VWB/VSF Student Project: Ghana

Monday, May 31, 2010

Welcome to Ghana

Wachiau Hippo Sanctuary

We made plans to spend the weekend at the Wachiau Hippo Sanctuary. It is about an hour drive from Wa. Early Saturday morning we received a call from one of our contacts regarding some sick guinea fowl. So after driving out to the village and performing the necropsies we were ready to head out. We arrived in Wachiau at 2:30 pm. While we were registering with the tour guides in came a massive storm which grounded us for over an hour. We were then able to drive out to the sanctuary, another 30 min drive on bumpy roads. The sanctuary is a protected stretch of land spanning 40 km along the Black Volta River which runs through Ghana, Burkina Faso and the Ivory Coast. A partnership with the Calgary Zoo accounts for most of the funding but the sanctuary itself is run by the local community. We unpacked our things while waiting to see if we could still go out on a river safari. Luckily the rain had stopped and the guides thought it to be a nice time to go out.

We set sail at 5 pm. Our vessel was a sturdy wooden canoe and our driver was a young deaf man whose ability to paddle for nearly 2 hours straight still amazes me. The scenery was breathtaking. Miles and miles of lush tropical bush with the sun touching down in the background. We paddled in complete silence, only hearing the gentle flow of the river and the symphony of wildlife surrounding us. We travelled for over an hour with no hippos in sight. We passed by local fisherman who kept saying the hippos were just a bit farther. Hippos are unsocial animals that try to escape noise and are said to be able to swim faster than a horse runs on land, explaining the nickname 'water horse.' Just as we thought we might need to turn back, with the sun nearly set and the rain gently falling, we saw in the distance what appeared to be a small school of hippos. What we first thought to be a group of rocks suddenly blew water into the air and made an impressive grunt which echoed through the bush. We had found them! A school of seven hippos. We paddled a little closer and set our boat along the banks. We were able to see them yawn and play and emerge from the water. They are giant and impressive animals, being the second largest land animal only behind the elephant. We sat for about 20 minutes, watching, in complete awe of their presence. It was amazing to see them in their natural habitat, completely undisturbed. After that we made our way back to the docking point. We paddled in complete darkness, with a sort of eerie tranquility.

We returned to camp and cooked our food over a small charcoal stove and were told local tales by our tour guide. It was a great experience and I hope to return before we leave. Next time we hope to sleep on the 'hippo hide', a tree fort that overlooks the river which unfortunately because of the weather was not an option this time. I took some great video which, due to the internet connection, will have to wait until august to be posted.

I am really starting to settle into the African lifestyle - I have made some great new friends, tried some exotic foods, chased lizards out of my room, and am riddled with bites from all sorts of insects. The time is rushing by and I can't wait to set out on another adventure soon.

All the best,


Friday, May 28, 2010

Getting set up

Ansoma (Good morning),

Since I last wrote our supervisors have made their way back to Canada. We are now working out our systems for the disease surveillance part of the project. We have been out to each village and had meetings with the farmers. They are very interested in the project and are happy to have us work with them. Our village contacts have been great; calling us when they find sick birds for us to pick up and necropsy. So far it seems as if we came at the right time as mortalities are increasing. We are getting good samples and are hoping they will help lead us to a diagnosis.

The village visits are my favorite part of the trip so far. The people are very friendly and are quick to find us a place to sit and serve us 'peto' - a local homemade brew that is drunk out of a hallow gourd halve. The children are always very excited to see us yelling 'Ensala (white man), how are you today?'. Simple gestures such as holding their hand, kicking around a football, or teaching them how to play 'tic-tac-toe' in the sand is all that is needed to put a great big smile on their face. I hope to be able to spend some extended time in the villages in order to better get to know the people. Our office and lab is set up within the Ministry of Food and Agriculture which allows us to also see any veterinary cases coming in. They have graciously allowed us to use one of their vehicles for the summer so we can drive out to villages to pick up sick birds.

For some more good news, I have tracked down a local watering hole that is close to our house. It is a small 'drinking spot' called 'Redemption's Drinking Spot' owned by Redemption and his family. He joined us for a beer and we had some great conversation. It will be a great place to sample one of Ghana's fine beers after a long days work.

