A look back at 2 weeks in meru - Life as a tanzania volunteer!

Post by

helena mason

February 15th 2019

Pam, a vet from the US, tells us more about her third time volunteering with Mission Rabies in Tanzania! She played a vital role in helping our teams vaccinate as many dogs as possible and protecting future generations from rabies- we look forward to next time Pam! 

I feel the assault of the warm dry air as I leave the plane and my feet hit the tarmac. It is that moment that my shoulders relax and the rush of the industrialized technology driven world cascades away.  My heart knows that I am back in Tanzania.  After a “Jambo” greeting or two and my polite reply of ‘Ahsante,’ I gather my small bag of belongings and clamber into the vehicle to start my journey towards Arusha and the Meru district.  There are a few things to note.  There will no longer be the expectation of air conditioning, ice or refrigeration.  These things are not a part of everyday life and are to be treated more as a luxury.  There will be beauty in the landscape as far as the eye can see.  The common ring tone of cell phones will be heard less frequently.  The world will be filled with voices filled with welcoming greetings, pleasantries and friendship soon to follow.  I know because this is my third Mission Rabies trip to the region and my annual January “home away from home”.


This year’s project was an incredible success with greater than 7000 dogs vaccinated in less than two weeks.  The teams achieved the greater than 70% coverage in 7 wards that is necessary for the project to be effective.  You might ask how that could possibly be accomplished?  Well, to begin, there is a huge amount of work that goes on behind the scenes long before the volunteers’ descent into the region.  The Mission Rabies team works with local government, schools, churches and village leaders in the coordinated effort to facilitate, educate and implement every project.  One of the key elements to success in the Arusha region is Jens Fissenebert with the local organization Mbwa wa Africa (Dogs of Africa) Animal Rescue.  Jens works closely with Mission Rabies and its sister charity Worldwide Veterinary Service to secure grants and funding for the nonprofit group to perform sterilisation procedures during the campaign.  Our group of 22 international volunteers from more than 7 countries paired with 16 local staff and worked tirelessly for 10 days to deliver over 7300 rabies vaccines and sterilise 310 dogs!


 Now for the boots on the ground perspective!  We began our week with an introduction to team members and then loading into a van to find our first “static” point.  A “static” point is a predetermined vaccination location that has been announced within the village.  We are “armed” with syringes, vaccines and enthusiasm.  As we arrive at our site – a primary school at the heart of the village – we are greeted by children waiting with their dogs.  The children are bright eyed with tremendous smiles but most of all, they are patient.  They sit and wait while our team sets up to collect data, write individual vaccination cards and administer the vaccine.  Throughout the day children and adults alike come from all directions and paths with dogs of all ages for vaccination.  They arrive with various configurations of make shift leashes consisting of material, twine, rope, fabrics, wire and chain.  The puppies are toted in buckets, boxes and bags.  Mode of transport is often on foot but may be via motorcycle or car.  And so the day goes on as we seek shade from the hot midday sun and wipe the dust and sweat from our brow.  We pause occasionally to enjoy the breathtaking scenery of Mt Meru.  Before we know what has happened, it is after 5 o’clock and our Project Leader, Amy Lewis, is calling us home to sync our day’s data.  We spend the next day in a similar static point. 

 Perhaps the time I enjoy the most are the days combing through the village for unvaccinated dogs.  Our driver, Ayubu, knows the area well as this is his village.  He greets the locals as old friends, there is a back and forth volley of pleasantries and greetings much like a quick tennis match until eventually the Swahili lob is tossed that asks if they have a dog or Mbwa in Swahili.  More than once, the answer is no but they are always willing to point us in the direction of canines or help with a personal walking guide to the neighbors.  As we follow the well-worn paths between houses, I can’t help but think how social the villagers are and how much they value personal relationships and interactions.  We find ourselves at mid-day under a giant tree or joining a family space in the cool shade out of the hot sun.  During these pauses in our day we attempt to learn phrases of Swahili which is usually accompanied with laughter from volunteers and locals alike.  Perhaps we take the time to negotiate the purchase of a ripe avocado or mango in local shillings.  It was on one such occasion that I was invited for a taste of the local fare, ugali.  Ugali is a cornmeal porridge of a dough-like consistency that is accompanied with a relish or side dish stew of vegetables or meat.  The family teaches me to use my thumb to make a depression in the dough and the ugali is used as a scoop much like flatbreads and tortillas are used in other cultures.

 Our evenings are filled with stories and laughter of the day’s experiences and we get to know our colleagues from other regions of the world.  We exchange contacts, send messages on WhatsApp, friend each other on Facebook and discover each other’s Instagram and other avenues of social media.

At the end of the project, we have formed lasting friendships that span language barriers, continents and time.  I have veterinary colleagues in Italy, Ireland, United Kingdom, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia and the United States. I have numerous friends in Tanzania that I have had the joy to work alongside in the field.  While traveling home I couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride for doing my small part to help with the worldwide elimination of rabies.  Truth be told, I feel a little bit guilty because I think I am getting back far more than I could ever put in!