Tonya Curtis is a vet from Palmetto Animal Health Center in the USA who joined us earlier this year in Zomba, Malawi to help vaccinate as many animals as possible to protect this community from rabies. Here are her highlights!
The trip was completely as expected and completely unexpected at the same time but I was excited by the prospect of helping the animals and people of Zomba. The project was extremely well organized and our leaders, Paul, Debs, Jo and Fred were just exceptional. I cannot say enough about the leaders of this mission; they are truly outstanding!
Our group of volunteers were incredible humans, and it seemed like we had been handpicked to be together even though we were complete strangers. The work was indeed work, but not impossible and it was incredibly rewarding. It felt a little intimidating at first, but was filled with compassion and everybody was there to make a positive difference.
The Zomba plateau was amazingly beautiful and the perfect setting! The snapshot in my mind will never be erased; the pictures do not do it justice. The weather was “winter” in Malawi but it was perfect, and we had an ideal two weeks.
Our days began early, as we awoke to hear the “call to prayer” from town, around 4:30am. Our team would muster at the breakfast table and then we were off to our trucks to meet the ground teams by 6:30 -7am. We worked static clinics two days, which were 8-hour days of consistent vaccinating to ensure we reached as many dogs as possible to protect them against rabies.
We then did our mapping and walking village to village to capture any missed dogs and cats. These days were very rewarding and sometimes tough – not physically but mentally, engaging and getting to know the locals and learning what was needed for their dogs and cats.
I primarily did the vaccinating. I shared the responsibility with another vaccinator but being a DVM I primarily vaccinated the animals and it felt incredible knowing each vaccine would have such a huge impact.
My highlight however was when a man from one of the villages, who was struggling on a cane, got up and walked over to me just to say thank you for coming and helping them. A second highlight would have to be a tie between a hippo charged safari and the hike on the Zomba plateau which was simply beautiful.
No single patient stood out but I loved it when the individuals would engage in conversation with us and teach us the language, and seeing all the kids with their dogs and cats that they clearly care a lot about.
It was surprising to learn how much people can adapt and make the best of what their countries have to offer. In places like this, projects like Mission Rabies show how just a little education can change how a culture treats their domesticated animals and have a huge impact for everyone living here. This incredible project has taught me to remember to be grateful for what I have, and to remember to always give back.