Field Report - Engaging local communities in Goa

Post by
Frederic Lohr
August 27th 2015

Our returning vet student volunteer Amy joined our ranks for the second time this year, conducting a research project at our successful Mission Rabies campaign in Goa. Read here about her experiences in Goa and what it means for the locals to live with a stray dog population:

"Seems it only took me 3 months to go wandering again! After my hugely inspirational trip to Malawi (see my last blog ), and analysing the MR Nagpur data (2013) for my dissertation, I was spurred on to conduct a research project of my own.
In 2014 Mission Rabies sterilised 20,414 dogs in 6 months across Goa - 1 year on I am back to analyse the population change and, by talking to locals, gage the community perception of street dogs, their control and rabies awareness. But to you and me this involves waking up with the sun and walking around surprising locals by taking pictures of dogs outside their houses as they sleepily pick up their morning papers - I have had a couple of interesting encounters.

To aid me with this project, I have enlisted the help of the local college who have provided me with 4 2nd year social science students. They have proved themselves to be invaluable in all aspects, especially due to the fact that they can speak Konkani, Hindi and English fluently - leaving me smiling and nodding whilst they chatter away to locals filling in the questionnaires. They have speedily mastered the Mission Rabies App, leaving me with loads of data to analyse every evening. We have had a largely positive response from the local communities so far, many people offer us tea and a sweet treat (we even got some birthday cake), and it is nice to get out of the heat of the day. Mostly people are keen to give their opinions on stray dogs and I am finding it very interesting hearing what they believe is best for control of dog populations and preventing rabies.

A local newspaper headline caught my eye last week 'Porvorim residents in grip of stray dog menace' (The Navhind Times, Aug 17th, 2015). It is clear from the responses to our questionnaires that street dogs are a big issue for some of the locals. Many fear them and have concerns about the traffic accidents that they have the potential to cause. I spoke to a family who had to pay for rabies treatment after a stray dog bit their daughter - at 7,000 Rupees this was almost a month's salary! In areas such as this, the general consensus is that they would like the dogs relocated, where to is another matter. However this is not the case for all. We spoke to a community yesterday who have befriended the stray dog population and these dogs will guard their properties. For them, the alliance they have formed is a valuable part of living where they do and eradication of the dog population would not benefit either side. This research has made me appreciate the importance of working alongside communities through local participation and education. A one-size-fits all approach to stray dog management may not be the most appropriate. We need to engage the governments, schools and community leaders, to increase awareness of rabies, lobby for cleaner streets and promote a symbiotic relationship between dog and man.

That's enough of the soapbox talk!

Even though this is my 4th trip to India, I have still only scratched the surface when discovering this beautiful country. We were privileged to be invited to one of my volunteers' homes for Sunday lunch last week, slightly different to the roast beef we're used to in the UK. Here we experienced a snapshot of Hindu culture, treated to gifts of Sarees, Mendi, and each blessed with a Bindi and flowers for our hair.
Having managed to coerce my best friend, Jenny, out on my adventure, I am enjoying introducing her to Indian culture, watching her attempt to eat fish Thali (a traditional Goan dish) with her hands was highly amusing. It is both of our 22nd birthdays next week, I can't wait to show her the beauty that South Goa has to offer during our relaxing few days off. But we can't get too comfortable, 4 new enthusiastic students and hundreds of dogs are awaiting us in Margao!"

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