Veterinarian from Ghana Completes Mandela Fellowship with HSVMA

By Dr. Joannishka K. Dsani

I was placed as an intern with the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association (HSVMA) through the prestigious Mandela Washington Fellowship and it has been a life-changing experience. The Fellowship is a U.S. government funded flagship program by the Young Africans Leadership Network (YALI) which was started by President Barack Obama. It seeks to empower exceptional young African leaders between the ages of 25 and 35 through academic coursework, leadership training and networking. In 2018, 700 fellows from 48 African countries participated in the fellowship of which I was the only veterinarian and one of 33 from Ghana. The U.S.-based aspect of the fellowship consists of a six week academic coursework at selected U.S. universities in one of three tracks; public management, civic leadership or business and entrepreneurship, a three-day summit in Washington D.C and a six week professional development experience for only 100 selected fellows. My fellowship took place at the University of California Davis and I was one of the 100 selected to continue with a Professional Development Experience (PDE) of which I was placed with HSVMA under the supervision of Dr. Andrew Rowan.

My PDE kicked off on August 6th 2018 with intensive knowledge building in the field of animal protection in North America, orienting myself with the Humane Society’s work and some strategic advocacy training courses. I was tasked to work on a proposal for a pilot spay and neuter project to be implemented in Ghana in the future, a project the likes of which had never been undertaken in Ghana and Dr. Rowan was instrumental in connecting me to all the resources I needed. I spent the next five weeks carrying out extensive research into animal protection in Africa, analyzing animal welfare policies by the African Union, researching dog sterilization programs and conducting informational interviews with Humane Society International teams that had implemented such programs.

Throughout the duration of my PDE, I engaged in discussions and informational interviews with many teams and staff members with HSVMA, Humane Society International, and various HSUS departments including the Animal Protection Litigation section, the Humane Society Legislative Fund, the social media teams, Rural Area Veterinary Services (RAVS) and others. All these departments actively facilitated more networking opportunities for me.

I run the only companion animal rescue in Ghana so it was a privilege to also visit organizations like the Humane Rescue Alliance in Washington, DC, where I got to learn U.S. best practices and see real shelters/rescues in action and also cuddle with some of the cutest furry babies ever!

I was honored to meet with staff from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and visit other organizations like the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals where I made various presentations about my work back home and also gained a lot of insight into their work.  A highlight of my PDE was an opportunity to be a guest lecturer at the George Washington University Graduate Law School. All of these were made possible through the amazing people I met with HSVMA and the Humane Society of the United States (some acquaintances I made in the kitchen when getting a coffee!)

It was a privilege interning with the Humane Society and I am excited for what the future holds! I would like to thank everyone who made my experience an incredible one especially Dr. Rowan who did not hesitate to help me professionally in any way he deemed possible. I am leaving the USA with an expanded deeper knowledge on animal welfare issues. I am more equipped with resources and a renewed passion to face the animal welfare issues I encounter back home. Most importantly I no longer feel like I am on an island surrounded with water because the HSVMA and the Humane Society of the United States have given me a strong network of support on the African continent, around the world and back here in the USA.

Thank you HSVMA, Thank you Mandela Washington Fellowship for this experience!