In June, 11 Penn Vet students and two professors spent 10 days working with 311 farmers and nearly 1,000 animals in the Thibeau in northern Haiti, the group’s fourth trip and their busiest yet. Working through the student-led group Pou Sante, which means “for health” in Haitian Creole, their goal was to improve animal welfare and to make a lasting contribution to the farmer’s ability to maintain a stable livelihood.
“In developing nations, livestock plays such an important role to families,” says Brianna Parsons, a second-year student who helped organize this year’s trip. “It’s a source of protein; it’s a source of income; it’s a source of financial security.”
Veterinary care is scarce and difficult to afford for many farmers in Haiti. Herds of goats, cows and other livestock are a major financial investment and unexpected losses in their herd can have significant implications for the long-term security and health of farmers and their families.
On some days of the trip, the group offered free animal clinics. They inspected dozens of animals and treated unhealthy livestock with the oversight of Penn Vet professors. On other days, the group went to individual farms to inspect entire herds. Pou Sante has formed deeper relationships with a handful of farmers they have visited year after year.
“We can do a herd check on their animals, look at all of their animals and talk to them about any problems they’re facing and try to come up with solutions with them to help with those problems,” Parsons says.
Hearing from farmers, Pou Sante has gotten a better understanding of common problems such as animals dealing with bloating after overeating, and having difficulty birthing. Between trips, Pou Sante members have been developing better educational tools to help farmers manage some of these issues.
This year, Pou Sante members brought medical protocol kits to share with farmers. The kits contained drugs the farmers may need to provide routine care for their livestock. Pou Sante members also left instructions for how to diagnose certain common health issues, and trained the farmers in how to treat their animals using the items included in the kit.
“We had pictures of what the animal might look like and then we would have instructions,” said Parsons. “‘If you see these things give them 1, 4 and, 7.’ Then there would be a chart with what each drug is, what it’s used for, how to give it, how much to give.”
It is the first time the group has left medicines behind for the farmers.
The hope said Parsons is that farmers with the protocol kits can pass on what they have learned to others, sharing the medicines Pou Sante gave them as well as teaching animal care practices like hoof trimming for goats. The hope is these farmers can serve as leaders in their community to improve animal care throughout the region.
“We really felt kind of frustrated that we only go for two weeks and there’s only so much we can do,” she said. “But if we can leave something with these farmers and teach them how to use certain medications, maybe we can make a difference that way.”
Parsons also hopes that Pou Sante will continue to make trips to Haiti and develop the trip’s educational components, but admits it is a challenge to do it all.
“It’s a hard balance of wanting to give each individual farm a lot of help versus wanting to help the largest number of animals,” said Parsons.