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WCVM veterinary students Ilse Dedden (left) and Katie Nicols. Photo: Myrna MacDonald.

Goat project passes on skills to students

By the time Ilse Dedden and Katie Nicol return to their classes at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine this August, the third-year veterinary students should be experts when it comes to working with and caring for goats.

The pair will spend their summer in Uganda, Africa, taking part in a goat pass-on project as volunteers for Veterinarians Without Borders-Vétérinaires sans frontières (VWB/VSF).

"Neither of us has extensive experience with goats, but we've been working closely with (WCVM professor) Dr. Claire Card, who is our project leader for the Uganda placement," says Dedden. "We've also received training from the parasitology department on how to screen for parasites, and we'll visit a local well-managed goat farm to practise some skills before we leave."

Dedden and Nicol are excited to be working with VWB/VSF, an organization that's recognized for its dedication to animal and human welfare as well as to the environment. The goat production project — now in its seventh year — was initiated by Card in collaboration with the University of Saskatchewan, the Foundation for AIDS Orphaned Children and VWB/VSF.

"In my first year, I had the chance to see a presentation by the students who had participated in projects the previous summer," recalls Dedden. "Once I got an understanding of what VWB/VSF was all about, I knew for sure that I wanted to volunteer with them."

Through Skype, Dedden and Nicol have met some members of the Canadian VWB/VSF team who will provide them with ground support during their three months in Mbarara, a rural community in southern Uganda.

They'll also work with three other third-year students, Elad Ben-Ezra, Tara Bocking and Devon Wilson, who are volunteers for WCVM Global Vets – a student-organized program that promotes international veterinary health care.

The goat pass-on project is aimed specifically at assisting women and children who have lost family members to HIV/AIDS. Besides helping widows and orphans to raise healthy livestock, the volunteers will be vaccinating and examining goats, training local para-veterinarians and educating farmers on how to raise sustainably healthy goats.

In addition to honing their goat husbandry skills in preparation for the project, Dedden and Nicol have been busy raising funds to contribute to the program and have collected around $10,000 so far.

"We organized a pulled pork lunch that was sponsored by Sask Pork," says Nicol, "and we approached private companies and friends and family for support. The WCVM and the University of Saskatchewan generously contributed, and we received sponsorship from the university's One Health Initiative."

The students also set up an online donation page, https://www.vetswithoutborders.ca/wcvm, which makes it possible for donors to purchase a goat for $50 — the cost of a goat in Uganda. This summer the volunteers will hand-deliver these goats to families in need.

"The goats help these women to make a small income, and that helps them send their children to school and feed their family," explains Dedden and Nicol, who have raised over $2,000 toward the purchase of goats.
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