Vets Go Wild

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Ever since I can remember I have wanted to be a vet, part of which has included dreaming of travelling to Africa to view and work closely with wild animals. In June, that dream came true when I travelled to South Africa to take part in the Vets Go Wild programme based on Amakhala Game Reserve. It was an opportunity to work with Dr Will Fowlds, one of the top rhino vets in the world, and I simply couldn’t miss that chance.


I was most worried about the fact I had no wildlife experience before going, plus I had no clinical vet knowledge of the species we were going to be working with.


Some highlights of the trip were taking blood from both a black and white rhino, simulating darting animals from a helicopter and being involved in giraffe capture and relocation.








I learned much while I was there. One of the things I learned most about was the plight of the rhino.

To think that I’ve had the honour to see these amazing creatures up close and work with them is amazing and I’m slightly saddened by the thought that future generations may never get that chance.



Rhino poaching numbers have dramatically increased in the past 10 years, with rhino deaths due to poaching hitting a high of 1004 in 2013 and are at 658 for 2014 thus far. Well organised and well-funded crime syndicates are feeding the growing market for rhino horn, which mainly lies in Asia, particularly Vietnam.

The poachers are often armed with veterinary drugs which they use to tranquilise the rhinos and then hack off their horns with pangas, while they’re still conscious. It’s an incredibly horrific thing to do, leaving the rhinos skull cavities open, exposed and bleeding. Sometimes the dehorning process doesn’t kill the rhino, but pressure sores, from lying down due to the tranquiliser, often leave the animals lame and unable to get up.


But there are glimmers of hope in what are dark times for the rhino. Many fields have rallied together in their efforts to save the rhino. There are anti-poaching teams on the ground, which are armed and dedicate huge amounts of time to observing and protecting the rhino. Technology companies are working on developing drones and tracking systems. Large anti-poaching advertising campaigns throughout Asia and Africa are endorsed by celebrities including David Beckham, Prince William and Jackie Chan. School pupils in South Africa and Vietnam are being educated on their plight in the hope poaching can be prevented in future. There are huge fundraising efforts occurring around the world which help make all of these things possible.


Working with Will has given me optimism that there is a chance for the Rhino. Many people are fighting for them so there is renewed hope for their survival.


‘Only when the last of the animals’ horns, tusks, skin and bones are sold, will mankind realize that money can never buy back our wildlife’ – Wild at heart.



Working with Vets in Thailand

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Having recently completed my third year of Veterinary Medicine, I travelled to Thailand with a fellow vet student to complete a work placement in Chiang Mai.

I have a particular interest in wildlife and zoo animal medicine but, due to the high demand for work placements in UK zoos, it is difficult to gain experience in this field at home. It was because of this problem that we looked for a placement abroad instead. Our search led us to a company called World Endeavors, who tailor-make student internships. They soon had three weeks placement organised for us at Chiang Mai Night Safari.

As our time away approached I started to feel somewhat apprehensive about the trip. How would I cope with the language barrier? Would I suffer from culture shock? And what about the climate and the possibility of huge bugs?! All in all, a lot to potentially be anxious about!

10376315_1506299239589803_1188813621168360274_nThere was really no need to worry about most of this because in our first couple of days we had a Thai lesson with a local woman and she took us around the markets to practice speaking with other locals. This was both eye-opening, as we got to see the side of Thailand that the tourists quite often miss; and very amusing for both the Thai people – who were laughing at our mispronunciations – and for us – as we were laughing at ourselves with embarrassment! Altogether a great day and I feel that it helped me immerse myself in the culture and get to grips with Thai etiquette.

