Laura and Lexie with students from Matuto following the Days for Girls talk. (Left to right: student, Laura, Lexie, student, student)
Muriega! (Greetings to all! in the local language of Kikuyu)
Our names are Laura Michalovic and Lexie Reed and we are both second-year student veterinarians at the Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph, ON. This summer, we are volunteering in Kenya with Veterinarians without Borders (VWB) Canada. While we were brought into this project through VWB-Canada, our work in Mukurwe-ini is closely linked to the work of Farmers Helping Farmers (FHF). Our supervisor Shauna Richards, and project collaborator John VanLeeuwen have ties to both VWB-Canada and FHF, and from this opportunities for vet students at VWB-Canada have led to students visiting Kenya for many years.
We have been in Mukurwe-ini, Nyeri County since mid-May, and we are working with the Mukurwe-ini Wakulima Dairy LTD, a large dairy collection and processing plant. Farmers Helping Farmers and the Wakulima have a longstanding relationship, as FHF was a developing partner contributing to the Wakulima’s success. Farmers Helping Farmers helped establish the Wakulima’s first milk cooling tank in the early 1990’s. This significant milestone ensured food security and a reliable source of income to dairy farmers in Mukurwe-ini. In addition to a variety of infrastructure improvements, FHF has also worked on capacity development aided by a content-rich Dairy Farming Manual which is provided to farmers to help assist in the improvement of their dairy operations. This manual is written by vets, vet students, and dairy farming experts from Canada and Kenya.
Outside the Wakulima Dairy LTD, home of the Royal Fresh products.
With the help from our translator Priscilla and our driver Ephraim, we travel to different locations around the Wakulima and give seminars to groups of farmers who sell their milk to the dairy. This year, our seminars revolve around zoonotic disease prevention in humans and animals, and around serious zoonotic diseases prevalent in this area (rabies, anthrax, rift valley fever, brucella, internal parasites, and bovine tuberculosis). We also provide consulting work to farmers in order to mitigate some of the challenges they may face on farm: calf care, cow nutrition, stall design, cow comfort, reproduction, and mastitis, among other topics. For some more details see our blog here: https://blog.vetswithoutborders.ca/2019/05/28/kenya-dairy-project-young-volunteers-update/
Priscilla (left) and Lexie (right) delivering an on-farm seminar about zoonotic diseases to a group of dairy farmers who sell their milk to the Wakulima Dairy LTD.
Another rewarding aspect of our placement in Kenya has been visiting local primary schools and teaching students about zoonotic diseases, how to stay safe when working with farm animals, and how to protect themselves from rabies. The schools we are visiting are all currently or passed twinned schools through FHF and schools in PEI Canada. We focus on rabies prevention in schools as it has taken, and continues to take the lives of far too many people in Africa and Asia. See a local news article here of a recent outbreak in Kenya: https://www.standardmedia.co.ke/article/2001331800/kisumu-county-on-alert-as-two-die-of-rabies
Late last week, we changed out of our scrubs and into more formal attire, as we had the pleasure of visiting Matuto and Mutwewathi Primary Schools to discuss a new topic. These visits were made possible thanks to the partnerships between FHF and the non-profit organization Days for Girls. https://www.daysforgirls.org/
Days for Girls is an incredible organization supported by volunteers across the globe who hand-make reusable sanitary products for girls. These crafty volunteers prepare individual sanitary kits composed of a drawstring bag (to carry and store the items), 2 moisture-barrier shields (with a built-in snap to hold liner pads in place around the underwear), 8 absorbent flannel liners (to be placed in the shields and absorb fluids), 1 washcloth, 1 bar of soap, and 2 pairs of underwear. Brilliant, right? These kits are then distributed to girls in areas of need. Our contribution to the efforts by Days for Girls involved distributing these kits to female students at two different primary schools in Nyeri County using training materials they provided us.
At each school we met with girls in grades 6, 7 and 8 – ages 11 to 15 – and their female teachers. We were familiar faces to some students as we had gone to these same schools in the weeks prior to deliver our Safety Around Animals seminar. The reality for many young women is that in their lifetime they will face challenges which their male counterparts may never experience. As a result, we talked about girl empowerment and the importance of believing in yourself, your capabilities as a woman, and how your biology doesn’t limit your potential. Being a woman is awesome! We also focused on health education and discussed what changes our bodies undergo during puberty; one significant change being menstruation. We shed some light on common misconceptions surrounding menstruation, ovulation, pregnancy and the female reproductive system. Most importantly, we wanted to reinforce the concept that a period is a completely normal and healthy biological process that should not prevent girls from attending school, playing sports, or enjoying their favorite activities.
At the beginning of our lesson, we handed out blank pieces of paper to each girl and they were welcomed to anonymously write down any questions or concerns which came to mind as we discussed menstruation. At the end of our sessions, we gathered all the papers that were not so blank anymore. The sheer volume of questions we received back reinforced the fact that there is a benefit to having these sessions in primary schools here. We addressed each of the questions one by one, and these gave us a sense of the different challenges girls in Kenya face and how some challenges differ slightly from ours back in Canada. For example, what to do if you can’t afford sanitary supplies? On the other hand, girls in both countries also share similar concerns. What to do if you get your period when you’re in class? Is there something wrong with you if you still haven’t gotten your period but most of your friends have already? All valid concerns.
Girls from Matuto Primary School proudly showing off their new Days for Girls kits
After teaching about the use of reusable pads we closed our sessions with their distribution of the kits sewn from all different types of beautiful donated materials. The girls’ faces lit up with excitement as they each received and opened their bag and investigated its contents. It was quite clear that these sustainable and reusable items were greatly appreciated by the students. For many of them, purchasing disposable sanitary products is not a financially feasible option. Therefore, without these reusable products, these girls may have resorted to using unhygienic alternatives like newspaper, leaves, and rags, predisposing them to infections and other health concerns. We also left a few additional kits at each school in case a girl found herself in need during school hours.
We are overjoyed to report that 80 young girls and female teachers benefited from the strong partnerships between Days for Girls, Farmers Helping Farmers, and Veterinarians Without Borders. The immense gratitude expressed by the students and teachers was extremely rewarding for us volunteers and it was a day we will remember for many years to come.
A group of very thankful students from Mutwewathi Primary School after receiving their Days for Girls kits.
A very special thank you goes out to Jean Hume and the wonderful team of Days for Girls volunteers in Guelph, Ontario who worked together to make the 80 kits that were distributed during our school visits. Your hard work and dedication has positively impacted the lives of many young women!
Until next time! Kwaheri! (Bye!)
Laura and Lexie
Work by VWB-Canada students in Mukurwe-ini Kenya is supported by Global Affairs Canada, and the Sir James Dunn Animal Welfare Centre