The days start early, before the sun comes up. The 18 volunteers from all over the world come together for team breakfast and daily huddle, then head out the door to our assigned areas. Today we are going to a “static point” where locals in the villages bring their dogs to us, usually set at a school ground or church. Mission Rabies tents tend to be the entertainment for the village when we roll up, and lots of kids hang around all day, watching and learning. There is a wide assortment of dogs—most of them very thin but happy. There are also cats that come for vaccines, usually in an empty feed bag. We make sure we are camped under some shade because the sun at the equator is relentless. Today my team consists of myself, an Irish veterinarian as well as 2 locals. Veterinarians and technicians, and sometimes lay people, vaccinate the dogs and record information to be entered into a database so we can keep track of what percentage of animals has been vaccinated, always aiming for 70% herd immunity. The locals on each team communicate with the villagers by walking around and talking, teaching, trying to reach as many dog owners as possible. Other times, we have a roaming service day, where we drive long distances and stop at every house trying to find the dog owners who have not yet heard about vaccine clinics. We park the car in some shade and set out, with all our gear on foot, because sometimes the road just ends and there are only trails connecting households. The appreciation from the village members is very touching.
Packed lunches are eaten in the field, or sometimes we will be fed by villagers who are cooking ugali (a maize staple) or some sort of beans. Meat is hard to come by, but the amazing vegetables and fruits of the land more than makeup for that lack. It is very easy to be a vegetarian in Tanzania. After lunch we return to the vaccine drive, where we vaccinate, greasepaint the vaccinated dogs, and enter the owner’s and dog’s information into the database. Since the start of the annual campaign in Tanzania in 2016, we have vaccinated hundreds of thousands of dogs, and each year we get closer to our goal of rabies eradication by the year 2030.
Upon return at the end of a long, hot day, we return to our rooms to shower and then have dinner together, again, in the end, planning for the next day. We chat and laugh at dinner, sharing stories from the day. Volunteers have little free time, but what we do have, we usually spend it as a group together, playing cards or just sharing stories over a beer or wine, creating life-long friendships. There are other volunteers, like me, who return year after year to the Tanzania volunteer vaccine campaign. Being able to share our passion, sad stories, or successes make for memories of a lifetime. Then it is off to bed in anticipation of another day.