10513524_10154357743930571_7464158356680543316_nOn arriving at the Night Safari the vets and the Thai veterinary students, who were also on placement, were very welcoming and friendly, but were all actually quite quiet (unlike the mosquitoes who had a party on our arrival!). We were unsure if this was because they weren’t confident with English, or if they were in fact just of a quiet nature. It turned out that the latter reason was correct, and as long as we phrased any questions we had in an uncomplicated way, we all got along very well and any potential language barrier was not an issue! This made getting involved with all of the veterinary work much easier. Goes to show that no matter where you are from or what language you speak, as long as you have the same goal, working together is easy!


I learned a lot about improvisation in the veterinary profession – including making darts for drug administration to the more dangerous animals – as Thai zoos are not as well off financially as those in Western countries. Furthermore, I saw how religion can have an impact on vet medicine, as most people in Thailand are Buddhist. Due to this, euthanasia is not often performed, so we got to see treatments carried out that would not usually be done in other countries.

The highlights for me were working with the Tigers, including young cubs! And our days off spent with the resident elephants weren’t bad either!


Presenting at the Association for Borderlands Studies World Conference

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Learning that my abstract had been accepted for presentation at a major international academic conference was both an exhilarating and a terrifying moment! Exciting because it would give me the chance to air the results of a period of extended field research that I had been conducting into territorial conflict in Georgia, but daunting because this would be the first time I had ever presented any research to an academic audience (let alone anything that I was solely responsible for!) Additionally, as an Msc student I wasn’t sure that my paper would stand up to the high standard set by more experienced researchers.

I was especially nervous because, given that I was still in Georgia doing my research, my access to academic mentors was limited. The fact that I had resorted to googling ‘presenting a conference paper’ seemed to confirm my suspicions that I was not entirely prepared to take this step! However, I threw myself into writing, drawing together all of my primary interview materials to discuss the impact that the building of borders around disputed territories was having on threat perception in Georgia (presented at a panel chaired by Vladimir Kolossov, below).
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Far from being a narrow circle of academics and practitioners the conference drew over 500 participants from all corners of the world and the geographic coverage of the case studies that were presented was impressive. I came away with a heightened knowledge of how my work is relevant to border scholars in Africa, Asia and the Americas as well as the feeling that I was part of a growing community of researchers interested in territory, borders and geopolitics as well as trade, migration and security.
As a first-time presenter and early-career researcher, I couldn’t have felt more welcomed into the field. As an additional bonus, any lingering reservations about my qualification to be there were quickly wiped out by the fact that my paper, along with those of Edward Boyle and Truong Khac Nguyen Minh (above), received a best student paper award and is now being prepared for publication by the Journal of Borderlands Studies. As far as introductions to the world of academic research go, this could not have been any better and I am greatly indebted to the Go Abroad Fund for having faith in my project and filling a funding gap that often stops young researchers from having these sorts of opportunities.


– Emily Knowles

Aid in Tacloban, The Philippines

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In August, I traveled from the UK to Tacloban in Philippines. Last year, on November 7th, one of the strongest storms ever recorded pummeled through the Philippines. Super Typhoon Haiyan (known locally as Yolanda) flattened part of the country killing at least 6340 and with at least 1061 still missing 9 months on. Tacloban bore the brunt of the storm as it faced winds of about 170mph.

My reason for traveling to this area was to work with the charity All Hands who have been working tirelessly to help the survivors living in Tacloban. In the city, 90% of buildings were destroyed so much of the work of this charity has been to build housing for the homeless. When I left the UK, I didn’t know what to expect this city to be like as the media was no longer reporting about it and the guide books were outdated. On arrival in Tacloban city, I took a motorised tricycle from the airport to the charity base. The driver took us past tent city, an area where thousands of people are still living in tents and have been for the last 9 months. I had prepared myself for the devastation caused by Yolanda yet I still found this site shocking.

During my stay in Tacloban, I was involved in construction, demolition and needs assessments. I found the experience very insightful into the lives of the local residents. I was hugely inspired by their cheery, happy-go-lucky approach to life despite living in disaster zone. I also gained a valuable insight into international disaster management and met influential figures in large aid organisations. I have been very interested by how these organisations work before, during and after disasters and would like to pursue this interest and work for an NGO in the future. My current course at university is product design. I would really like to look into how design can be used in a disaster situation.

