For the third year, Brief Media, publisher of Clinician’s Brief, partnered with the Mission Rabies team to send volunteer veterinary professionals to help vaccinate dogs against rabies during our Zomba city campaign. Here’s what Jessie Foley had to say about each day exploring Zomba…
We’ve finally arrived in Zomba, a city in southern Malawi. This year, we’re staying at a lodge near the Zomba Nature Reserve—it’s a beautiful place, and I’m looking forward to calling it home for the next few weeks.
We started our day with an early breakfast at 6:15 am and were quickly out the door at 7am to meet up with our teams. We split off into six teams: Crocodiles, Lions, Rhinos, Cheetahs, Monkeys, and Hippos. Each team consists of a Brief Media volunteer and two Mission Rabies representatives.
The weather was a bit brisk first thing this morning, but it quickly became quite pleasant as the day wore on. We spent the day vaccinating dogs at static clinics, which we set up in schoolhouses around Zomba. My team, the Hippos, vaccinated 362 dogs today! We had a successful day; more than 1,400 dogs overall were vaccinated at the static clinics. The Cheetahs and Monkeys vaccinated 500 in total, the Lions vaccinated 198, the Crocodiles vaccinated 150, and the Rhinos vaccinated 255.
On the Hippo team, I work with Prince and Tseka. My job today was to pull up vaccines, write vaccination cards, and communicate with the pet owners, with Prince’s help translating. While writing vaccination cards, I repeatedly see the same last names, such as Talada, Chikondi, Gift, and Given. Prince told me the word chikondi means love.
Zomba has been a bit different from Blantyre where we’ve volunteered in previous years, in that we have some free time in the afternoon. We closed our static clinics at 3 pm and wrapped up our work day replenishing supplies and preparing for tomorrow. The early break allows for hot showers, catching up with the other volunteers, and general downtime.
We were awoken this morning by one of the lodge cats, who felt it was his duty to jump in our window and rouse us all with his incessant meowing. For a room full of veterinary professionals, however, this was a welcome wake-up call (particularly as it was followed by an excellent breakfast of thin pancakes and fresh fruit).
In our team meeting this morning, before we broke off with our groups to continue static clinics, we found out that we had actually administered more than 2,000 vaccines yesterday! So far, this year’s drive has substantially surpassed the 2017 drive. Despite the fact that many residents of Zomba attend church services on Sunday, and we were expecting fewer people to visit the clinics, one of our static clinic teams still administered 140 vaccinations, whereas on this day last year, 98 vaccinations were administered.
The weather was pleasant today, but a bit chilly. I spent the day with my team at the Mvuu static clinic, which we set up outside in the shade—it was a nice change from the Oklahoma heat I’m accustomed to this time of year. Tomorrow, we start walking door-to-door to administer vaccinations, and I’m sure we’ll start to feel the heat more then. I also picked up a bit more Chichewa today! My group taught me how to ask the pet owner if his or her pet is male (wamuna) or female (wamukazi).
After two days of hosting static clinics in Zomba, we split into eight teams of three to trek door-to-door to vaccinate any dogs that were not brought to the clinics. We do quite a bit of walking on these days, but thankfully the weather held up for us—it could not have been more perfect.
On our first day trekking door-to-door, my group hiked a total of six miles. Many of the families we visited had already brought their dogs to the static clinics, so we had less vaccinating to do than expected, but we have already administered more than 3,000 vaccinations.
As we go, we often get to sit and chat with families, and many offer us refreshments along the way. One team got to try cassava, a tuberous root of a tree native to tropical climates; it’s one of Malawi’s main crops. You’ve probably seen the powdery version at the grocery store - in that form, it’s called tapioca. At any rate, we learned that although cassava is an excellent source of carbs, if raw cassava isn’t prepared properly, it can carry trace amounts of cyanide (sometimes enough to be toxic)!
Next up: time for our 2-day trip to the Majete Wildlife Reserve.
It would be an understatement to say we had an amazing time! The drive in was stunning, and our tents were immaculate. As we stepped out to dinner on our first day, we came upon three enormous elephants, standing at our back porch. We were a bit awestruck, to say the least.
The 3-hour safari—the primary highlight of our time at the resort—was a breath-taking experience. We set out late in the afternoon and didn’t return to the resort until much later that evening. We saw an incredible assortment of wildlife—my favourite was definitely the leopard!
On Friday morning, we were up at 6am for breakfast, and found ourselves on a gorgeous patio watching wildlife approach a nearby watering hole. After breakfast, we went on a boat ride, during which we spotted a hippo. Said hippo did not greet us with the same enthusiasm we felt—he leapt from the sand dune and charged at our boat. Our guide explained that hippos charge when they feel threatened so it was clear it didn’t see us as friends.
I can’t believe we’re already on our last week in Zomba—time has flown by. We’ve spent the last few days working in static clinics and trekking door-to-door, as usual, and Wednesday will be our last door-to-door day. We all begin traveling home early on Thursday. I am thrilled to share that the number of vaccinations this year have far exceeded those administered last year! So proud to be working with this team!
Saturday and Sunday were the final days for static clinics. On Sunday, we got to chat with Debs and Paul, the Mission Rabies coordinators for the Zomba drive, when they brought their dogs, Henry and Chibonga, to be vaccinated. Debs and Paul have done an incredible job, and they always do it with a smile.
This week I am working with the Lion team, which means I get to work with Yamikani again! He, Isaac, and I work very well together and have a lot of laughs. Our driver, Kingsley, likes to listen to Dolly Parton. On Sunday morning, while driving to our static clinic, we all sang “If You Think About Love” very loudly with the windows down.
At one of our static clinics, I met a woman named Joelle, who brought her dogs, Tinkerbell and Kiera, to be vaccinated. She spoke fluent English and insisted on speaking English instead of Chichewa. She told me she and her family have learned English from watching cartoons on BBC.
Monday and Tuesday were full door-to-door days, from 7am to around 4pm. Most teams walked between five and nine miles per day. On Tuesday, Shelley’s team, the Crocodiles, visited a home that seemed to belong to a breeder. Over the course of about an hour, they vaccinated a total of 40 dogs: 27 puppies and 13 adults. The dogs were well treated and seemed to be cared for.
Tomorrow will be our last door-to-door day. It is hard to believe two weeks have passed—I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with the volunteers, have had a great time catching up with Fred (the liaison between Brief Media and Mission Rabies), and enjoyed getting to know Jo, Debs, and Paul better!
Thank you so much for reading about our journey. Watch for upcoming opportunities to serve with Mission Rabies. It’s truly an incredible experience! — Jessie Foley
You can read more about Clinician's Brief and Brief Media's previous missions with us on their blog!