By Taylor Scott and Tracy Perdew
Each summer, many of our veterinary students travel the globe to take part in service and experiential learning projects in order to both serve the global community and gain invaluable learning experiences in veterinary medicine.
This summer, for example, Michael Dendinger, a fourth-year student from Harrisonburg, Virginia, will be traveling to Lasmurdie, Australia to work with the Kanyana Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. Kelsey Hayden, a fourth-year visiting student from St. George's University, will be going to the Rarotonga Cook Islands in the South Pacific to work with The Esther Honey Foundation Animal Clinic.
In summer 2015, Taylor Scott, a fourth-year student from Altavista, Virginia and Tracy Perdew, a fourth-year student from Vienna, Virginia, had the opportunity to travel to the Maasai Mara region of Kenya with the Veterinarians with a Mission Programme (VMP) to administer veterinary aid to the Maasai tribe of Kenya. They detail their experience in this travel summary.
Mission Trip Background
We joined the organization Veterinarians With A Mission Programme (VMP), led by Troy Sammons (United States), Mandieka Josiah (Kenya), John Mwangi (Kenya), Ezra Saitoti (Kenya), and Mburu Joseph (Kenya). VMP organizes and holds a yearly mission to areas of Kenya in need of veterinary aid and hope. The mission we joined took place in Mosiro, Kenya, in the Maasai Mara region.
Our purpose was two-fold: to treat and care for the animals, while at the same time, showing healing, love, and care for the people who looked after the sheep and goats. In all, we vaccinated over 8,700 sheep and goats for Peste des petits ruminants (PPR) or Contagious Caprine Pleuropneumonia (CCPP).
We were the only students from the United States to participate in the project, joining three Kenyan veterinary students, Philip Wanyama, Lydia Wanjiru, and Harriet Obela.
We were supported by a scholarship from Christian Veterinary Fellowship at the veterinary college, The Young Travel Scholarship, and donations from the community.
About the Maasai
The Maasai people are one of the many various tribes of Kenya. Like America, Kenya is made up of many different cultures. The Maasai are most notably known for their vibrant garb and jewelry, and their fierce love and adoration for their animals. In Maasai culture, they believe it is their God-given right to own every cow in the world, which can sometimes lead to cattle wrestling with another Kenyan tribe.
The Maasai are a pastoralist tribe, meaning they have a permanent home, but the Morans (teenage to young adult men) herd the flocks (100-250 animals) far away, for hundreds to thousands of miles, as they follow grazing areas in search of the best pasture for their animals. Sometimes lions, hyenas, and cheetahs hunt the livestock. In these instances, it is the job of the Morans to fend off those animals attacking their flock with only a spear or small sword.
We had no cell service, no running water, no showers, or toilet (except a hole in the ground, in what looked like a small shed), and no contact with the outside world. We began to set up camp and were greeted by some Maasai villagers. They were shy at first, but once we greeted them with a handshake and “supa” (“hi” in Maasai), we received giggles and many smiles. All of the Maasai we met were so welcoming, kind, and joyful. In Maasai and other Kenyan cultures, it is customary to greet each person individually, even up to 15 or 20 people.
It was refreshing being one with nature, the people, and the animals. We lived in tents for the duration of our trip, and took showers by means of a bore hole that another Christian ministry had set up in years past. Despite being covered in dirt for most of the trip, we felt refreshed being that remote, in one of the most beautiful places of the world.
Taylor: Before we officially left Kenya, we were able to debrief about our trip with our leader, Dr. Troy Sammons, while visiting Maasai Mara National Reserve. We spent the entire day driving around and we saw millions of Wildebeest scattered throughout the Mara. We stopped after we reached a beautiful overlook and we could hear the sounds of the Wildebeest echoing for miles and miles.
Tracy: On our last day of the trip, we stopped by the manyattas (houses) of the village where we stayed. We spoke with the villagers and dewormed their guard dogs, which scare off hyenas and other animals. We greeted the children by extending and placing a hand on top of their heads (a handshake in the Maasai culture). This was one of the first times some of the children had ever seen Americans. At first, many of the children were fearful and anxious. Once their mothers assured them that it was okay, the children began giggling and playing as if we were their new best friends!
We brought along bubbles and glow sticks to share with the children. We were surprised and extremely joyful to witness how happy these simple gifts made not only the children, but their mothers as well. We were able to dance and spin around and enjoy the simple joy of bubbles with our new friends.
Taylor: When I was preparing for this trip, I had imagined that I was going to be the one teaching the Maasai. Yet throughout the entire trip, I learned more from the Maasai tribe and the VMP group we were with than I could ever have dreamed of teaching. Here are some of my thoughts pertaining to the many lessons I learned:
In everyday life, it often becomes difficult to think of others before yourself. While in Kenya, we were amazed at how often the people we were with put others before themselves, whether it was the giving of time, giving of gifts, or giving of service. There is always a way to touch and to serve one another. This way of life is one I hope to carry with me for the rest of my life, putting others above myself, serving families and their livestock. Simply put, people and relationships are invaluable.
Another lesson I learned was that you do not need a lot to survive and to be joyful in this world. I was amazed at how joyful the Maasai tribe was, despite living in what we might call poverty here in America. Yet they taught me that we are the ones that have very little, and that we have forgotten what truly means the most in life. I hope to cherish every day as a veterinarian, and to truly be in touch with nature, people, and the animals that I serve.
Tracy: As a woman that comes from a military family, I have been able to travel the world and experience many different places and cultures and the people I encountered ended up touching my heart in so many ways.
I was pleasantly surprised to encounter the Maasai as a community that may have very few possessions, but are living an encouraging way of life. The people we met were full of love, excitement, and joy. They were welcoming, kind, selfless, and connected to those around them. I left Kenya feeling like the people, the country, the culture, and the experience allowed me to grow as a woman of the Lord and as a future veterinarian. The trip truly allowed me to take a step back and evaluate the important things in life—community, relationships, empathy, and love for others.