The volunteering adventures continue... in Asia & Africa
Updated: Jun 19
It’s incredible to think I’ve already been living over 1 year in Singapore. Work and adapting to a new life have kept me busy, and I feel now fully settled down as COVID-related restrictions eased down in spring 2022. Work and day-to-day life aside, I have continued my volunteering with animals for a small local association, called “Singapore Cat Feeders”.
About community cats in Singapore
After my volunteering in Romania, Bulgaria and Mexico in 2020 where stray dogs/cats are ubiquitous, I was wondering what the situation would be in Singapore. Being a developed country with a high GDP (Gross Domestic Product, a measure of the market value of all the final goods and services produced in a specific time period by a country), I expected little to no stray animals. It’s partly true but there is a different situation here: Singapore is a densely populated small island (5.4 millions inhabitants on 733 square kilometers, so a density of 7804 persons per square km - it is the 3rd mostly densed country in the world after Macau and Monaco ;)) and highly urbanized. Singapore aka the little red dot is also nicknamed “the little Switzerland of Asia” for its cleanliness and state of affairs, where everything runs like a Swiss cuckoo clock 😊 When it comes to cats & dogs in Singapore, you have the whole spectrum:
Some pets are treated like a child, e.g. dogs are being “walked” in prams and/or wearing dog shoes to protect their paws. Some cats are on leash or put in a tailored backpack on their owner’s back. Most people here have a special breed, which they purchase for a high price; there are quite a lot of Siamese type of cats for instance.
Some breeds are unfortunately bred illegally, and if they cannot be sold as kitten, they are abandoned on the streets. It’s not the majority, but this leads to a community of abandoned cats. Luckily some associations rescue them and take care of sterilizing them. Some are up for adoptions, some have been too long on the streets hence cannot be touched and therefore end up as “community cat”.
Community cats isn’t a term I came across before Singapore. These cats are actually living outdoor (remember it’s 27 degrees all year round here), usually close to a community center (kind of “Maison des sociétés” if you look for a French equivalent) or close to a HDB, which is a subsidized housing where most Singaporean families live. The great thing about community cats is there are many people who actually “care for them” despite being without owner. That leads to the not-so-unusual sight of overweight or obese community cats, due to the abundance of food they get in some areas where there is lack of coordination.
I joined a Community cat feeding group near Chinatown about a year ago in June 2021. The role of each volunteer is very simple: provide the daily evening meal for a group of about 12 cats, in a specific location with specific rules (predefined cat food brands, set quantities and locations of feeding) so that the place stays clean and there is no pest developing over time. We are a group of about 20 people coordinated by Eliza, a Singaporean lady. She makes the roster so that someone is assigned to each day of the week, each month, all year round. I am therefore in charge of feeding two Fridays per month. It’s a very simple form of volunteering, yet I enjoy it because I didn’t want to commit to something I could not sustain over the long term.
Below you can enjoy some photos from the community cats I feed near Chinatown:
Let’s keep learning
You know me by now: I have itchy feet to make a difference for animals while keeping learning through my job and my One Health studies. A word about my studies: after putting my semester on hold early 2021 as a whirlwind was going through my personal life, I re-started in September 2021 and I’m glad to report I am about to reach the certificate level – woohoo! I have one more assignment to submit by mid-July 2022 - gotta keep the motivation til the finish line… Several of the courses I took this year were highly interesting: Ecosystem health, One health policy, Applied epidemiology to public health and zoonotic diseases in a global setting. One disease I am particularly fascinated about is rabies. I wrote several of my assignments on this disease and you may remember I wrote a blog post on this as well in 2020.
Rabies is the world’s deadliest zoonotic disease, causing immense suffering to both humans and dogs alike. The devastating virus travels across the body via the nervous system, eventually reaching the brain and ultimately causing a fatal encephalitis. Once its cruel symptoms - such as spasms, vomiting, hyperactivity, confusion, aggression and paralysis develop - the disease is always fatal.
Despite being 100 % vaccine-preventable, globally rabies is still responsible for the needless deaths of an estimated 59,000 people every year - the majority of these deaths are children under the age of 15.
In many rabies-endemic countries, fear of the clear and vast suffering the disease brings can lead to hostile attitudes towards dogs, ultimately resulting in indiscriminate culling programmes being put into place in a futile attempt to control the disease, leading to the inhumane deaths of thousands of dogs.
The disease disproportionately impacts upon the worlds most disadvantaged areas, with the poorest countries in the world carrying the greatest burden. Over 150 countries in the world still have canine rabies, placing more than 3.3 billion people at risk of infection.
This brings me to my next volunteering adventure: I will go to Uganda from July 16th til 27th on a mass dog vaccination campaign against rabies. It goes without saying I am beyond excited to go in the field and learn from the experts who have been running such dog vaccination campaigns since 2013: Mission rabies. The team of Mission rabies is an established UK charity dedicated to fight rabies through vaccination and children education in endemic countries. You can check out the great work they are doing on their website or follow them on Instagram @MissionRabies or on Facebook.
Their aim is fully aligned with that of WHO, WOAH & FAO: reach zero human death of dog-mediated rabies by 2030.
How can you help in the fight against rabies?
Reaching such an ambitious goal to eradicate canine-mediated rabies is not easy. It requires dedicated efforts across countries, with governments commitments to the goal together with human and animal health sectors involvements. This is exactly what One Health is about: combining multiple stakeholders’ expertise, in an organized way, to reach a common goal.
Volunteering, e.g. offering one’s own time is a way to help. Whether it is on the ground during vaccination missions, or by fundraising for the missions. Each trip requires a huge amount of logistics ahead and during the campaign. Not to mention the material required and of course the purchase of the vaccine doses itself (note: a vaccine dose for a dog costs around 1.8 USD / 1.75 EUR / 1.5 GBP while two doses of vaccine for a human cost around 180 USD / 170 EUR)
For this mission, I’ve decided to fundraise 475 USD / 450 EUR / 386 GBP. To that intent, I’ve set up a JustGiving campaign page directly linked to Mission rabies account. This means every single penny will go directly to the charity: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/fanny-schappler?newPage=True
With 18.4 USD / 18 EUR / 15 GBP, you can cover the costs of 10 dog vaccines – how amazing is that?
But of course, financial contribution or donating time are not the only way one can help. Spreading the word and raising awareness about rabies is equally important. If you travel to a rabies endemic country (see map here: https://rabiesalliance.org/media/22) and will potentially get in contact with dogs, get yourself protected ahead of your trip by getting vaccinated against rabies. As the adage goes: better be safe than sorry!
I wish you a beautiful summer ahead of you for those in the Northern hemisphere, and a mild winter (unless you love snow like me) for those in the Southern hemisphere. I cannot wait to share with you my experience after my trip to Uganda. In the meantime, you can always get quick updates from my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/YnnafJourney
Thanks for reading!