Handing over textbooks at Sokoine University
What a journey our two year term has been, from starting as a new committee with all the enthusiasm in the world to being thrown into a life-changing pandemic and still persevering to complete our mission. I truly believe this would not have been possible with any other committee than the one we had. This was truly a group of young students with the will and means to adapt and push forward.
However, most importantly we - as a conservation and educational entity that have planned for two long and difficult years- would like to say a BIG THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU. We were able to complete our mission with the assistance of our partners and most importantly YOU, our donors and always present supporters!
Our term started way back in February 2019, when we had a lot of plans and ideas that we quickly began to set in motion. We arranged many fundraising events, one of them being the annual VB4A dodgeball tournament. One of our highlights from 2019 was attending the World Youth Wildlife summit, bringing children from around the world to learn about the many challenges and solutions concerning conservation. We also enjoyed our work on our home soil with the community around us, we helped with tutoring at OP Primary and also took part in two community outreaches with our partners the International Veterinary Student Association (IVSA). During 2019 we worked extremely hard – we formed alliances with the Wildlife Conservation Trust (WCT), IVSA, Lessons in Conservation (LiC) and the University of Pretoria, was extremely pro-active and landed many sponsors.
At the beginning of 2020 we were more determined than ever, we had more sponsors lined up and had plans in place for the biggest fundraising event in Vet Books history, in the form of a big Gala dinner. Everything was on track before tragedy struck with the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic at the end of February. We were very naïve at first and thought we would return soon with all being back to normal in no time, but when the National lockdown in SA was extended for a fourth time we realized we needed to become innovative and make alternative arrangements. We had a serious meeting in June where we made the tough call to postpone our Gala dinner, made plans for alternative fundraising and came up with a new sponsorship plan. This worked well and we were cruising towards making our trip a reality.
Towards the end of 2020 our trip started to hang in the balance, as not only South Africa’s borders were still closed but many of the countries we were planning to visit as well. We then decided that by 15 November 2020 we would make a final call on our departure on the 28th of December (which was already extended from departing on 16 December). Unfortunately, one of our committee members had to withdraw at this stage and we had to find a suitable replacement at short notice. After our exams that only ended early in December we started preparing for our departure. Many hours were spent trying to find out the exact regulations of all the countries we were visiting and hospitals or labs where one could do covid-19 tests, often this had to be done through communicating in another language, making things even more difficult. On 23 December, two days before Christmas, another member had to withdraw and we had to find a second replacement to fill that spot - ready to leave in 5 days’ time. This included the replacement to travel from where they were on holiday, to pack and be ready to leave with us from Pretoria, but once again the committee was able to persevere through this.
Trip Summary 2020
We all arrived in Pretoria on 27 December when final preparation started. Very early on the morning of the 28th we went for our first Covid-19 test and received our results that evening, making us ready to leave as scheduled on 29 December. Another blow hit us when we heard that Malawi had closed their borders again and our route has to be changed once again. There was also the issue of the extremely congested Beitbridge border post into Zimbabwe that we had to overcome, ultimately forcing us to drive through Botswana into Zambia. All went well and we were into Botswana with no real issues. For everyone, the trip was still not a reality as there was so much doubt before we finally departed. We entered Zambia and visited our first University, The University of Zambia on 3 January 2021. And what an amazing experience that was, we were welcomed with open arms and shown such hospitality by the faculty. Their campus was beautiful and we got a huge sense of fulfillment that we were finally helping our first faculty. We then pushed East and visited two of our charities, Conservation South Luangwa and Chipembele Wildlife Education trust in the South Luangwa National park. They were extremely thankful for our support and showed us some of the amazing work they do. Due to the limited roads in Zambia, we headed 8 hours back the way we came to Lusaka and only then North to enter Tanzania. Where we visited our second University, the Sekoine University of Agriculture in Morogoro on 11 January 2021. This was equaled in every way to our previous University visit. Two completely different faculties that invited us in with open arm and were extremely grateful for our continued efforts towards educating veterinarians of the highest quality. We met some outstanding young people that have conquered all the odds to be studying what they are. But unfortunately we did not have that much time as we were quickly on our way to Mwanza against Lake Victoria to get our second Covid-19 test done in order to enter Uganda. While in Mwanza we applied online for our Ugandan visas, however never ended up receiving them in time to enter the country. Uganda had presidential elections at the time, where as a result of the unrest in the country their entire internet system was shut down (never allowing our visa applications to go through… even after payment) and they deployed their military. This once again forced us to make the tough call where we had to postpone our visit to Uganda.
On our journey northwards we had been surrounded by welcoming people whom we will never forget nor the conversations we had with them. From Mwanza, we headed South-West to travel back to Zambia along Lake Tanganyika. There the roads were beyond horrible, with dirt roads containing potholes the size of the vehicle, mud that got us stuck for 6 hours and high speeding buses which did not seem to mind the enormous potholes. We unfortunately got into an accident in Mpanda just before the Zambian border, but luckily we were able to sort it out with the relevant authorities and were on our way again the next day, without being a day of schedule. As soon as we entered Zambia, we learnt that Zimbabwe had a spike in infections and had also closed their borders. This meant we would not be able to visit the University of Zimbabwe either and had to travel back to South Africa along the same route we entered, through Botswana. So we drove to Livingstone to do our last Covid-19 test before returning home. We entered South Africa on the afternoon 3 February 2021 and were welcomed by our very own friendly police and immigration officials.
Vet Books for Africa considers our expedition to have been a huge success and appreciate all the experiences we were able to have, every special interaction, and every single student who was ever so grateful for our contribution and assistance. The charities are doing amazing work and we have already drawn up plans to help them on the next level in future Vet Books journeys.
Although we only managed to visit 2 out of the planned 4 Universities as well as 2 out 4 planned charities, our perseverance paid off as we were still able to impact the lives of animals and people of Africa. We plan to get the necessary books and the supplies to the Universities and Charities through other means during our upcoming holidays or through residents of these countries that are returning home form South Africa. Once again, a HUGE THANK YOU must go out to all our SPONSORS, DONORS, PARTNERS, as well as to our parents for all their support and assistance as without them we wouldn’t have been able to achieve our mission.
We raised just short of USD5000 before our trip and have since then it has gone all the way up to USD 6531!! Due to all the unforseen changes happening en route, all funds leftover has been left for the next Vet Books for Africa project in 2022.
As you will know by now, this is a biennial project that was started in 1993. As such, a new Vet Books for Africa committee will be chosen to continue the good work we do and to expand in order to create the maximum impact possible in our Mother Africa as well as with her children. That said, this is not the end of Vet Books for Africa so kindly keep an eye out for the next Vet Books 2022 project. We would love your continued support and assistance during all of our future endeavours.
Please consider following us or continuing to follow us on social media, Facebook and Instagram, and visit our website for more detailed information on our trip in the blog posts added while enroute, starting with the first one: https://vetbooksforafrica.org/?p=4371.
We know that the difference we made will be carried forward and that with your support Vet Books for Africa will continue to grow and play a role in improving the education of people, and the protection of animals and their environment.
Thank you again for choosing this unique initiative. We love our animals. We love our people. We love our continent. We believe we have the ability to connect them with the vital component “education is the key to conservation”. #OneHealth #OneAfrica
Yours in Conservation through Education,
The Vet Books for Africa.
Engaging with students at the University of Zambia
Chipembele Wildlife Education Trust