Helping kids understand rabies: REC-certified vet students employ educational booklets in classrooms (Part 1*)

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In South Africa, the GARC online education tool—Rabies Educator Certificate (REC)—has been integrated into the veterinary college curriculum at the University of Pretoria. The REC foundation course equips community educators with rabies prevention information and shows trainees how to deliver this new-found knowledge to local communities that are at high-risk of rabies exposure.

This year after their REC training, vet students at the University of Pretoria were asked to train primary school students on the prevention of dog bites and rabies. Here, we share three stories of vet students using the Want a Friend? Be a Friend! booklets at primary schools to teach children about the importance of taking good care of dogs and understanding how to behave safely around them.

Jhinelle Mudaly, veterinary student (BVSc III) traveled to N’wa-vangani Primary School, in Mamelodi, Pretoria, South Africa with classmates Cherne Fortuin & Stephan Jordaan and provided this story:

N'wa-ganvani School students learn about rabies from University of Pretoria vet students. Photo: Univ. of Pretoria

As it was a beautiful day, we decided to take the learners outside where we proceeded to teach them about the dangers of rabies. Moreover, we taught the learners about...the importance of vaccinations, reading animal body language and behaviour, dog bite prevention and good pet care. The learners were eager and attentive, answering all the questions presented to them and in return, asking us a few mind-boggling questions themselves. It was interesting to find out their thoughts about the presentation and just pet care in general. Many of them showed concern and were now more encouraged to take their pets to veterinarians for their vaccinations.

Veterinary students, Andrea Lau, Bright Ntshweng, Kimona Harisanker, Stephan Stander and Rozaan Grobler (BVSc III), traveled to Balebogeng Primary School also in Mamelodi and provided this feedback:

Vet students engage a Balebogeng classroom during a rabies education sessions. Photo: Kimona Harisanker and Stephan Stander

[While] preparing our presentation, we discovered that it was quite challenging to find a way to present factual information about rabies without provoking unnecessary fear of dogs…In the end, we came up with a presentation…We included animations, rhymes and interactive activities in order to make it fun for the learners and to keep them interested in the topic.

…The University had provided us with 120 of GARC’s Want a Friend? Be a Friend! booklets, which we handed out to the learners...There were certificates for the learners who attended the session. These booklets help to create a wider awareness, as learners can take them home and show them to friends and family members. We also left a poster in each class with the contact details of the SPCA and the MAHC that learners can refer to in the future. We left our printed A3 sheets with the deputy principal, who was eager to laminate them and put them up around the school.

Students, Regan van Welie, Lauren Wakefield, Ingo Meyer, Stephen Hodgson & Daniella van der Have (BVSc III), traveled to Meetse, a Bophelo primary school, in the middle of Mamelodi to conduct their community education presentation and provided this story:

Meetse School children learn more about rabies with Want a Friend? Be a Friend! booklets. Photo: Univ. of Pretoria

We started by visiting Meetse to get an idea of what we were going to have to deal with when implementing our outreach project. In all honesty, I think we were just a bunch of slightly intimidated and nervous students tasked with something that seemed very daunting…Understanding rabies as a veterinary student is complicated enough, so we knew teaching it to primary school learners was going to be no easy task.

We proceeded to take a class one-by-one get the message across in an understandable way…We were using the Want a Friend? Be a Friend! booklets (n = 55). We do believe whole-heartedly that without those booklets our lives would not have been as easy that day. With all the fun activities and stickers in the booklets, the learners were very eager to participate and were even happier to receive their own copy.

We ended every talk with a little game that we believed would reinforce some of our main messages...Laughter and screams were the highlight and it was very tough to call it a day at the end.

Summarized by Laura Baker, GARC. The Want a Friend? Be a Friend! booklet is on the GARC website and can be downloaded here. It is available in a number of languages on the website; please contact us if you would like to use this booklet in a new language. A previous story about last years’ GARC fundraiser for Want a Friend? Be a Friend! booklets is here, and additional information about the University of Pretoria’s integration of REC into their veterinarian curriculum is here.

*Part 1 contains stories from three vet student groups at the University of Pretoria. Additional stories from other groups will appear in the next newsletter issue.