I am very grateful for the funding which I was given to support my trip. It has been an incredible experience for me and I hope that as a result of the trip I am able to pursue a related career in international aid.




Reporting from Ramallah: Life and Death in the Occupied Territories

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This is not, and should not be a self-satisfied piece lamenting the sad state of some far off corner of the globe. This is an indictment, and as such will read as one. The initial purpose of my trip oversees was to volunteer with the Excellence Center in Hebron, occupied Palestine. I did not make it to Hebron. My experience in the West Bank instead was overshadowed by what can only be described as a tremendous state military apparatus, all-encompassing and permanent. I came to the West Bank expecting a tense political situation. What I found was not, as I had expected “a tense situation,” but a systemic and institutionalised violence. This statement doubtless sounds polemical, and it should. My travels to the West Bank coincided with the kidnapping of three Jewish settler boys in Hebron. These young men were later found dead, ushering in a series of reprisal beatings and murders by Israeli vigilantes- escalating into a full on Israeli military offensive against Hamas in Gaza. The kidnapping of Jewish teenagers and their murder must be deplored, as should the burning alive of a young Arab boy in East Jerusalem. There also must be historical context. Palestine has been under decades of illegal military occupation and has been subjected to periodic and violent wars of aggression by the state of Israel. These wars have been waged with impunity and in contravention of international law, most notably the IV Geneva Convention.  In the West Bank and Gaza the denial of human dignity manifests itself everyday in the arbitrary imposition of state power on hapless civilians.The  Israeli instruments of state repression includes curfews, summary executions, extra-judicial rendition, strip searches, and indefinite internment without charge.  Whilst in Bethlehem I saw the physical scars of occupation, most prominently the eight meter high separation wall condemned in a 2004 International Court of Justice advisory ruling. The wall sends an explicit message, those unlucky enough to reside within its confines are prisoners. As such, traveling between Israel and the occupied territories is a humiliating task which, during periods of heightened tension,  can turn deadly. A few short days after I had crossed the Qalandiya checkpoint near Ramallah,  two young men were shot dead from rooftop mounted snipers. We must remember that these two young men had mothers and fathers, they were some ones brother or uncle.These boys, and all the other victims of targeted state violence, lived and were loved. Indifference becomes easy when we depersonalize the crime- It can seem remote or unimportant. The problem therefore is the all too familiar narrative which leaves the victim nameless, the murder as another tally in an ever-growing body count, the ‘incident’ as part of an irredeemable ‘cycle of violence’. Let me be clear, this is unacceptable. I traveled to the West Bank because I am a student of politics. I have an obligation, as do all men and women of conscience, to speak out on behalf of egregious injustice.  Lets us remember their names:

 Mohammed Abu Khdeir – East Jerusalem

Bassem Safi Sadeq Abu Rob, Hashem Khader – Outside of Qalandiya

Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer, Eyal Yifrah – Outside of Hebron


A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words.

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The Holocaust – six million dead; it seems like just a number. But these numbers represent people – people like you, your sister or brother, your mum or dad, your gran or grandfather. They were killed for being born. For being born into a religion, for being a certain age, for speaking a certain language or looking a certain way.

There is no way I can put into words what my journey meant or what I have learned – how do you sum up the Holocaust in a few hundred words? So instead I attempting it through pictures, with small descriptions below.


The infamous view of Auschwitz Birkenau.

