Blog: Aeroplan travels to Laos, part two

Christa Poole joins Veterinarians Without Borders in the field as part of an employee-engagement effort from the loyalty program.

In the second instalment of a two-part series, Christa Poole, manager of external communications, Aeroplan, shares her experiences travelling to Laos with Veterinarians Without Borders. Click here to read part one.

After spending the first few days of our Aeroplan employee engagement adventure in Laos meeting the Veterinarians Without Borders (VWB) team, seeing the sites of Luang Prabang and of course getting to spend quality time with ElefantAsia and seeing how their efforts are helping to protect the Asian elephant in Laos, I didn’t think it could get any better…but it did!

Our group went back to the outskirts of Vientiane where we visited a VWB initiative called the Village Ecohealth and Veterinary Extension Project. Veterinarians Without Borders has been working on this project for the past two years in partnership with the Faculty of Agriculture from the National University of Laos. The aim of their project is to increase capacity in animal healthcare in 11 villages of the Houychiem community to help increase opportunities for the village communities to raise healthier animals and to build on their well-being through improved agricultural practices and ecosystem health.

One of the main focuses of the project is to train primary animal healthcare workers (PAHWs) in each of the local villages so that each community has one or two people who they know and trust to help them with their animals. It’s exciting to see first-hand exactly where Aeroplan Miles are used at VWB – in this instance, getting VWB volunteers here on the ground in local villages to help share their knowledge and skills. Anne Drew, the VWB Canadian volunteer veterinarian, is here to help teach the local PAHWs preventative healthcare, deworming, use of medication, obstetrics, how to perform physical exams and wound treatments, and encourage the PAHWs to report on diseases to minimize the risk to other animals in the same village.

We travelled to our first village, called Thachampa, on the banks of the Nam Nugum river by a raft that could only hold a few people. Thachampa, a thriving village of approximately 300 people, welcomed us with open arms and a wonderful lunch. We were able to walk around the village and see the local houses and animals, including many of the animals that Anne and the local PAHWs work on, such as yellow cattle, goats, dogs, cats, ducks, chicken and pigs. In these areas, Anne told us that villagers consider themselves poor if they do not have enough rice to eat, average if they have enough rice to eat and rich if they have enough rice to eat and can sell some too.

Over the next couple of days, we also had a chance to visit a couple of the villages including the village of Nakhao and hear some of the successful stories that VWB refers to as the most significant change stories from some of the local villagers. In Nakhao, Khammoun Keomany invited us to her home to see her animals and told us her thoughts after receiving services from her local PAHW. ‘Before there was no village veterinary worker, since we had so much difficulty to contact veterinary workers, our sick buffalo and cows died one by one,’ she said. ‘When the animals became sick, people had no way to save them and it had a big effect on family income. Luckily, the project has come to the village and several people have been trained to be village veterinary workers. Every family can bring their animals for injection to prevent disease or for treatment.’

Anne and VWB are also reaching out to the villages through public health days that teach the Laotians about hygiene, food preparation and about local diseases so that they can take the necessary precautions. On one of our last days, we went back to Thachampa to observe the livestock clinic in which Anne and the PAHWs were working directly on the village animals. This was a great way to reinforce the best practices that she has been teaching the PAHW’s on animals that are in need. It is clear that she has been an amazing teacher and that many of the villagers now trust her but Anne mentioned that she’s here to learn as well as teach, since many of the Laotians use traditional methods, which are important to integrate into the training. This day showed us how truly successful the project is becoming – setting up each village with its own primary healthcare workers means that in the future these villages will be truly self-sufficient.

Khop chai (thank you) to Veterinarians Without Borders for giving us this amazing opportunity to experience the work they are doing across the different regions of Laos. It’s clear to see that these communities are seeing a positive change in connection with their animals’ health. It’s important for us not only as Aeroplan employees but as partners with VWB to know how Aeroplan Miles are going to good use across the world, one mile at a time.

Aeroplan’s Beyond Miles Program invites members to join Aeroplan in supporting nine Canadian charitable organizations through the donation of Aeroplan Miles including Veterinarians Without Borders. For more information, please visit www.aeroplan.com/donate or for more information about VWB, please visit www.vwb-vsf.ca.