Lending Haiti a Helping Hand
To A. Nikki Wright and Lisa Gretebeck, the impoverished
Caribbean nation of Haiti means opportunity. In a
country where 80 percent of the population lives below
the poverty line, Wright and Gretebeck have identified a
unique opportunity to both better economic conditions
while improving human nutritional health and standards.
Their proposed project is a learning center in Haiti that
will provide education and training in sustainable goat
management, while improving the genetics of the local
goat population and supporting financial independence and
With experience in small animal veterinary practice, lab
animal medicine and biomedical research, Wright entered
vet school with an appreciation for the interconnected
nature of human, animal and environmental health.
“Since starting veterinary school,” she said, “I have
discovered that my desire to further the concept of One
Health is best served via my passion for food animal
medicine, and in particular the fields of infectious disease,
epidemiology, and food security.”
After visiting Haiti, and witnessing the devastation that
grips the country, she became determined to find a way to
contribute sustainable solutions to the problems of its people.
During her undergraduate career at Middlebury College,
Gretebeck participated in a public and primary health care
course with the Comprehensive Rural Health Project in
India. It was here that she first became aware of the innovative
possibilities for a multi-disciplinary approach to promoting
community health. She returned to India a year later
to develop a micro-finance-based goat production project,
which proved to be a powerful tool for the community.
The women named the project AMAR, meaning “never ending” in their local language, and it is a name that Wright
and Gretebeck have chosen for their Haiti project.
“This experience in India,” said Gretebeck, “and
understanding the impact that animals can have on people,
were crucial factors in my pursuing a veterinary degree.”
When the two veterinarians-in-training became aware
of their shared interest, they began to work together. They
have already made tremendous progress with their project,
establishing partnerships with the iF Foundation, a nonprofit
offering micro-financing for disadvantaged populations in
developing countries, and Dr. Keith Flanagan, an American
veterinarian who has been in Haiti for more than 25 years.
The iF Foundation donated a small piece of land where
Wright and Gretebeck will build a hurricane-resistant
house for 20 goats. They have already begun to farm the
local forage that will provide feed for the goats. An existing
building on the property will be modified to serve as a
classroom, clinical lab, storage facility and living area for farm
staff and interns.
Five families at a time will participate in a training
internship that will focus on basic goat husbandry as well as
reproductive principles, parasite management and nutrition.
Successful completion of the internship will earn each family
a bred female goat and weanling kid. The families will also
agree to donate a goat back to the center in the future, in an
effort to maintain the population.
The goal of AMAR Haiti is self-sustainability; it’s a
program in which the roles of both Wright and Gretebeck
will eventually become obsolete.
Said Gretebeck, “I told the women of AMAR [in India]
that I was going to study to become a veterinarian, and
come up with the most effective and sustainable goat project
possible. I am keeping my promise.”
The AMAR project, evaluated with bi-annual progress
reports based on qualitative interviews, will become the
model for a successful and sustainable program that can be
applied to different communities throughout the world.
Educating Women, Improving Processes in India
According to a quote from the World Bank, “GDP growth
originating in agriculture is at least twice as effective in
reducing poverty than GDP growth originating in other
sectors.” With that key factor, the Student Inspiration project
of Audrey Barker and Shannon Kerrigan will focus on
educating women in the Nellore District of Andhra Pradesh,
India on more efficient dairy husbandry practices. The yearly
hands-on training they conduct will be supported by monthly
educational sessions via an internet interface and a website
composed of pictorials and audiovisual learning aids.
Kerrigan first visited India as an undergraduate at
Rutgers University, participating in Semester at Sea. Barker
first traveled to India as a study-abroad student while an
undergraduate at University of Maryland. Their shared
interest in India and the desire to use the power of veterinary
medicine to improve the conditions of those in need brought
them together at Penn Vet.
Traveling to India in the summer of 2011, the two were
involved in a study on the prevalence of internal parasites in
dogs and cats. It was while journeying through the Indian
countryside that, observing the reliance of the population
on livestock for nutrition and financial security, and the
poor management and healthcare of that livestock, they
began to focus on the potential for veterinary medicine to
have a positive impact on rural communities. Their next
step was a trip to more than 15 Indian villages conducting
surveys on animal husbandry and production. They met with
government officials and veterinarians, dairy self-help groups
and government agencies. Their experiences and the data
collected focused them on dairy animal production in the rural
communities of Andhra Pradesh.
Their project, Penn Vet Mere Saathi, is the vehicle by
which Barker and Kerrigan hope to realize their vision to
improve the socio-economic conditions of the poorest of
individuals through improved productivity of dairy stock.
Their educational approach will focus on five topics: the
importance of regular veterinary care and its impact on milk
production; utilizing the free and subsidized government
veterinary care and rural development programs; recognizing
common health problems; proper heat detection and other
breeding practices; and nutrition management. Barker and
Kerrigan have already established rapport in several villages
with the leaders of government-sponsored Self Help Groups
through which Penn Vet Mere Saathi will function.
Said Dr. Y. Ramana Reddy of the Sri Venkateswara
Veterinary University, “The project set forth by these
women will strengthen Indian dairy farmers, students and
people in dairy industry by improving milk quality at farm
and manufacturing levels as well as the marketing level.”