Ugandan Students Participate in 448th Civil Affairs Battalion Veterinary Program
Forty Ugandan students came together to attend a two-week Veterinary Civic Action Program training session in Matany, Uganda, April 24, 2012, organized by the U.S. Army 448th Civil Affairs Battalion.
The 448th CA Battalion soldiers, a U.S. Army Reserve unit based at Fort Lewis, Washington, are currently deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and assigned to the Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa, headquartered at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti.
The training started as any training session would--roll call, introduction of students and staff, assigning classroom responsibilities, designating a class leader and then a group discussion about what each student hoped to gain.
The differences the soldiers noticed were cultural. A woman sat in class with a newborn baby on her lap while her other children played outside. The teacher asked for a volunteer to lead the class in prayer before starting the day's lessons. People held hands as part of an icebreaker exercise, and then everyone joined hands together in traditional song and dance to signal the end of the day. The most notable difference was the language spoken--Karamojong, a dialect from the northeastern region of Karamoja.
Students and veterinarians alike commented on the benefits of these types of interactions.
"It's why we bring each other together--to share ideas, experiences and backgrounds, but more importantly to learn," said Dr. Francis Inangolet Olaki, Napak District veterinarian officer.
The students participating in the VETCAP are known as Community Animal Health Workers, or CAHWs, as they are commonly referred to and pronounced as "cows." In a society where the basic form of community is the village and the livelihood of that village is livestock, these students serve a vital role.
CAHWs provide a wide range of services to the community where they live and work. They report livestock disease outbreaks to the district veterinarian officer, diagnose and treat disease in livestock, teach farmers appropriate animal husbandry practices, participate in government vaccination programs and teach the local population about veterinary public health.
"When African Swine Fever and Rinderpest came into Uganda, the first person to report on the cases was a Community Animal Health Worker," said Dr. Tom Stanley Asaku, a Ugandan veterinarian who is working with the Institute for International Cooperation and Development while completing his Master of Science in International Animal Health from the University of Edinburgh.
Not only do the CAHWs deal with the animals, they also care for people. They do this by sharing their knowledge and experience with livestock to their neighbors. They also provide HIV and AIDS programs to the community and teach gender equality, stressing the importance of education. They teach proper water and food safety and security, and by being model farmers, set an example for their community. "They are more than animal workers, they are local leaders," said U.S. Army Captain Dan Crowell, a resident of Elko, Nevada, and lead veterinarian for 448th CA Bn functional specialty cell.
The CAHWs importance is also illustrated by the number of partner organizations supporting and participating in the VETCAP, including the Uganda Peoples Defence Force; the U.S. Agency for International Development; Respond, which is a part of USAID's Emerging Pandemic Threats Program; and non-governmental agencies such as the Omaniman Community Development Initiative.
"Being raised as the son of a farmer, I understand the importance farming and animals have on a community," said U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Michael T. Franken, former CJTF-HOA commander, during his visit on the first day of the VETCAP.
With a history of cross-border cattle rustling by rival clans, the focus on encouraging peace and stability in the Karamoja Region is one that will ultimately benefit relationships within the borders of Uganda and those with neighboring Kenya and South Sudan.
"During our training with Community Animal Health Workers we bring in and focus on pieces of peace and stability--one people, one community and one country," Asaku said. Further smoothing regional tensions is the Karamoja Integrated Disarmament and Development Program, which is an "on-and-off-again" campaign carried out by the UPDF since 2001.
"We use CAHWs for peace initiatives, to integrate peace and livestock activities," Olaki said. "One of the most interesting things here is that these Community Animal Health Workers also act as a bridge between the UPDF and the community. Like now, we have our animals and most of our livestock guarded by the UPDF at night to protect against the cattle rustling. We are finding that as these Community Animal Health Workers go to do treatment within the community, they interact with the UPDF as well, so they are creating an impression where interaction between the community and the UPDF is a good one."
Aside from treating animals, the VETCAP is also a way to bolster the CAHWs knowledge and expertise by exposing them to new ideas, techniques and practical experience through sharing of best practices--not only from members of 448th CA Bn., but all partner organizations.
VETCAPs are structured into a two-week long course, with the first week classroom instruction and the second a field exercise. During the classroom portion, students learn about disease prevention, identifying healthy and sick animals, proper water management, laboratory disease surveillance, methods on administering drugs and small business concepts.
"Today the focus is on incorporating training--changing the mindset from just treating animals," said Dr. Thomas Easley, USAID emerging pandemic threats country coordinator. "It's about focusing on development and sustainability."