First week blog post

I almost can’t believe I’m typing this, but herewith starts our first blog post of the trip! Despite all the various challenges we faced in the midst of a global pandemic, we are incredibly grateful to say we are on our way to make a difference in the lives of many African veterinary students!

On the 27th of December we arrived at Xander’s house in Pretoria to start packing and working out logistics of the trip. Packing all the boxes of veterinary books, equipment and wish list items for the various universities and charities we were to visit on the trip was extremely gratifying. It was proof of two years’ worth of hard work that went into this endeavour and it was a promise of the difference we were about to make.

We felt a lot of trepidation with all the uncertainty going on in South Africa regarding COVID-19, but we trusted that somehow our trip would still be possible. With this in mind, we moved forward with our plans and went for COVID-19 testing on the 28th. This was a nerve-wracking experience, but we got through it as a team. We got our results back the next day and thankfully all were negative – we set out for the great journey ahead without further adieu. Our Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Veterinary Sciences, Professor Dietmar Holm, sent us away with a bottle of champagne and words of goodwill for our trip.

After 97 km of driving, our first stop was at Rhino Pride Foundation near Bela-Bela in Limpopo. There we spoke with Dr Jana Pretorius about the importance of protecting our rhino’s while interacting with Adam, a four-month-old rhino orphan. While we were there, Rhino Connect graciously donated fuel to our cause which we are very thankful for! We spent the evening in Sondela Nature Reserve where, after doing some administrational and logistical work, we sat around a fire in the heart of the bushveld and let the realisation set in – after two years of planning and dreaming, it was finally becoming a reality.

The morning of the 30th we were up before the sun to pack up and get on the road as soon as possible. Unfortunately, due to South Africa’s current curfew of 9 am to 6 pm, we could only start driving at six in the morning. We had to cross a border between South Africa and Botswana and we only got there at about ten. Luckily, we got through the border effortlessly. It was just as well, as we had a long stretch all the way up to Nata. We arrived at our camp site just before the Botswana curfew of seven o’clock.

In the early hours we were abruptly woken up by rain – bucketloads of rain. We were evidently situated in a place where the tail of cyclone Chalane was moving through and were getting the brunt of it. We packed up camp as fast as physically possible, but we were still drenched once we finished. We travelled in rainy weather on very wet roads to Pandamatenga and got the pleasure to see quite a handful of elephants on the sides of the road, no more than 50 meters away. We arrived on a farm that belongs to family of Lienkie and immediately set up camp so that everything could dry out after the morning’s downpour. We then got to spend a wonderful New Year’s Eve with newfound friends.

The first day of 2021 started off great with a hearty breakfast and a relaxed packing up session, but we ran into trouble at the border between Botswana and Zambia. After a long afternoon of sorting out hiccups, we were through the border and on the road again. Luckily, we only had 177 km to drive for the day. We arrived at our camping site in Livingstone just before sunset and set up camp before doing team bonding in the form of enjoying the local beer and playing some UNO.

The 2nd of January started with buying a new tyre for the trailer, as one had succumbed to the many potholes on the roads (welcome to Africa!). For the rest of the day we drove 502 km up to Lusaka and arrived at our camping site quite late. After setting up camp, we sat around the fire and discussed our first visit that was set to happen the next day at the University of Zambia.

The next day came, and with a lot of excitement we arrived at the Veterinary Faculty of the University of Zambia. We felt privileged to be in our uniform and looked forward to handing over the veterinary textbooks and equipment to the faculty. After adhering to COVID regulations of screening, sanitizing and upkeeping social distancing, we were very warmly received in their assembly hall. The dean and deputy dean of the faculty and the faculty’s librarian, as well as the student association and a handful of other students were there, all with warm smiles and friendly greetings. The dean welcomed us with a smile and made us feel instantly at ease. He spoke wise words of how important it is to live in the spirit of giving and be gracious, no matter what circumstances you find yourself in. He commended us for still undertaking the trip despite all the obstacles presented to us and thanked us for our donation. After his welcoming, Gerhard gave a presentation about who we are and what we do and followed it with a presentation about the International Veterinary Student’s Association to promote veterinary student communication between the African countries.

After the assembly we took some photos and the student association gave us a tour of their faculty. It was amazing to realise that we had a lot of things in common with these students; we both agreed that second year Anatomy is gruelling, and third year Pathology can be quite intimidating. It was also heartening to hear that these students had big dreams for themselves; the president of the association, who came from the rural town of Monze, had plans to specialise as a surgeon someday. Another student told us about how he wanted to primarily work with horses.

They gave us a tour through their clinic, and it was interesting to see the differences and similarities between their clinic and our academic hospital back home. After the tour they surprised us with a meal and some local beverages, and after that we were on our way.

It was incredibly gratifying to see what the visit meant to these students. We knew we wanted to make a difference, but we had no idea that the difference we made could be so meaningful and tangible.

Only one week has passed, but we have been so enriched by the people that we have met along the way and the landscapes we have seen. We cannot wait to see what the next week holds!