All the best,


Wednesday, May 26, 2010


wow, the project is coming along quickly! Steve and I have a vehicle to use and have been driving..one thing...there are no maps! Also, no addresses and no street names! It makes things a bit challenging but the people are so helpful that you can stop and ask anyone. Driving here requires concentration with all the goats, sheep, chickens, motorbikes, bicycles and people all on the street, a horn is a necessity!
I have finally moved into my more permanent home and am quite happy, there is running water and a stove so I can cook! yippee! The landlord also said it is not a problem if I want to keep goats or sheep or chickens there. I could not be happier. Right next door is a little enclosed farm area and I feed the animals my vegetable and fruit scraps, there are also free range animals everywhere and some very cute pygmy goats!
The office is great, it is in the veterinary and agriculture complex and the clinic is just outside the window so when I see some animals coming in all we have to do is step out the door and we can partake in the activities.
As for the bird necropsies, we received 9 birds yesyerday and got samples from them all. It looks very promising. We have a meeting this friday in a village called Nator and will continue on with meetings the next week in the other villages.
All is well in Africa!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Wow, what an incredible place. I have been very busy ever since I have arrived. The flight here I just made it, luckily my brother Bobbie found the mailman who was carrying my visa and passport and we just made it to the airport!! I am currently with the "team" in Wa which is in the Upper West Region of Ghana. It is rural and contains many beautiful villages. There are many trees and the people are amazing. I have had the opportunity to partake in the many meetings we have had here to set up our project. The village meetings are the best! The villagers are very enthusiastic about the project and I hope we will be able to determine why their Guinea Fowl and chickens are dying each year. We have already had a chance to necropsy two specimens.
I hope I will be able to post some pictures soon so you can grasp the essence and the beauty of Afria. The villages I have been to are very peaceful and very family orientated. There is a lot of respect for the elders and they are more than willing to work with us to improve their animal health and food security. I love seeing all of the chickens, goats, sheep and cattle free range.
I will continue to update this blog with the project's progress as the internet connection permits...

Week One


The last week has been a blur to say the least. I finally have some time to reflect on what we have accomplished in this short time. Dr. Hunter and Dr. Luginaah are only with us for a couple more days so this week has consisted of long hours trying to complete as much as possible. We have been meeting with existing contacts and forming new ones. It has been nothing short of amazing to be able to meet with government officials, directors of veterinary laboratories, and chairmen of other NGOs. The Ghanaian people have been extremely supportive in our endeavour and have gone to great lengths to help us. In one of our meetings a government minister gave praise to Canada and its people, explaining how much Canada's charitable donations have positively impacted his nation. I can say without a doubt this was my proudest moment as a Canadian citizen.
We also made our initial visits to each of the four villages . Again, we were greeted with hospitality and enthusiasm. The communities are very willing to participate in our program which is a positive start. I look forward to our next visits when will start our disease surveillance and community interviews.
I am adjusting to the heat and the new culture. Being surrounded by friendly faces and warm welcomes has eased the transition. We face many challenges in these next three months but I am certain the outcomes will be positive. Everyday new barriers are overcome and progression is made. I am excited to see what these next few weeks have in store!

All the best,

Thursday, May 13, 2010

We made it!

Greetings from Accra,

After a day and a bit of travelling the Team has made it into Ghana. Kirstin and I arrived around 3 pm Ghana time and were met at the airport by a local contact. The first thing we both noticed was the intense heat and humidity, it is clear that staying properly hydrated is a must! Dr. Hunter and Dr. Luginnah made it in safely late last night so we were able to meet at breakfast and run over the initial plan. We will be spending the week in Accra to meet contacts and organize supplies. We hope to arrange for a car to take us up to Wa this weekend. The people we have met so far have been extremely friendly and accommodating. Last night we were able to sample some local beer and food, both very delicious. The team is excited to get everything going and spirits are high!
All the best,

Monday, May 10, 2010

One more day!

After months of hard work and prepation the day is almost here. I will be flying out of Saskatoon tomorrow morning and will arrive in Accra the following day. I am extremely excited to be working with VWB/VSF and feel privileged to take part on this project. I would like to thank everyone who has supported me on this trip - Chicken Farmers of Saskatchewan, Saskatchewan Chicken Industry and Investment Fund, Fox and Hounds, the University of Saskatchewan and of course to all professors and staff who showed overwhelming support from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine. I am thrilled to be representing the WCVM and to serve as an ambassador for Canada. Please stay tuned for further posts, I plan to document our trip as best as possible. To all my friends and family I wish you a relaxing and enjoyable summer and look forward to meeting you all upon my return.

All the best,