Rebecca Parkes has just returned from spending six months volunteering at Animal Care in Egypt (ACE) in Luxor. She recently ran the 19th Egyptian Half Marathon in Luxor to raise funds for an isolation facility for the charity.
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What made you volunteer?
I have been interested in the welfare of working equids for some time, as they are essential for the livelihoods of poor families. I first heard about ACE (www.ace-egypt.org.uk) via the overseas section of the BVA's website. I visited for a month, loved it and decided that I would return when circumstances allowed.
I decided I wanted to be a vet when I was about six years old! I first took a BSc in veterinary sciences at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), then the BVetMed. From there, I completed an internship at the Animal Health Trust, Newmarket, working for Sue Dyson. When thinking about what to do next, it occurred to me that there would probably be no better time to take six months out, so I contacted Kim Taylor (ACE's English manager) and asked to be the clinic's vet for six months.
What activities were you involved in?
ACE treats predominantly working horses and donkeys, but it also sees dogs, cats and even the occasional camel or buffalo. The days begin at 8 am checking in-patients, followed by ‘rounds’. ACE employs three Egyptian vets and has volunteers from Europe, the USA and Australia, so case discussions can be interesting as everyone contributes.
Clinical work could be anything from checking the teeth of outpatients and treating hoof abscesses, to managing colics and field surgery (such as removing bone sequestrae or neutering cats). Most of our patients came to us, but we did go out to emergencies too – one memorable occasion involved collecting a mare with a lacerated heel bulb from outside a hotel, with crowds of people trying to ‘help’!
I was also responsible for supervising European and Egyptian students, keeping clinic records up to date, and helping to organise fundraising events. I was involved with some teaching, raising awareness of animal welfare at the Rababah Community School programme, which was fantastic, and in a harnessing project that ACE is developing with the World Association for Transport Animal Welfare and Studies (TAWS) and Harness Aid.
What did you like about the work?
Aside from the obvious rewards associated with the clinical work, I love the opportunity to work in a different culture and the challenges that presents. Working at ACE gave me a fascinating insight into Egyptian culture.
What did you not like?
While cultural differences are fascinating, at times they can be incredibly frustrating! For example, vets often don't see cases involving septic joints or fractures for several days as there is no sense of urgency, and, at times, persuading owners that euthanasia is the best option can be difficult.
Why is the job important?
Having a long-term volunteer vet helps to keep things running smoothly, and frees up the Egyptian vets to concentrate on clinical work. From a clinical perspective, volunteer vets tend to have different areas of experience from the Egyptian vets and from each other, which helps the learning process for all involved. Practically, having a long-term volunteer also means there is someone living here to help the shorter-term volunteers and students.
What advice would you give to someone considering a similar opportunity?
Go for it! As well as helping a really worthwhile charity, you will meet some amazing people and learn a huge amount.
What's the best piece of advice you were ever given?
Take advantage of any opportunity that comes your way.
What is your proudest moment?
My proudest moment so far was probably graduating, as it seemed to take an awfully long time for me to get there!
… and your most embarrassing?
My most embarrassing moment in Egypt was out running one morning. I took one of the boarding dogs, a great dane named Diesel; as I crossed a sugar cane field, Diesel and I had a difference of opinion about an irrigation ditch, and I ended up in it! The Egyptian who was ploughing the adjacent field thought it was hilarious.