Student - May 31, 2018

‘Some people in Sierra Leone eat their sick animals’

Echica van Kelle

Who? Leah Situnayake, MSc International Development, from Sri Lanka
What? Thesis on the Community Animal Health Worker project
Where? Koidu, Sierra Leone

‘Most communities in Sierra Leone are highly dependent on animals. People interact with them a lot, and yet they often have no one to give them advice if their animals fall sick.

The Community Animal Health Worker project was a response to the 2014 outbreak of the Ebola virus, when the disease was transmitted through animals. The project selects people from a number of villages and teaches them basic knowledge about animals. They learn the signs that an animal is sick, how it can be treated, and when it should be put in quarantine. I wrote my thesis on this project.

Dangerous motorbike rides

I did things I wouldn’t have thought possible, such as riding pillion on a motorbike through remote parts of Kono district. Every day, dozens of people conducted interviews for the project in the villages. They asked people about their habits in interacting with animals. The villages were so remote that the interviewers couldn’t phone us if there was a problem. So I went there with my motorcyclist every few days. I checked that the tablets they were using were still working, that there were no problems with the data, and that the interviews hadn’t been accidentally deleted. Riding a motorbike can be very dangerous there, but I knew I would regret it if I didn’t do it. In retrospect I really appreciate this experience.

I did a few interviews myself as well, so as to see whether the project could be of benefit to other communities as well. I realized those villages too would benefit a lot from a trained animal expert when some of my interviewees told me they eat their sick animals there. Of course that can cause diseases to spread.


Fieldwork in Africa

I wanted to go to Africa for my thesis because I had never been there before, and because I had heard good things about it. Case studies in my courses are often about Africa, so I thought it would be interesting to go and experience it for myself. I would advise everyone to do fieldwork for their thesis. Instead of sitting at a desk looking at figures, when you do fieldwork you can relate the results to faces and places. Then you can interpret them better and I think that helps you write a better thesis.

The project was very busy so I hardly had any days off. When I did have a day off I did sports or watched matches with the locals. I miss Sierra Leone enormously and I keep an eye of flights. I can’t afford a ticket at the moment but one day I’d love to go back.’