submission by Deidra Metzler of Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine
When travelling to South Africa as a veterinary student, one might anticipate being awed by the unique wildlife, different veterinary medical techniques and a foreign cultural environment. While planning my trip to South Africa with EcoLife Expeditions I was expecting just that. I witnessed game capture techniques from a helicopter, raced to relocate anesthetized zebra and antelope, observed a large variety of wildlife, and consumed an assortment of new foods. What I was not expecting was to have a single day in an impoverished community completely change my perspective on my future career and life plans.
Dr. Reneè van Rheede van Oudtshoorn is the primary veterinarian working for Vets for Change South Africa, and I had the incredible opportunity to experience what she does first hand. She works closely with her outstanding team of volunteers to promote animal population control, humane education, rabies elimination and veterinary student training in impoverished and rural regions of South Africa. The team spends many hours a week sterilizing, vaccinating and educating. They lead communities by setting excellent examples with their target audience being the children of the community.
Providing low cost or free services to communities in need has always been an area of interest to me within veterinary medicine. However, the methods that Dr. Reneè and her team utilize through Vets for Change South Africa shed new light on my interests. Instead of simply providing vaccinations and sterilization in a clinic available to the communities, they reach out to areas in need and provide services in the homes of the pet owners. This approach alleviates complications of transportation, promotes owner and pet comfort, and even increases awareness and education by having their team present in the community. Additionally, it helps promote success with limited resources. For example, they promote the use of local herbs as insect repellents, or the use of running lines instead of a short lead tie up or free roaming pet.
Dr. Reneè heavily emphasized the importance of working with the communities, not just in them, to achieve a common goal. Dr. Reneè helped me understand that there has to be give and take in terms of services rendered and payments received within these projects. She spoke of an instance where a child understood the importance of sterilizing his dog, but the most payment he could offer was a few pieces of candy. While this may not be a traditional method of payment, Dr. Reneè performed the procedure highlighting this instance as a moment of working within the means of the community to achieve the overall goal. She also helped me see that the children of the community are the strongest assets to the success of Vets for Change projects. Without a strong influence on the children in the community, there would be very little progress in promoting the goals of sterilization, vaccination and humane education. When taught at a young age, these important concepts are carried into adulthood and are taught to others in the community throughout the duration of their lives.
In addition to all the phenomenal veterinary work that Dr. Reneè and her team accomplish in Vets for Change, they also sponsor a community daycare, provide food and teaching tools for children, and medical care for a young girl with Cerebral Palsy. I was able to witness Dr. Reneè’s compassion for the children of the daycare first hand when she greeted them with hugs and kisses during our visit. I also experienced her extreme gratitude upon our group delivering bags of donations for the daycare made by the students of Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine.
The Vets for Change South Africa team goes above and beyond what an ordinary veterinary team might do in similar circumstances. I feel honored to have played a small role in one of their community projects as well as help deliver donated items to the community daycare they sponsor. Dr. Reneè has shown me that I don’t have to limit myself to exclusively veterinary work once I’m done with school. I now have more confidence that I can incorporate more than one interest into my future career, and hopefully it will involve a line of community service similar to what she is currently performing.