Volunteering: Changing Lives in Tanzania

Post by

Jaigar O'Neill

June 4th 2021

We began 2021 with an outreach project in Tanzania. Over two weeks, we vaccinated 7,703 dogs against rabies and delivered our life-saving prevention lessons to 27,132 children across 65 schools. It was a mammoth effort but as you know, many hands make light work - and we have our volunteers to thank for that!

We were overjoyed to have both local and international volunteers assist with the campaign. Our charity partner Mbwa Wa Africa sought out local help while we reached out to our international supporters. In the end, volunteers from the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and New Zealand, and various backgrounds - veterinarians, vet nurses, and non-vets - travelled to Tanzania to take part. Out of the 11 international volunteers, 5 had volunteered with us before and were ready for round two of the ultimate volunteering experience.

Let's introduce you to one of these superheroes, Rob, a veterinarian from England. Alongside his partner, who is also a veterinarian, Rob has volunteered with us in India and now in Tanzania. Here's what he had to say about his most recent experience in 2021. 

The Arrival

"We flew out of a quiet Heathrow in mid-January via Addis Ababa to Kilimanjaro Airport in northern Tanzania. We were met at the airport by the local drivers for the charity and whisked to the accommodation in Usa River, our base for the project. Here we met up with the other nine participants, six Americans, one vet from New Zealand, a recently retired English vet, a Scottish vet nurse, and the two Mission Rabies co-ordinators. The charity had used the accommodation before, and it was basic and clean. The food was excellent throughout, although the cassava did not meet with universal approval"

How it began

"Our first working day, a Saturday, was an early start, up at 6.30 am for a good breakfast, and then we met our teams. As both Mandy and I had volunteered before, we had a driver and team leader assigned to us. In light of the current pandemic, there were strict health and safety protocols in place throughout the project to ensure that we worked in a COVID-secure way. All volunteers and staff underwent daily health checks and followed WHO guidelines on social distancing, wearing of facemasks, and personal hygiene throughout the project. Social distancing was also encouraged at all clinic locations, with members of the public asked to remain distanced from one another and to only bring up their dog for vaccination one person at a time. All the Tanzanian staff had previously worked for Mission Rabies, so they knew what had to be done."

"So, we set out to our first destination, a primary school, where the dogs and cats would be brought to us for vaccination. Our presence there had been advertised in the schools and locally on posters and it wasn't long before the first dogs started appearing - usually on makeshift leads, made of anything from rope to bicycle chains to wire!"

The welfare of dogs

"All the details about the dogs are recorded on the WVS Data Collection App so that the data regarding numbers of dogs could be centrally collated at the end of the day. Also, if any of the dogs were sick or had health issues, that was noted, and the local animal rescue charity (Mbwa Wa Africa) informed so that the owner could be helped to get the dog treated. We saw some infected dog fight wounds and one poor dog where the owner had attempted to castrate his dog with an elastic band, which had caused a very nasty skin wound! Many of the puppies were in quite a poor condition, either due to a poor diet or possibly having a significant worm burden. We were provided with injectable Ivermectin which we were encouraged to use where necessary and appropriate. However, most of the dogs were in reasonable condition and the lack of obese dogs was quite marked. Occasionally an already neutered dog was brought in and these tended to be in the best condition."

"Owners were asked whether they were interested in getting their dogs neutered. Alongside the rabies vaccination drive, three vets were running a sterilisation programme organised jointly by Worldwide Veterinary Service and Mbwa Wa Africa, neutering as many dogs as possible. The conditions the veterinary team was operating in were challenging, sometimes with only a head torch as the sole source of light! The volunteers always returned to the accommodation later than us in the evenings, but we usually left them some food!"


Mobile Vaccinations

"On the weekdays, when the schools were occupied, we went mobile and drove slowly around a designated area advertising our presence and purpose using a loudhailer. The navigation is done using the WVS app, which enables users to view road and satellite maps of the area. Thus, you can see from the App where the houses and therefore where the dogs are likely to be. However, what may look like a track on the App may not turn out to be one, and we would have to turn around and find another way. Often the best technique for finding the dogs was to stop at a village shop (which sells anything from sodas to toothpaste to washing detergent!) and ask a local where the local dogs resided. Usually, then dogs would emerge out of the houses as word spread around that a vaccination team was present. The areas that are being vaccinated are gradually growing each year and more and more dogs are being protected."

A Success

"The vaccination drives in Tanzania have been happening for 6 years now and the 2021 campaign has had the largest number injected so far. Even more impressively, we didn’t find any rabid dogs, compared to the year prior when two were discovered."

"Overall, it was a great experience and we both felt that we had made a difference. Vaccinating dogs is seen as very tedious work in the UK because the diseases that we are vaccinating against are rarely seen and do not have such terrible consequences as rabies does in any animal. So hopefully we have helped to prevent the spread of rabies in that small district of Tanzania and potentially saved a life or two."

You can volunteer with us too, and help deliver our life-saving programmes worldwide.