“Quite simply, the experience changed my life.”
– International Volunteer
“I am very appreciative of you all, we have seen a big change in the community.”
– Todos Santos Community Member
It’s hard to believe 2018 was our last large-scale veterinary and educational campaign in the beautiful community of Todos Santos, Guatemala! We’ve been working in Todos Santos for 10 years now, and have witnessed a number of significant changes in the community. What was once a small annual veterinary campaign with a few veterinarians and technicians (back in 2008) has blossomed into a comprehensive annual 8-day veterinary and educational campaign with between 30-35 international volunteers in addition to a year-round para-veterinary/tele-medicine program and family sponsorship program.
Our Amazing Volunteers
This year in addition to 4 GAAP staff members, we had 24 international volunteers come to work on the campaign from the US, Canada, Australia, Germany, Brazil, Ireland, New Zealand, Chile and Guatemala. Almost two thirds of the staff and volunteers were returning to Todos Santos for at least their second time! The experience of the volunteers ranged from seasoned veterinary surgeons and veterinary technicians to animal lovers willing to help in whatever way was needed; and everyone had a vital role to play. Our volunteers are the lifeblood of this campaign; without their hard work, dedication, and expertise it would simply not be possible to serve the community of Todos Santos to the degree that we do! It was also great to hear feedback from our volunteers about why they were inspired to join the Todos Santos campaign this year. In the words of one volunteer, “This trip revives my passion for the veterinary profession every year. It makes my work feel meaningful and combines my two biggest passions: animals and travel.”
GAAP Associate Veterinarian Angélica Romero led the education activities again for the School Day even with the children this year. The focus of the education program was for children to be able to recognize the symptoms of rabies and other diseases in their dogs and cats. With the help of the ever-popular Scooby Doo (played by Jonathan Frugoni from Canada), Angélica and the GAAP/VI volunteers hosted two groups of about 30 children each. In the words of one of the volunteers, “I think it is important to have a presence in the community, beyond just the clinical part. The children are future, and by inspiring and educating them about pet care, safety and animal welfare, we can expect future generations to continue to adopt positive attitudes towards animals.”
As we do every year, our Community Day event was held on Saturday, the weekly market day in the Todos Santos central square, where thousands of people come from around the area to sell and buy produce and wares. And as always, we had an incredible turnout – hundreds of children of various ages and their families visited our activity booths. Most of the GAAP/VI volunteers helped out at the activity booths, which included animal face painting, animal puppets, animal bingo, and animal balloons among others. In the evening we hosted our extremely popular Movie Night with more than 100 children (many of whom don’t have any other opportunity during the year to watch a movie on the big screen.) We had so much fun interacting with all the kids and community members and loved seeing so many smiling faces throughout the day!
Bonnie Cavanagh, one of our first-time volunteers this year, told us about her great experience interacting with the kids on Community Day:
“It was obvious from the participation and sheer excitement of both adults and children that these events were highly anticipated by the community. It was also clear during my games of memory with the children how much they had learnt from the education program. During memory game, holding up card of dog with foam at his mouth: Q: What do we see here? A: A dog. Q: How is the dog? A: Sick. Q: How do we know the dog is sick? A: He has a foam mouth. Holding card of ‘sad dog family’: Q: What do we see here? A: A family of dogs Q: How do the dogs feel? A: Sad Q: Why are the dogs sad? A: Because they have so many dog babies.”
Our team hit the ground running and set up the clinic on Sunday in a matter of hours. On Monday, we began receiving our first clients at 8am. Over the course of the next 5 days, hundreds of families and their pets came through the clinic doors for surgery, vaccines, or both!
This year we sterilized a total of 249 animals (174 dogs and 75 cats) and provided rabies vaccinations to 613 animals (467 dogs and 146 cats)! Additionally, we provided canine distemper vaccine to 100 dogs and the FVRCP vaccine to 50 cats. Go team!!
While we still see new clients every year, we’ve also recognized many families over the years that have returned with their animals for follow-up vaccinations and/or have brought new animals in for sterilization. The overall health and condition of the animals we see has also steadily improved, and we’ve observed changes in the way the community members treat their animals. We feel as though we’ve seen a real commitment to their animals’ well-being develop in many community members. As explained by one volunteer, “Given the difficulty and lengths that the Todos Santos people had to go to in order to bring their animals and families to the clinic, it was abundantly clear how committed they were to taking part in the campaign. For people who do not have the luxury of abundant free time and easy transport, they deemed these sacrifices worth it for them and their animals.”
Local Animal Health Worker Program
This has been a big year for developing and launching our animal health worker program in Todos Santos, and Andres Carrillo continued to play a vital role in the success of the 2018 campaign as well (he manages all the scheduling of the surgeries in addition to a million other jobs to keep the campaign moving smoothly). Looking forward, Andres commented, “I’m very happy to have the first veterinary store here in Todos Santos. People are realizing what needs their pets have, so I believe with time things are going to keep improving.” While an international team of veterinarians will no longer be visiting Todos Santos each year, the Todos Santos community will still have access to veterinary care: Andres will be able to respond to basic health concerns, provide vaccines, and make referrals for serious cases and surgeries (including sterilizations) to a partner clinic in the city of Huehuetenango. He also plans to open a pet store in Todos Santos that will sell pet food, leashes, collars, and over the counter products for parasites.
In order to respond to the community’s needs and also enhance our mission of improving the relationship between animals and people, the GAAP has been providing monthly sponsorship to 5 children and their families since 2015. We loved spending time with Mario, Cristino, Roberto, Roxana and Talia again this year – they have all grown into bright, compassionate beings! All the sponsored kids spent hours shadowing the veterinarians at the veterinary clinic and helping out at the School and Community Days. And at the close of this year’s campaign, they hosted a big party for all the volunteers and even performed several dances in traditional dress! With many tears in her eyes, Roxana (age 16) expressed her love and gratitude to the GAAP Directors Elena and Guillermo, “I’m going to miss them very much because they are like my family, they are helping me. I didn’t imagine having what I have now. I couldn’t even think about it! But thanks to them, that they came…they have helped so much.”
On to the Next Adventure!
We feel great pride in how our program has grown over the years, and for all the positive impacts we’ve witnessed in the lives of the animals and people in Todos Santos. We are excited to enter the next phase of our work which involves transferring project leadership over to local people, and we wish the community of Todos Santos the very best. We are comforted knowing that many of the relationships we’ve formed over the last 10 years will continue for the rest of our lives!