New national network to provide co-ordinated front for veterinary students working abroad
BY BARRY GUNN, OVC
Global Vets has gone national. Veterinary students across Canada have launched a new partnership to co-ordinate their efforts in promoting animal health and welfare, agricultural development and ecosystem health in developing countries.
Although individual Global Vets/Défi-Vet Monde programs have been a presence on university campuses since the mid-1990s, this year marks the beginning of a national network with a common mission. The network was launched earlier this year at the annual symposium of Students of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association.
“We're part of the future generation of health-care providers, so we're looking for opportunities in developing countries to become exposed to the animal health and socio-economic issues faced by these communities,” says Mira Ziolo, a second-year student at the Ontario Veterinary College.
“Our experiences from these travels will provide us with insights into these issues so that one day we'll be able to work with these communities to help them build toward a sustainable future,” she says. “That knowledge and understanding will also help us become better vets working in Canada.”
Global Vets began in 1994 with the formation of Défi-Vet Monde at the University of Montreal's veterinary college in Saint-Hyacinthe, Que. Students at OVC and the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon soon followed suit, and the program has been growing ever since.
The students are mentored by faculty at their respective colleges and will also receive guidance from members of Veterinarians Without Borders (VWB)/Vétérinaires sans frontieres-Canada. VWB is already successfully established in several European countries, but VWB-Canada is a first for North America. Its mission is to build on work already being done by Canadian veterinarians in fostering the health of animals, people and the environment in developing countries.
Beginning in May, 11 second-year students from OVC — all women — will fan out across the globe in four teams, each spending six to eight weeks in their host country. The teams will work on projects in wildlife conservation, companion-animal medicine, farm-animal medicine and productivity research, zoonotic diseases and public education in Peru, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.
Although it may sound like an exotic way to spend the summer, the Global Vets program is not for everyone. Students are thoroughly screened to ensure they are fully aware of the personal and professional challenges of working in a developing country. A selection committee made up of faculty and Global Vets alumni evaluates their proposals and helps the selected teams create feasible projects.
“This is not a holiday,” says Prof. Andrew Peregrine, Pathobiology, who shares faculty adviser duties with Profs. Dale Smith, Pathobiology, and David Waltner-Toews, Population Medicine. “It's an intensive learning program that involves working in different cultures and gaining an understanding of the different ways people manage farm animals, pets and wildlife.”
Peregrine says students gain valuable experience working with species and studying diseases they might not otherwise see in Canada. Host organizations, which often have limited resources, benefit from the outside contact and having a few extra pairs of hands to share the workload.
Global Vets not only requires an extra level of commitment from students who are already extremely busy, but it also costs money. And each group is responsible for fundraising to cover expenses, as much as $6,000 per person.
With a lot of hard work, this year's Global Vets group at OVC has managed to more than double contributions from sponsors, says Suzanne Chenard, part of a team headed for East Africa to work on small dairy farm projects with community and women's groups. Sponsors range from corporations like Intervet to 13-year-old Marnie Hale of Fergus.
Hale got involved following the tsunami that struck Southeast Asia Dec. 26. Using her birthday party as a fundraiser, she invited classmates to make donations in lieu of gifts. In addition to $150 for Global Vets, she was able to raise money for two humane societies and the World Wildlife Fund. Chenard and her Global Vets partner, Tereza Korbel, will be matching that donation, giving at least $150 to one of the projects they are visiting.
“Sponsor support means a lot,” says Chenard. “We were able to increase funding this year because we were able to show our sponsors where their money went. But at the end of the day, even if I have to pay for the whole trip out of my own pocket, I'm getting on that plane.”
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