VWB/VSF was founded in 2005 to facilitate volunteer work by Canadian veterinarians in developing countries around the world. Since that time volunteers have played an important role in VWB/VSF's work. And while the majority of volunteers continue to be veterinarians and vet students, the range of skills has expanded to include food safety specialists, animal and human nutritionists, community developers, community health specialists, and others.
In 2015, VWB/VSF launched a new program that substantially increased its capacity to send volunteers overseas. Volunteers for Healthy Animals and Healthy Communities will involve more than 100 volunteer placements in Africa and Asia over a five year period. The program will be looking for veterinarians, veterinary technologists, animal and human nutritionists, professors of veterinary medicine, veterinary clinic managers, rural development specialists, business development advisors, monitoring and evaluation, gender specialists and others. Placements may be as short as 3 weeks or as long as 2 years, depending on the position.
Veterinarians – Poultry Specialist, Small Ruminant Specialist, Field Veterinarians (generalists), Dairy Specialists, Lecturers in Veterinary Medicine
VWB has a unique connection with Canada’s veterinary medicine community and through that connection can offer highly specialized, and highly needed animal health volunteers. Through this project, VWB plans to engage carefully selected veterinarians for placements lasting between one month and one year. Veterinarians will support local counterparts to deliver services and build skills. Some of the positions will be focused on the field, working with veterinarians, para-vets, and agriculture extension workers to provide expert services in poultry, dairy, swine, and small ruminant (goat) production. Other, more senior Canadian vets will work with Universities as guest lecturers on specialized topics and curriculum development advisors, and government ministries and elected officials on policies related to animal health.
Veterinary Clinic and Lab Staff – Veterinary Clinic Management Advisors, Laboratory trainers, animal health laboratory specialists
The importance of reliable labs cannot be underestimated. Accurate analysis is critically important in the diagnosis and treatment of animal diseases. For example, vaccinating animals that are already infected is counterproductive and a waste of scarce resources. Field veterinarians and “para-vets” rely on accurate intelligence from the lab. Canadian experts will be recruited to help set up efficient new labs or reorganize/update existing labs. Always, this will be done with the specific intent of training local people and establishing sustainable local capacity.
Health Risk and Assessment Advisors, Health Economists, Human Nutritionists, Food Safety Specialists, Community Health Workers/Advisors
Livestock production can have a significant impact on human health – both positive and negative. Livestock workers face specific and unique health risks through close contact with animals, and zoonotic diseases are a very genuine threat to the broader population. Animal-based food products – meat, eggs, and milk – offer significant health risks if they are not properly processed and handled. Yet the benefits of animal- based foods for human health are also substantial, especially in the communities of the global south where people are chronically short of protein. These health professional positions will help to ensure that the farmers involved in livestock production remain healthy and experience maximum nutritional benefit from meat and other animal-based food production.
Community-Based Participatory Research Specialists
Social science is an important part of the equation in providing effective animal health services in low-income communities. Every human endeavor is influenced by the community context within which it takes place. To be able to build animal health capacity in villages and rural communities, animal health workers must understand not only the specific animal health challenges faces by that community, but also the social context. For example, who is looking after the animals? What social constraints are preventing them from caring for the animals in the best possible way? Who benefits from livestock production, who is not benefitting that could? Who are the people within the community who can effect change? How can animal health workers convince livestock workers to adopt the best practices and techniques in caring for their animals? There are probably as many relevant research questions as there are communities to research.
Livestock production and animal care has huge gender implications in the developing world. Ensuring that women and the children they support reap the benefits of their animal care work, and that they have equal access to services and to decision-making, requires expert support. VWB will engage gender specialists to ensure that this critical aspect of the work at the community level is appropriately addressed.
Monitoring and Evaluation Specialists
In order to be as effective as possible, development projects require an evidence-based understanding of what is working and what is not. Especially in a program as long as five years, it is critically important to have solid, results-based intelligence throughout the course of the effort, and to use that information to make necessary adjustments and modifications to ensure that the investment yields the maximum possible benefits for the beneficiaries. Monitoring and Evaluation specialists will be needed to build the capacity of local partners to track the progress of the project, and to ensure we can provide helpful reports and be fully accountable to the funders of the project.
Small and Medium Enterprise Advisors
Livestock production, even at its smallest scale, is a business. It is important to raise healthy livestock, but often, the ultimate objective of that enterprise is to improve livelihoods for small-scale farmers. Business advice can help ensure that those small and medium agricultural businesses are run efficiently and profitably. Farmers also need to be small business people, aware of the financial implications and opportunities including the market context. In the project, there are a few larger businesses in the livestock value chain, community-owned marketing of production organizations including co-operatives, that can benefit from business advice and support.
Integrated Rural Development Specialists
Rural communities are complex, organic social systems where many different activities are taking place at once that all influence each other. By engaging development specialist with particular skills in integrated rural development, VWB will ensure that livestock production is properly integrated both economically and socially. The positions will serve an in-field coordinating role for other VWB volunteer activities, ensuring appropriate scheduling and support for volunteer placements as well as collaboration between the various volunteer skills and disciplines.
Perhaps the most compelling reason to volunteer for an overseas assignment is to make a positive difference in the lives of poor people. But international volunteers also reap profound personal benefits. There is a huge sense of accomplishment in mining your skills and experience to overcome unique and interesting professional challenges, and there is value in breaking from the routine. Volunteers return to their lives and jobs inspired and refreshed. And there is the personal growth that comes from experiencing a new culture and learning firsthand about the interconnected and ever-shrinking world we share.
What makes a good volunteer?
International volunteering is all about experiencing new and challenging circumstances, and few of us know exactly how we will react until we face those challenges. However, there are certain personal characteristics that help to identify people who will rise to the challenge of working and living in the developing world.
First, it is important to be flexible, willing to endure inconvenience and occasional discomfort and hardship. Closely linked to that is an ability to adapt to unfamiliar circumstances.
Good volunteers like to think on their feet and solve problems. They need the self-confidence to take action on their own, but the best volunteers also thrive on collaborate work, overcoming barriers of culture, language and experience to share accomplishments as part of a team.
Not every successful volunteer arrives with all of these characteristics fully formed. The experience of volunteering is an opportunity to develop these qualities. If you can see some of these traits in yourself, and have a genuine interest in developing others, a volunteer assignment may be right for you.