By David Wolking
O.K., O.K. The first time I heard the somewhat corny slogan “together we will make rabies history,” I thought, how cheesy and horribly PR perfect. But in Swahili, it has a nice ring to it, especially when 300 screaming children emphasize “Pamoja!” like at Bozo the Clown’s Grand Prize Game, which was terrific.
On September 28th, the HALI Project together with the Friend’s of Ruaha Society (FORS), and Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) Ruaha Landscape Program hosted a World Rabies Day event at the Makifu Village Primary School in Idodi Division, Iringa District, Tanzania. I helped put some materials together and organize the event, and so kindly enough, was invited along for the big show by HALI Field Technician Howard Kombe.
I have to say, I was a bit surprised by the turnout. I was expecting around 200, mainly primary school children, and was not disappointed (Actual Turnout was around 500!). The schoolyard was a mess of kids. Kids playing soccer, kids playing laugh at the white guy, kids playing funny faces with my girlfriend Misty’s intensive photo shoot, and kids just really excited about Rabies. I mean, who wouldn’t be? It was an exciting day.
Setting things up… (Photo by M. Richmond)
After getting the video screen set up in insane winds (no small feat), and finally troubleshooting the connection between my Mac and the projector (don’t bring a Mac to Africa) causing no small amount of impatience in the expanding audience, we were finally able to jumpstart the event. Ladies and Gentleman, HALI Project presents World Rabies Day 2008 right here in Makifu! Put your hands in the air! Let’s make Rabies History!
It was all quite exciting. After a rousing introduction by the female Village Executive Office: “Makifu Je! Makifu Je! Makifu Je!, the District Veterinary Officer Mzee Kerrety kicked things off with a lively discussion and the before mentioned group chant of “Pamoja” (together). Kerrety talked a bit about Rabies, and then turned things over to Howard, and boy did Howard make HALI proud.
Howard tells it like it is… (Photo by M. Richmond)
Mr. Kombe gave a very well organized presentation about the HALI Project, and especially about HALI’s work with zoonotic disease and Rabies. All aspects of rabies prevention and treatment were covered, and the crowd seemed captivated.
Following the presentation, a video obtained from the Sokoine University of Agriculture was screened. A video all about Rabies, including a dramatization of a man bitten by rapid dog while working in his shamba (field) and eventually buried, including all the heartbreaking scenes of the loss of a family member to a preventable death. When I say the crowd was captivated, it’s not a joke. At one point as I was whispering something about the film to Misty I was actually shushed by a Maasai teenager. Imagine that. An outdoor movie night and I’m being shushed. I kept pretty quiet the rest of the show let me tell ya…
Our captivated audience (Photo by M. Richmond)
Afterwards, a question and answer session was held, with a lot of feedback on the availability of vaccinations for village dogs. “Preach all ya want people” some seemed to say, “but without bringing the vaccinations to Makifu, we’re essentially no better off with a video.” Point taken, and I assure you, the HALI Project together with the District Veterinary Office will be working together to do just that in the future.
All in all, it was a success, and I was glad to be a part of it. Look for HALI to continue spreading the good word on Rabies, zoonotic disease, and conservation throughout their villages in the time to come.
David Wolking is a HALI Team Member researching diarrheal disease in neonatal livestock in collaboration with the HALI Livestock Program. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org