#VETSVolunteerVoices aims to bring you the stories of our passionate VETS program volunteers from the field! In their own words, volunteers reflect on their work, development challenges, and the personal growth that they have experienced during their placements. Learn more about our VETS, (i.e., Volunteers Engaged in Gender-Responsive Technical Solutions), program and the important work being carried out by Canadian volunteers and local partners in Cambodia, Ghana, Kenya, Laos, Senegal, and Vietnam.
VOLUNTEER NAME: Dr. Regan McLeod
PLACEMENT: January-October 2023, Vietnam
DATE OF INTERVIEW: October 5, 2023
Q: What motivated you to be a VETS Volunteer?
A: I have always been passionate about international development and throughout my training as a veterinarian I looked for a way to continue to pursue this passion. I was aware of VWB’s work for several years, so when I saw they were recruiting for a veterinarian position I jumped at the opportunity.
I particularly like the community-based approach that VWB and the VETS program takes. It aims to empower women and marginalized groups to improve their socioeconomic well-being by providing them with knowledge and skills that promote the growth and health of their livestock herd. In doing so, VWB can create sustainable change that will continue to affect the lives of people they reach and their communities even after projects complete and volunteers depart.
Q: What has your work (placement) been in Vietnam?
A: I was initially contracted as a remote volunteer (January to July), supporting the development of a Community Animal Health Worker (CAHW) training program. From Canada, I worked with a team from the Institute of Environmental Health and Sustainable Development (IEHSD) in Vietnam. Our goal was to develop a training program to teach small scale poultry farmers animal husbandry, biosecurity and disease prevention and treatment practices to improve animal health and well-being.
During my in-field experiences (from August to October), I examined poultry farmers’ perceptions of antimicrobial use and practices, and the different socioeconomic factors that influence them. This data analysis will be used to inform future training programs and animal health policies.
While in Vietnam I was also able to give a presentation to university students studying One Health across Vietnam on animal use and welfare. This generated a very positive discussion on what appropriate animal welfare looks like and how to improve animal welfare as pet owners on a day-to-day basis, as well as how to promote animal welfare as a veterinarian.
Q: Did this experience change you in any way?
A: This experience has motivated me to pursue and learn about more opportunities in the One Health field. As a veterinarian, I work closely with many different types of people and often partake in many conversations that pertain to One Health. My hope is to be able to bring the concept of One Health to the forefront of these discussions and raise awareness about responsible health practices that have the potential to impact animal, human and environmental health such as responsible antimicrobial use and biosecurity practices.
Q: What did you learn?
A: Education tends to be the focus of many public health campaigns and yet – while education is important – there are challenges that impact the effectiveness of these campaigns which must also be addressed. For example, there are many issues that are deeply engrained in the social, economic, and political structures of a country which affect the implementation of health practices. So, improving One Health requires people from many different sectors who can create and promote change in the economic, societal, and political structures, while also using education and training programs to raise awareness about One Health.
Q: What are the strengths of the VETS program in Vietnam?
A: The VETS program in Vietnam takes a community-based approach that strives to empower women and marginalized groups and enable them to improve their own social and economic well-being. Through collaboration with local, community-based partners and programs, VETS can better meet the needs of communities and create sustainable change.
Additionally, women in Vietnam are traditionally involved in the day-to-day care of animals on farms but often defer to the male member of the household when it comes to serious issues such as veterinary medications and care. By including them in the CAHW training programs, VETS is helping to better facilitate the role of women in animal health care by educating those involved in the daily care of animals, thereby improving disease surveillance and early treatment nationally.
Q: Please share a personal experience that was extremely significant to you.
A: During my time in Vietnam, I was able to give a presentation to the Vietnam One Health Club that contained university students from across Vietnam. The topic of my presentation was on animal use and welfare in both Canada and Vietnam. Animal welfare has been a topic I have been passionate about for a while so to see so many students who also have that same passion was very rewarding. There were many insightful questions that generated an engaging discussion on how animal welfare impacts animal health and human health. There were also many questions on how students as pet/animal owners can improve animal welfare in their communities, as well as what role and responsibility veterinarians have in the promotion of animal welfare. It was very encouraging to see students engaging with topic and trying to find ways in which they themselves can make positive change to animal welfare in their communities.
Q: What advice do you have for someone who is thinking of becoming a VETS volunteer?
A: My advice to future VETs volunteers would be to stay open minded and be prepared to listen. There is a lot to be learned from working with the VETS program and by listening and engaging with local partners and community members. Many challenges that local communities face are often far more complex then they appear and can be etched in the social and economic structure of the community. It is important to understand that change takes time and patience as you build trust and relationships with community members. It can be a very rewarding process if you invest the time and energy, and you may find your own perspectives and ideas changing as you grow with the community.
VETS is a 7-year initiative (2020-2027) to improve the economic and social well-being of marginalized people, particularly women and girls, in 6 countries across Africa and Asia. In collaboration with local partners, the program is implemented through 190 Canadian volunteers on international assignment and is generously funded by Global Affairs Canada.