Captain Joanna Lowe is a vet on the ground in Afghanistan. In her latest blog she reflects on the need to educate the farmers of Afghanistan.
… teach him to fish and you can feed him for a lifetime.
There has been no time in my life where that phrase has been so relevant as it is now. Working as the CIMIC Veterinary Liaison Officer for the Helmand Provincial Reconstruction Team, I run veterinary engagement clinics to treat livestock belonging to the local population in areas where there is no alternative provision. With over 80% of the population reliant on livestock as a source of income, the clinics are extremely well received and are excellent tools for winning consent for ISAF activities amongst the population. However, the longevity of the benefit that this affords to the farmer is limited by the duration of action of the medication prescribed, or at best the lifespan of the patient. Unless locally trained paraveterinarians are in a position to continue the clinics after ISAF have withdrawn – a state that is achievable but by no means guaranteed within this timeframe – much of what we will have achieved risks being lost.
I believe that the key to sustainability is knowledge; an invaluable commodity that can be passed on through generations without ever wearing out, can be reused repeatedly without supplies dwindling and it is something that we have so much scope to provide in this setting.
Education at the lowest level is something we can develop and achieve through the medium of the clinics. I’m not pretending it is that easy – actually I will openly admit that 99% of the time trying to teach the Afghan farmers basic veterinary first aid is not dissimilar to banging your head against a brick wall. It is hard to change the mindset of the older farmers who have firmly believed for generations that cutting the ears of a sheep will ‘let the bad blood out’, and consequently enable it to recover from it’s illness. But every time a small child listens to an explanation of why it is important to keep wounds clean, and later imitates the demonstration given by cleaning the wounds of his own small flock of sheep, it all becomes worthwhile. It is when that small child passes this knowledge onto the other children in the village, and later onto his own children, that this starts to equate to a whole host of sheep who will not be resigned to suffering the complications of infected wounds. In the bigger picture that translates to improved productivity and reduced mortality rates in herds, more food on the table and that little bit more money that can make a world of difference. This is but the tip of the iceberg of a realistic legacy that will last much longer than a lifetime.