“We are One Sweat”

A little bit of team bonding, some long work days, a lot of humidity, and a touch of heat stroke & dehyrdation led to that gem of a quote (perfect for a blog title!).

I have loved traveling for a long time and I have grown to love traveling with a purpose. That is why I am so appreciative of the travel opportunities for university students. Last year, while organizing our final year schedules we had the option to apply for 4 weeks of ‘selectives’ in areas of veterinary medicine we were interested in. My last selective was the 2 weeks I spent in the Northern Territory working with community dogs & cats.  I sent in an application and went to an interview and was picked as one of four students to attend a veterinary international development trip in Myanmar.

The 11 day whirlwind trip was fantastic! I loved the country, the people, and especially the work we completed! There really is so much to say about this adventure that I’ll try and keep it summarized for you…

We were part of a pilot project for a bigger research organization that has been established in Myanmar for many years. We worked with a team of veterinarians from the University of Veterinary Science, Myanmar. Rural village visits were arranged ahead of time. We set out in our two vans and traveled to these villages where a Unimelb student + Myanmar veterinarian would interview sheep and goat farmers. The questions were asked in Myanmar language and written down in English. We asked questions about the herd structure (how many males/females, young/old), how many were bought or sold or died? We also asked questions about who took care of the animals (gender of the person, age, etc) and which duties were performed. Then we asked the farmers about which health conditions were most important in their herd and if they performed any treatments on their animals.

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One of the Myanmar vets writing down interview answers

After the interview with the farmer we would go out to the sheep or goat pen and observe the herd for any obvious signs of illness. The most common things we saw were: itchy animals, lots of coughing/sneezing, old diarrhea, and a few lame animals.

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Gathering outside a typical sheep pen preparing to start our observation of the herd

Lastly, we took blood samples from two animals from each herd.

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Collecting a jugular blood sample from a sheep. It was rewarding to teach & assist the Myanmar vets in performing venepuncture. 

Every night we came back to the hotel lobby and set up a mini laboratory with a centrifuge and our samples. We ran a few tests and transcribed our data into computers.

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Preparing blood smears during some free time at the village

We did a quick look through of our data and made some brief presentations so that we could give a summary to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) office in Bagan. Even though this was just a pilot survey and we barely skimmed the surface of research and agriculture in Myanmar I thought our results were extremely interesting! I loved experiencing and adapting to the challenges that presented themselves to us; I feel like it made us stronger as a team. I saw the importance of working in international development. The health problems that these animals are experiencing could be cured with some involvement, education, a few diagnoses and some medicine –easier said than done!

And of course, aside from the university side of the trip we tried to squeeze in some sightseeing. I haven’t spent a ton of time traveling in Asia before, but every time I’ve been I’ve loved it! The food is all different and exciting; we ate a lot of soups and curries and I quite enjoy eating goat meat! There is fresh fruit juices at every meal. Myanmar tea made of condensed milk and red brew demands at least 2 cups during every tea shop brekky.

The roads are a crazy mixture of on-foot traffic, motor bikes, cyclists, cars, and bullock carts. Honking is common!  Our last 2 days were in Bagan, a city packed with thousands and thousands of temples, pagodas, and stupas.  There was a lot more tourists here and the traffic a bit calmer; which meant it was the perfect place to rent E-bikes and drive around for hours in the hot sun visiting ancient buildings!

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This is just one of the many many ancient temples we visited. They are just as amazing on the inside as they look on the outside! 

Something I was particularly struck by was an appreciation for human generosity. We did not speak Myanmar language and many of the people I met did not speak English. Yet, we managed to communicate through a few key words, charades, and overwhelming kindness. Any time someone anticipated that we might need or want something they would jump up to do it! I hadn’t brought a hat with me and ladies kept offering me their woven straw hats to keep the sun or rain off. Traditional sunscreen was applied to my face several times. The heat was sweltering (!!!), and at every house we were offered water, tea, or paper fans! At one point, someone even stood up to fan us while we conducted our interview. Amongst our own team generosity was overflowing as well–everyone was willing to share water, gastro-drugs, itch cream or lend a helping hand if someone was feeling off.

 

 

I can’t thank my fantastic team from Unimelb and UVS enough for being such good travel companions and research colleagues!

After such a whirlwind of traveling over the last few months I’m appreciating a week at home to sleep and work on my research project! Next up is my dairy rotation…

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