Van der Linden and Thomas are both veterinarians, and they are taking part together, this January, in a Veterinarians Without Borders’ (VWB) mission to Ghana in West Africa. The goal is to help teach better animal husbandry techniques to local farmers in small rural villages, so they earn more money for themselves and their families, and also ensure a healthy local domestic food supply.
“The structure of the project is what attracted me,” said Thomas. “It really is community-focused.”
While not as well-known to the public as the Doctors Without Borders program, Veterinarians Without Borders has a similar objective. Veterinarians volunteer their time and expertise for missions to developing countries, to help local farmers deal with animal husbandry needs, or else assist with wildlife protection programs and projects.
Both Van der Linden and Thomas are veterinarians. Now living in Russell, Van der Linden, 62, has worked in veterinary medicine and related fields since 1982. Right now she is part of the Canada Food Inspection Agency, dealing with biopharmacy issues.
“I grew up on a dairy farm and was always interested when the veterinarians came out to treat our animals,” Van der Linden said, about why she became a veterinarian. “I also wanted a job that wasn’t nine-to-five. I wanted to be outside and active. I wanted something that would provide me with some challenges.”
With her mother as inspiration, it seemed natural to Thomas, 25, to pursue a career in veterinary medicine.
“I grew up surrounded by veterinarians,” she said, smiling. “I saw all the possibilities it had and I really felt that veterinary medicine would provide me with the practical and research skills I wanted to use.”
Ghana will not be the first time that either Van der Linden or Thomas have been involved in a farm aid mission abroad. It will be the first time they have worked together as part of a team.
Thomas, who has her veterinary practice in Almonte, took part in a VWB mission in Uganda, in East Africa, after her first student year in veterinary medicine studies. Van der Linden worked in Burkina Faso, in West Africa, several years ago, for Canadian Crossroads, another international aid outfit.
For both of them, these aid missions fill a part of their need for challenge in their professions, and they want to put their skills to work where they are needed most. The Ghana project will see them working much of the time with women in the villages, who play an important role in their communities, but may still be “held back” because of cultural tradition.
“”We are hoping to get the women fully engaged,” said Thomas.
“Plus the focus is not just on disease prevention,” said Van der Linden, “but on the whole production practice.”
She noted that most farmers in the rural areas of Ghana focus their attention on growing crops. Some domestic animals like chickens and goats are kept as meat-and-egg sources for the families. By learning simple techniques for disease prevention, farm families in the small rural villages can improve both the overall health of their herds of goats and flocks of chickens, and also the size of their flocks and herds, and make some money by selling eggs, milk, and meat to the towns and cities.
“Some simple changes can mean a significant improvement to their lifestyle,” said Van der Linden.
More information on the VWB and the Ghana project is at https://www.vetswithoutborders.ca/v4h2-shauna-thomas.