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Volunteer Spotlight - Sarah Ballantyne

AMRRIC member Sarah Ballantyne recently volunteered on dog health programs in the Mutitjulu and Areyonga communities in the Northern Territory. Sarah shares the highlights and challenges of her experiences here.

What did you do for the program? 

Within the Mutitjulu community I was involved in the preparation and administration of internal and external parasite preventative measures. I also assisted with neutering the dogs in a veterinary nurse based role. Within the Areyonga community I performed a number of dog castrations. This included the surgical procedure as well as securing the patient’s airway, maintaining the anaesthetic, preparing the surgical site, administering intra and post-operative medications and monitoring the patient’s recovery.

What did you most enjoy? 

Being a part of a cohesive team of people, who strived to use their professional capabilities to improve the animal and human welfare within Indigenous communities, and working alongside three very knowledgeable and more importantly passionate veterinarians was my greatest highlight. I equally enjoyed interacting with members of the two communities; learning about their culture and teaching the Indigenous children about aspects of the Dog Health Program.

Were there any challenges? How did you overcome these? 

Communication was a challenge. When meeting someone for the first time people of Western culture are often loud and out-going. In comparison people of Indigenous culture are often more quietly spoken. I found this difference to be most significant when we first entered the homes of and addressed members of the community. As communication was paramount in influencing the success of the program, overcoming this challenge was crucial. This was achieved by firstly recognising this difference, and then adjusting how I greeted members of the community thereafter.

What is the main thing you got out of this volunteering experience? 

The main thing I got out of this volunteering experience was the extent to which we can use the skills we acquire at university, to improve the lives of others in our country and abroad. Someone with a degree in veterinary science wishing to improve their clinical abilities is not restricted to private practice, and can instead use their capabilities in a highly rewarding way to benefit society.  Lastly it made me realise how enjoyable a career can be amongst a team of supportive, caring and friendly people.

What advice would you give to others wanting to do this? 

For veterinary students wishing to volunteer, I would recommend waiting to the final year of the veterinary degree.  I would  also advise any person wishing to volunteer to have effective teamwork skills, and be willing to offer their assistance in veterinary related and non-veterinary related activities, such as cooking and cleaning!  I would highly recommend this trip to others.

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