The Afya adventure – part one

Just landed in Nairobi, after spending 4 days and 4 nights in and around the Serengeti. Tomorrow morning I fly back to Holland. Since there was no internet available in the places where we stayed, I was not able to give an update earlier than today. But apart from that, the trip was unique, amazing and breathtaking. I realize I have had one of the best experiences in my life. Let me share these with you in the following days, step by step…

I arrive in the Serengeti on Wednesday, May 28. A small propeller plane takes me into the park, taking off with a delay of 1.5 hours. From the air I can get a taste from what is waiting for me down there. Large herds of wildebeest and zebra’s are visible from the sky. The plains are drying up and the wildebeest are migrating north of where there is more food and water available. This has started already a few weeks ago and the herds I am looking at are only a fraction of the number of animals that have already moved over the plains of the Serengeti. Although I find these (give or take a few) 3,000 animals, running in a large stream of an amazing size, compared to the 50,000 that are seen at the start of the migration it is peanuts. Current estimations of the wildebeest population range from 1.1-1.2 million animals. That’s 4 times the size compared to 45 years ago, clearly showing the benefits of this protected area of 14.500 square kilometers, roughly the size of Northern Ireland.

Sarah Cleaveland, leader of the rabies control project has been waiting for me for more than 2 hours at the Seronera airstrip. Not only did the plane took off too late, it also has flown a different route, leading to a much longer route than intially planned. No reason for me to complain, referring to the earlier described sights, but the downside is that we will be too late to join the team that is vaccinating the dogs in Rung’abure, a small village west of the Serengeti. Later I hear from the team that this was a crazy day, with over 400 dogs vaccinated, hundreds of people surrounding the team, laughing and cheering children and a dog giving birth to three puppies…

We have lunch at the residential place of the Frankfurter Zoological Society, close the airstrip. Here the research team resides when they operate in the field. It is an amazing place. While sitting on the porch, we see grazing zebra’s, a family of water-buffalo’s, two warthogs and a baboon passing by. I can hardly believe my eyes, wildlife in your backyard…

After lunch we have to move. Paolo Charles, the vehicle manager of the team, will take Sarah and me to Mugumu, a village west of the park. Here we will stay two nights as the vaccinations take place in villages in the surrounding of Mugumu. We have 4 hours of travel ahead of us. In about 2 hours we will reach the border of the park and Sarah assures me that I will see tons of wildlife in this period. Within 15 minutes, we encounter a herd of zebra’s, drinking at a small pond. We decide to wait and observe them for a moment. I take my camera and start filming them. Suddenly the zebra’s seem to be alerted by something and leave the water. We think to see the outline of a crocodile in the water…or not? The zebra’s aren’t sure either and return to continue to lessen their thirst. Again, a sudden move and the huge reptile raises from the water in an attempt to grab a small foal, but misses. Nonetheless, I caught it on tape and Sarah ascertains me this being a rare sight, as she has been waiting for hours next to similar sites where nothing happened. (In a few days I will publish this scene as I currently do not have a high-speed connection to upload the video).

We continue and after watching wildebeest, more zebra’s, giraffes, hippo’s, ostriches, Thompson gazelle’s, eland and more we arrive in the town of Mugumu. We stay at ‘Anita’s place’, a nice hostel, far less primitive than I expected. Although there is no running water, it is clean. I have a large two size room, even including TV. Shortly after we’ve arrived, the team returns, tired from, as said earlier, a crazy and hectic day. I meet the remaining members of he team; Idi Lipende, a veteriarian and coordinator of the campaign, Israel Silaa, the driver, and Kaneja Ibrahim, the field assistant. With the team is also Tendeka Matatu, our cameraman, Suzanne McNabb, a researcher, who is working on her PhD and James Desmond, a recently graduated veterinarian from the USA.

Tendeka tells me that he has found in Kaneja the host for our podcast show as he is a charismatic guy with no fear for the camera and someone who has a talent for improvisation. And that’s not his only talent, as I will find out in the next days. Although they have spectacular stories of which many is caught on tape, I am not allowed to see it yet. “No, you have to experience it yourself first, before we can show you the footage, for that it is too special”, Tendeka promises me, with a smile on is face.

So, I just need one more night of patience. And I can tell you, he was right…

To be continued

All packed up and ready to go…

Sipping my coffee at Schiphol airport, waiting to board the plane. A large cappuccino, and it’s a good one. I need it. It was an early start this morning. Although I normally do not check in more than 2 hours before, this time I wanted to be early on the airport and arrived at 7.15 am, three hours before departure. Just to have time to do some shopping (and disillusion crept in: it’s not cheaper here! Thought to make a world deal with a consumer HD camcorder, but no way, I have seen them cheaper even with tax) and to write a short blogpost.

It will take me until Wednesday morning before I will arrive in the Serengeti. First, Kenya Airways will take me to Nairobi where I will stay over for one night. Tomorrow I will travel to Arusha by bus and on Wednesday morning I will take a plane to Seronera, from which I directly go into the national park to visit the team of Sarah Cleaveland.

I am excited. Although I have traveled most continents, Africa south of the Sahara is one of the regions of the world I have never been. And it’s a fantastic project. From more than one viewpoint. Primarily because it’s such a great feel-good project, letting the world know of this lives-saving project, eradicating one of the most horrifying infectious disease, for both man and animal. But not only that. For me personally it is this unique combination of my ‘first’ and ‘second’ professional life: combining my history as a veterinarian with my current life as a new media-maker.

I feel privileged.

To be continued…

Let’s help to make the world a better place

In our short existence we have done a variety of assignments, all of which were equally challenging and interesting from a communication point of view. It’s good to see an increasing number of people believing in the power of new media.

Today we are proud to present the beginning of one of our most challenging assignments: the participation of a video production on rabies vaccination in Tanzania.

Intervet/Schering Plough Animal Health has set up a project in the Serengeti called ‘Afya Serengeti’ (meaning health of Serengeti) with the sole purpose to help the local population vaccinating the domestic dogs against rabies. With the donation of rabies vaccine in combination with the education of the people they help to bring down the outbreaks of this deadly disease (according to the World Health Organization it is estmated that each year 55,000 people die from rabies and approx. 10 million receiving treatment after being exposed to animals thought to have the disease).

We are asked to produce a series on the work of Sarah Cleaveland, a veterinary epidemiologist currently based in the Serengeti. Here she executes one of the largest large-scale rabies control programmes in Sub-Saharan Africa. We work closely together with Tendeka Matatu from TEN10 Films. Tendeka is a multi-award winner of various films and will shoot the series in Tanzania.

DigiRedo is asked to take care of the entire postproduction process and distribution through new media formats (podcasting, web videos, DVD). Together with Blue Zebra PR we will make sure the world will learn about this important project.

Today René will leave to Tanzania to facilitate with the shooting of the series. For one week he will be side by side with Sarah, her team and Tendeka to capture their important work on Digital Video. The first episode of the series is expected in two weeks time.

We are honoured to put our expertise to work for such a unique initiative.

Check out some amazing pictures of the project here.

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