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Ten-minute chat
  1. Simon Doherty

Abstract

As well as being president of BVA's Northern Ireland Branch, Simon Doherty sits on the board of the livestock development charity, Send a Cow, which helps people in sub-Saharan Africa escape hunger and works to improve the health, education, housing and happiness of whole communities.

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Tell us about the charity.

Send a Cow (www.sendacow.org) started working in Uganda 26 years ago and has developed into a modern charity. Some of its methods have been so well thought of that they have been incorporated into national agricultural policies in several countries. We deliver training in gender empowerment, organic horticulture, health and hygiene, as well as animal husbandry. Once the training has been embedded in the community, we'll undertake appropriate livestock placement – as the name suggests, we started with dairy cattle, but now our work includes goats, sheep, poultry and even bees.

How did you get involved?

Initially as an ambassador, helping to spread the word about the charity in Northern Ireland and doing some local fundraising. Send a Cow was also keen to use some of my veterinary knowledge, so I've also got involved in providing advice to the programme and research teams.

And why?

One of my primary motivations for becoming a livestock vet was my interest in food production. I became aware of the charity and, when I learned about what it does, I visited Ethiopia and Kenya to see its work in the field, and I was hooked. Our mission statement is ‘To give families and communities the hope and the means to secure their own futures from the land’, and that is exactly what Send a Cow does – helping smallholder farmers to help themselves: we know that hand-outs can often lead to dependency, but a ‘hand-up’ can improve adoption and innovation.

What does being a board member involve?

We guide and advise the strategic direction of the UK management team, particularly in relation to fundraising and our schools' development education programme.

Have you helped with fundraising?

I've been involved in a number of fundraising projects linked to local events in my role as an ambassador. I also undertook the Live Below the Line challenge with the NI Chief Veterinary Officer, Robert Huey, a couple of years ago, when we both lived for a week on food costing less than £1/day.

What do you get out of it?

More than 1.3 billion people across the world live in extreme poverty, surviving on a lot less than £1/day every day of their lives. I feel that my involvement with Send a Cow is helping in a small but sustainable way to help to change that. I've also seen the impact the charity has on the lives of our beneficiaries. It is a privilege to be able to represent an innovative organisation and I enjoy telling people about the work that we do.

Does the charity have other sources of funding?

Send a Cow has been awarded a round of UKAid match-funding for donations made up until December 31, 2015. While our work continues in seven countries in Africa – Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Zambia and Lesotho – our ‘Planting Hope’ project in Ethiopia will be the primary beneficiary of this initiative.

Any exciting initiatives planned?

We have a lot of exciting partnerships under way. XLVets has been doing quite a bit with us in recent years and continues to do so. We have also been working with the Jersey Overseas Aid Commission getting Channel Island Genetics' help with improving dairy quality and yield while maintaining some of the inherent drought- and parasite resistance characteristics of the local breeds. As an accredited CowSignals trainer, I've introduced this concept to Send a Cow and we are working with Joep Driessen at the CowSignals Training Company to embed appropriate parts of the training into our extension worker training programme.

Simon at a keyhole garden in Ethiopia; (inset) a Send a Cow beneficiary

What was your proudest moment?

As a teenager, I worked at Streamvale Open Farm – Northern Ireland's first open dairy farm – at weekends and school holidays. A number of years later, I returned to the farm as a qualified vet and provided clinical services for the Morrow family who run it. This year, Send a Cow was nominated by Streamvale as its charity of the year and I was delighted to be able to return to the farm representing Send a Cow.

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