This year, our Uganda campaign focused on the forest corridors around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Heather was one of our incredible volunteers who joined us to vaccinate dogs in this rabies hotspot - this is her story...
I vividly remember sitting in a condo with my sister in Orlando this past January with no idea where I was going or what I really wanted to do next in my career. I checked my email and my attention was caught by a Clinician’s Brief email that was seeking volunteers to go to India or Uganda in 2019 as part of a Mission Rabies team. I immediately opened the application and started working on it. I didn’t know much about it but I did know with all my heart that I wanted to go back to Africa and serve the people and animals with my professional knowledge and experience.
I was over the moon when I officially found out that I had been selected to be a member of the Mission Rabies Uganda 2019 vaccination drive. I shared the adventures of my travel vaccinations, applying for a visa and my preparations for the trip with all my friends who were amazed to hear about my next adventure.
Upon my arrival in Entebbe, Uganda, I was quick to discover that I was going to be seeing and interacting with Africa in a way I never even dreamed of. Before the drive began, I was afforded the opportunity to view wildlife in Lake Mburo National Park and to go gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Both adventures were beyond incredible! I learned so much about Uganda and some of their unique strategies to improving their own lives while preserving the wildlife populations.
The MR Uganda team formally convened in Kabale at the picturesque White Horse Inn. We came from at least four different countries with a myriad of backgrounds and experiences. We met with our local volunteers and had a formal presentation on all the work that MR is conducting across the globe. It is astounding that tens of thousands of people, mostly children, still die from a disease that is completely preventable with proper vaccination and elimination of the disease in the dog population. While our work seemed technically simple, it will have a lasting impact on these communities.
We spent the next eight days travelling to different locations to administer the rabies vaccines, providing owners with a vaccine certificate and gathering data on all the dogs we vaccinated. This was the first time MR had performed a vaccination drive in such a remote region with difficult terrain so it was a lot of fun getting to these communities.
Dogs in Uganda are not handled the same way here as they are back home in the States. Most often, they are used for hunting, working livestock or protection. This made handling the dogs a challenge at times but I admired that every community had at least one person determined to ensure all the dogs got vaccinated. They also helped spread the word so everyone knew where to come to get their dogs vaccinated.
In total, my team vaccinated 420 dogs and the entire group vaccinated more than 3,000 dogs!!
I got to see parts of Uganda that I would have never seen just as a tourist and our group was showered with gratitude and respect from the local community. I witnessed the Pearl of Africa with beautiful scenery, very kind people, delicious food and enthusiastic children. My life perspective has been forever changed by this experience. When asked if I would go again… ABSOLUTELY!!
Have you been inspired by Heather’s story? Take a look at the projects you could be a part of in 2020!