by Sarah Clark
Dr. Scarlett Magda is the Founding President of Veterinarians International and this is the third time Scarlett and her team join us in Todos Santos.
A few years ago when Scarlett moved from Canada to New York she continued to see a great need for veterinary work in Latin America. She had previously sat on the Board of Directors of Veterinarians Without Borders-Canada for 5 years (the group who had originally supported the Todos Santos project). She remained in close touch with Elena Garde and Guillermo Perez (Directors of the GAAP) and when Veterinarians International was formed in 2014, the Todos Santos project was the first project that the non-profit implemented in partnership with the GAAP in 2015. In Scarlett’s words, “The GAAP is a phenomenal organization and we’re very happy working with them and wish that more organizations would be run the way they run their operation… I’d like to express my gratitude and say how impressed I am with their work, we’ll always be supporting them in some way.”
While the Todos Santos project has many different elements (including child and community education), Veterinarians International focuses on supporting the veterinary services component of the campaign. As Scarlett explains: “Our priority is funding the veterinary supplies, the wages of the community leaders who are animal health workers, and the wages of the veterinarians who are coming from other countries to work here. We also bring veterinary expertise in surgery, performing exams, and providing vaccines, as well as veterinary technicians. We make sure there are a few Spanish speaking individuals amongst us, so that we can enhance our bond with the community and find out where their challenges and success are.”
Veterinarians International focuses heavily on local collaboration and capacity building in all the projects they implement worldwide, and the Todos Santos project is an excellent example of this. According to Scarlett, “We’re heavily focused on collaboration, it’s really the only way you can induce change… In all of our work we focus on capacity building, making sure there’s some kind of exit strategy so we’re not needed here forever… not just coming in and doing a bunch of vet work, but making sure that the locals are involved and that the project can exist when we leave.”
While Veterinarians International has a strong focus on capacity building, Scarlett explained that what’s different about the project in Todos Santos is that “there are kids involved all the time. It’s rare that parents allow their children to participate in such scientific experiences where they’re literally next to you watching surgery, being with us all day. We don’t have this community involvement at all ages in other projects. My favorite part is seeing the children take such interest in what we’re doing and be present at every aspect of it. They’re even learning how to record the vaccine date and animal name, and you see all ages involved. Having the kids come and learn how to take heart rates and handle animals is really uplifting and unforgettable.”
Over the three years she has been working in Todos Santos, Scarlett has seen a lot of change: “It seems the community is more empathetic to the animals and extremely appreciative for what we’re doing. They’re coming back, following all the recommendations. I can definitely say there are less skinny animals this year than in previous years… It seems like there’s less stray dogs on the street, more well-muscled animals, and also the animals are easier to manage, less aggressive. Overall the clients see the value in the project.”
In terms of her vision for the future of the project, Scarlett added that she’d like for there to be “a veterinary and animal technician who are from this community and here full time. And for the community to find a way to afford having them here so that we’re really not needed anymore and they call on Veterinarians International or the GAAP for assistance with challenges, but that they’re self-sustainable. That’s the ultimate end goal.” Scarlett highlighted the training and support Dogs Trust International is providing to Andres Carrillo to become a “para-veterinarian” in his community. Scarlett explains, “That’s a big component in our decision-making to continue supporting the project. Knowing someone else is supporting the project in that way is fantastic. It fits in with what we’re trying to do here.”
Scarlett continues to be inspired by the partners and volunteers on the project as well as the Todos Santos community: “When the clients are waiting in line, and they know the animal is stressed they’re patting it on the head and talking to it an empathetic manner, it brings tears to my eyes. I love seeing that. These people have so little, they don’t have food for themselves, but they’re doing the best they can with whatever resources they have. It’s really extraordinary: the ability for them to go above and beyond their own needs and think about these animals when they’re not even meeting basic requirements for nutrition and education”.