challenges they face. Every person we have talked to has expressed great appreciation for the support of Farmers Helping Farmers and have graciously welcomed us into their schools. It has been a great learning experience and we have hopefully helped some schools along the way to make small dietary changes in order to ensure students are getting the best possible meals at school!

When You’re at Farms and Farmer Meetings You Sometimes Forget You’re in Africa… and Then You See Elephants!!

By: Hanna Hone and Chantel Doyle – QES Vet Interns – July 26, 2019

This week we’re back with the Buuri Dairy. We spent the first half of the week visiting new homes and finding new candidates for our study, and the last half revisitng farms for secondary blood samples from our vaccinates. The Buuri farms are super diverse, located in both semi-arid lowland areas to cooler wetter hilly areas, and we are still amazed at the huge diversity of climates and landscapes that Kenya has to offer. It was lovely getting to revisit some Buuri farmers for the blood sampling, and we were pleased to see how many of them already implemented the advice that we had provided on their first visit. However, there were some farmers to which we had to reiterate our messages and emphasize that simple changes couldmake a big difference for them and their animals. While not all recommendations can be implemented right away, putting in work to improve cow comfort would, in turn, improve production to gain some extra capital that the farmers would need to implement the rest. During our revisits we not only saw the cows, but also the puppies and kittens that we fell in love with initially. Fortunately we were able to source some dewormer and a dusting flea treatment to bring along for those that really need it. We got to revisit Tom, the sweet puppy that stole our hearts at first tail wag, and met his new puppy buddy and were luckily able to treat them both.

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(Photo 1: Us, Tom and his little puppy bro)

 

We were thanked by many farmers and gifted with sweet treats including tea, fruit and a giant bag full of avocados!

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(Photo2: Avocados!!!!!)

 

This week also provided us with the opportunity to spend a morning crashing one of the annual general farmer meetings at the Buuri Dairy. We were asked to stand up and introduce ourselves in front of the hard-working farmers, many of whom we’ve had the privilege of meeting already but there were definitely new faces in the crowd as well. We practiced our Kimeru – the local language of the Meru tribe of Meru Country- and showed the farmers what we’d learnt over the past couple of months. Realistically, its kidogo (a small amount) but they were appreciative of our efforts, even slightly amused; there were definitely a few chuckles in the crowd. The main purpose of our attendance at the meeting was for Daniel to clarify aspects of the project, the specificities of candidates, and the importance of BVDV to the overall sustainability of farms around the world.

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(Photo 3: Farmer’s Meeting)

We also encouraged farmers to participate by explaining that, in addition to vaccinations, farms with candidate cattle would also be offered examinations and treatments for additional animals as well as advice on management. We wanted to ensure that our activities, as well as the farmersexpectations, were understood by all and that everyone was on the same page.

 

After the meeting we made our way to Meru town to stock up on some medical supplies as we are going through our blood tubes like crazy! We also made a pit stop at a local cafe to enjoy a delicious espresso milkshake, which would have been the highlight of the day had we not spotted a family of wild elephants on the way home! Along the highway to Meru town there are signs for baboon and elephant crossings, and while we regularly oogle the cute baboons and the little baby baboons hanging on the mothers’ chests, we were quite ecstatic to finally catch a glimpse of these massive creatures.

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(Photo 4: Ooogling the elephants)

 

We pulled over and were ecstatic to be able to capture a few photos and videos of the seven elephants simply enjoying an afternoon snack. But alas, no photo could really ever do it justice so we focused on just being present in the moment. Fortunately the family of elephants did notseem to mind the crowd accumulating at the roadside but always kept an eye out and a huge ear up. It was nice to see these wild animals being admired and respected and it really reminded us of exactly where we are– Africa! We had similar feelings when we joined Haley on a local hikeup Maitei Hill. We made it to the summit to find many locals praying and singing upon the beautiful grass overlooking the rolling hills and local towns. We took our time taking in the view before starting our descent and happily found some fun stumps that we couldn’t resist challenging ourselves to climb and balance on.

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(Photo 5: Getting our balance on the Blue Gum tree stumps)

 

The mountains in the distance and the many shades of green between the villages was just another absolutely surreal experience from this summer that will stay with us forever.

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(Photo 6: Basking in the view).

 

Sincerely,

H&C

The coast, cows, and a whole lotta ticks!!!

