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Vets For Change: A One Health expedition in South Africa

Sara Shafer, 6th Semester RUSVM Student, shares her experience as part of an Ecolife expedition in South Africa.

I was fortunate to spend the April 2015 break on an Ecolife expedition in South Africa with fellow RUSVM students Ms. Katey Wahlen and Ms. Tricyn Huntsman. We worked with Vets for Change South Africa, a One-Health oriented group that works tirelessly to improve both human and animal welfare through community education and veterinary healthcare. We spent time with founder Dr. Renee Van Rheede Van Oudtshoorn and her extremely dedicated team of volunteers in the townships and impoverished settlements of South Africa.

As part of our volunteer work, we took a census of all the dogs we came across, recording whether they had been spayed or neutered, and vaccinated dogs and cats. In addition, we also were able to interact with the locals and to educate them about the importance of providing shade and water for their animals. I even helped a woman bathe her dog. We had a great time making a difference in these animals' lives as well as interacting with, and educating their owners.

Vets for Change South Africa has made an incredible difference in animal welfare, but also in the lives of many children within these underprivileged communities. Dr. Van Oudtshoorn and her team spend hours every week sterilizing and vaccinating animals. Even with their limited funding, they sponsor a community daycare and provide both food and teaching tools for children that may otherwise go without. They have also provided medical care for a young girl with cerebral palsy who has only her grandmother to care for her.

Katey, Tricyn and I were moved by the work they do, and felt compelled to contribute in any way we could. We each made private donations while in South Africa and left with the hope of doing more in the future. After returning to St. Kitts, we heard that funding was lost for some of the children at the Sunrise Daycare that was sponsored by Vets for Change South Africa. This news was the push we needed to organize a fundraiser. Regardless of the proximity to finals we knew this was our chance to make a difference. Another group of RUSVM students was traveling back to South Africa during the August 2015 break and several of them volunteered to deliver any donations we collected.  

We spoke to each semester individually, posted on all Facebook™ class pages, and asked 7th semester students to donate items they weren't able to sell. RUSVM students as a whole responded overwhelmingly to this cause. In a collaborative effort between students, faculty, and the RUSVM community as a whole, we received enough donated supplies to fill three large suitcases with books, school supplies, first aid kits, vitamins, toys, clothes and more. Additionally, I am proud to say that we raised just over EC$7,000 (US$2,600) which equates to about 32,000 South African Rand. A gift of this amount will fund their programs for nearly a year.

A significant portion will help sponsor several children in the daycare to provide food, clothing, and an education for a full year. Additionally, some of the funds will provide continued medical care and schooling for Irene (a 5-year-old girl with cerebral palsy found in a trash heap by Van Oudtshoorn and her team). A portion will also be used to buy enough textbooks for an entire school in one of the poorer communities. And finally, some remaining funds will be used to purchase vaccines and medical supplies for animals and children alike.

We are overwhelmed by the generosity of our fellow students, and the directors of Vets for Change South Africa expressed their extreme gratitude. It has been an absolute honor to have this opportunity to make such a positive impact in the lives of others.

This team truly takes the meaning of “Vets for Change” to heart. Through their efforts and daily examples they hope to change lives and help people develop healthy relationships with the animals around them. This team does not think in the short term, but rather works to make a real change that will last for generations to come.

Dr. Van Oudtshoorn and her team's projects are growing by the day, and from 2016 will be run by CVSSA Community and veterinary services for Southern Africa. For more information, visit www.vetsforchange.org.za.

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