Posted: July 21, 2014
A sense of wanting to give back and help communities by improving animal health, human health and the systems that facilitate them were common themes at a May 5 panel discussion involving representatives of Veterinarians Without Borders, Engineers Without Borders and Doctors Without Borders.
The “Without Borders” panel discussion was one of the highlights of the 2014 Global Development Symposium held May 4-7 at the University of Guelph.
That desire to give back may start with helping one person, said Dr. Barbara LeBlanc. LeBlanc, a Guelph general surgeon who volunteers part-time with Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF), described helping a woman in need of a Caesarean section who also had a necrotizing infection. There were people in that setting who hadn’t finished their medical training or seen that infection, she said. LeBlanc was able to help the patient while teaching those skills to the people working there.
Dr. Erin Fraser, managing director of Veterinarians without Borders/ Vétérinaires sans Frontières - Canada (VWB/VSF), wanted to improve animal health and community health by helping animals. After helping launch VWB/VSF in 2004 together with a dedicated group of colleagues, Fraser became the organization’s first executive director in 2007. VWB/VSF aims to tackle the root causes of public health, animal health and ecosystem health challenges in developing communities around the world.
Engineers Without Borders (EWB) Canada - Ingénieurs Sans Frontières (ISF) Canada was born in 2000 by putting together a community of engineers really committed to looking at root causes of problems and where they could use their expertise, said Dr. Alexandra Conliffe, EWB/ISF’s vice president of operations.
Connecting with the local community is vital for each organization and also drives where each organization focuses their efforts. “The need is huge and we could be in so many different places,” said Fraser. VWB is driven by locally identified interest in partnership and focuses on capacity building as much as possible.
In addition to emergency medical care, including vaccination and surgery, MSF is committed to being a witness and a voice for the people in countries where its members serve. They determine projects partly by what is happening in the news and mostly because they have the expertise needed in a particular area, said LeBlanc. “When a project ends we try to hand it off to the people. There has to be buy-in from the community.”
EWB relationships tend to be longstanding, said Conliffe, and based on a lot of observation to learn how to engage particular communities. In addition to operating in five countries in Africa, Engineers Without Borders has chapters across Canada where they do an enormous amount of work focused on responsible mining, she added.
All the organizations welcome volunteers, whether professionals who go to work in the field, or those who can help with work closer to home, including advocacy. VWB is involved in development and education programs at all Canadian veterinary universities, offering a three-month internship to students. “We’ve deployed about 110 interns since we started,” said Fraser.
There’s no question each of the organizations has been successful in its own right, both with particular projects and with raising awareness. But failure is also sometimes part of the process, said EWB’s Conliffe.
EWB has an annual failure report that playys a part of determining in which countries they should work. “It’s okay to fail as long as you are learning from it.”
Dr. Elizabeth Stone, OVC dean, right, moderated the Without Borders panel discussion that included, from left to right, Drs. Erin Fraser, Alexandra Conliffe and Barbara LeBlanc.