By: Hanna Hone and Chantel Doyle – QES Vet Interns – July 16/19

Hi again, everyone!  We are now back in Meru County after taking a break on the Kenyan South Coast.  

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(Photo1: Maisha Marefu ‘Long Life’) 

Our visit to Diani Beach could not have been more perfect; the perfect weather, perfect beaches and perfect friendships. We spent most of our time relaxing on the soft, white sand working on our summer (in the African winter) tans, and enjoying the beautiful blue, and amazingly warm, water. We ate fresh fish straight from the fishermen, bartered with Maasai for beautiful beaded trinkets, and even tackled surfing for the first time! We were also lucky enough to get to spend Canada Day on a disappearing island where we snorkelled in the Indian Ocean…,yes, a disappearing island! We set out early in the morning while watching the beautiful corals and fish pass underneath our glass bottom boat. Upon approaching the island, the captain even jumped in the water with some bait to draw in more fish for us to marvel at, and brought up a few marine creatures including sea spiders (aka brittle stars) and other sea stars as well. We were dropped off at the island with our beach blankets, snorkelling gear and Canada flag in tow and spent an hour snorkelling and enjoying the sun before the high tide engulfed the sand bar and we headed back to shore. Our fellow travelers helped us bring Canada Day to a close with sparklers and festivities. We will never forget our new friends and the stunning sunrises and sunsets that were something out of a fairy tale. Everything about this vacation left us feeling revived and we were ready to return to Naari and continue the important work we came to Kenya to complete. 

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(Photo 2: A view with friends)

Upon our return we were immediately challenged with navigating new dairy zones to find candidates for our research study and battling some ailments at the same time. First, Hanna’s nose decided that the transition from the Diani humidity to Meru dryness was too much and she suffered relentless nose bleeds, while Chantel’s newfound “Kenyadian” attitude got the best of her and eating guava straight from the tree led to her being bed-ridden for a day 

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(Photo 3: Can’t stop won’t stop)

But nothing could keep us down and we pressed on. Luckily the farmers were as courteous as ever, and although we had no prior arrangements, the farmers were more than happy to point us in the direction of more cows. It turned into the most productive week to date as we ended up visiting 27 farms and admitting new trial candidates into the study as well as examining many cattle for the observational portion of the study.

The Naari farms situated at the edge of the Mount Kenya Forest reap its benefits, but at the same time, are also challenged by it. During times like now where there is little water for irrigation and crops, farmers are able to easily send their livestock to the forest to graze the lush vegetation. However, with this grazing comes a high rate of tick-borne disease. The majority of farms we visited had evidence of current or recovered animals with East Coast Fever or Anaplasmosis, both diseases that are transmitted by ticks. Unfortunately the dogs and cats also struggle with the ticks in the area, and therefore after completing our cow physical exams, we spent any down-time on tick removal duty. 

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(Photo 4: Tick picking is a serious job)

Also, as crazy as it seems, elephant invasions are also a problem for these farmers. We encountered many shambas (farms) with portions that were trampled by elephants who ventured from the nearby forest to find water and feed. They specifically love bananas, but I mean, who can blame them?

As per usual, another highlight of the week was meeting some of the amazing people that call Kenya home. We had the unfortunate timing of arriving at one homestead during a Women’s group meeting, but they were gracious and welcomed us to complete our work before inviting us for tea and laughing at Hanna’s attempts to dance and sing along to the music 

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(Photo 5: Tea Time)

It was here that we encountered a handful of beautifully coloured cows and one twelve month old heifer that was so petite that she barely fit our weight tape! We couldn’t believe how cute she was. 

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(Photo 6: Daniel and his tiny new friend)

We also had the opportunity to meet a resilient older woman who lived alone with her two dogs as companions. We were disheartened to learn that this woman had been robbed of a cow not too long ago but, in response, she built a large rock wall around her property to protect her belongings and ‘friends.’ She ran her compound independently and shoeless, while handling her difficult cow by singing her songs (seriously, singing songs to her cows) and bribing the cow with grain. 

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(Photo 7: A strong Kenyan woman and her loyal companions)

We feel so grateful and privileged every single week to have the opportunity to learn and experience so much in this beautiful country. Even in the hard moments, we know that, at the end of the day, everything we encounter will come together to make us better veterinarians for our future patients. With our trip to the coast marking the halfway point of our stay in Kenya, we now feel that the end is in sight and are determined to make the most of the time we have left! 

 

Sincerely,

H&C