The Principal’s Go Abroad Fund allowed me to travel across Poland, visiting sites linked to the Holocaust and related atrocities. Prior to my trip, I had always thought of Auschwitz Birkenau as the center of the Holocaust, but the study trip opened my eyes to the atrocities that happened throughout the country, not just in concentration and death camps. I had never thought about the city of Oświęcim itself, but after staying there for a couple of nights I soon realised that although daily life continues, the area will never escape the links to the nearby extermination camp. Continue reading

Summer School in Alpbach, Austria- Why I don’t regret spending my holiday studying

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Although holidays are often considered to be a good opportunity to have a break from studying, I decided that I would use the time to further my education. This was mainly because I learnt about the summer school ‘European Health Care and Social Systems in Transition‘, which is organised annually as a part of Forum Alpbach in Austrian Tirol and which, I thought, would perfectly fit into my medical studies.

As the UK is not my home country (so being abroad is a part of my daily life), I cannot remember having too many worries before leaving Edinburgh. Being able to speak German and having checked all the necessary train and bus schedules, I confidently made my way down to Alpbach on time. However, it was only after arriving at the place that my first worries appeared.

I have to admit that I expected the rest of the participants to be, such as myself, medical students, mostly my age, or maybe 2-3 years older. The reality though was a bit different. I was confronted with a group consisting of some recently qualified economists, public health specialists, doctors and also PhD students, many of whom already had some professional experience.

Was I the youngest in the group? Most probably. One of the very few who did not have a degree, let alone job experience? That’s for sure. But at the same time, maybe I was also the one who could gain the most and learn from my experienced colleagues? I spotted my opportunity and I was not wrong.

During a week of a very intense programme consisting of lectures, discussions and seminars, I discovered that the experience and knowledge gained at summer schools can be very different from what the university routine has to offer. Firstly, as the group consisted of only 20 students (as opposed to 200 during medical lectures), everyone was encouraged to ask many questions, which often progressed to very interesting discussions. Frequently, the discussions continued even after the sessions- in pubs or restaurants, where we gathered in the evenings to get to know each other better. The mixture of educational backgrounds, nationalities and experiences within our group turned out to be one of the biggest advantages of the summer school. Working in such a diverse environment is extremely inspiring and it really helps to look at the discussed problems from many different angles.

Similarly, a wide range of topics covered (combining the elements of social sciences, economics, statistics, law and IT) facilitated a deeper understanding of the underlying issues, which often extend beyond the scope of just one science. For me it was a unique opportunity to learn about the things which are at the heart of successful healthcare provision, but are rarely discussed as a part of the medical curriculum.

There are far more things which made my stay in Austria an exceptional experience, not only in terms of education. However, I hope that this short summary showed that summer schools can be very different from university classes and this is why they are really worth adding to your holiday schedule.


Thank you to GoAbroadFund for making this trip possible.

Ghana is it’s people

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2 years ago, fresh from completing my A Levels, I set off on the greatest adventure of my life, and my heart never came home. Africa captured me, and left me desperate to return.

Some might say that Ghana’s biggest asset is its Gold, or it’s newly discovered oil. The people of Ghana themselves, the ordinary folk on the street, are not a valuable asset to Ghana. They are Ghana. Unfortunately, those who live outside of the capital city are often left helpless. Vulnerable people are ignored. They are pushed to the wayside; none more so than people living with HIV and AIDs.

And so, this summer, I travelled back to Ghana to work with the West Africa AIDs Foundation, to reach out to these vulnerable communities. I wasn’t worried about culture shock, how the food would taste or how the people would be. I guess the beauty of having lived somewhere for a whole year already is that it becomes your second home and these things are second nature. I did anticipate being frustrated though, working in Ghana. African time is a well-known concept across the continent, and I worried that I’d feel that things weren’t getting done, or at least, not in the way we are used to back at home.

But Africa time was just fine. During my time at WAAF, I was heavily involved in the implementation of a campaign issued by the Ghana AIDs Commission called ‘Protect the Goal’ – it’s mission was to reduce the stigma around HIV, with the hope of encouraging people to know their HIV status. We distributed free condoms and ran free HIV-screening. The hesitance people showed before being tested, with fear of being positive, was a telling sign of the stigma that surrounds HIV in Ghana.


Fan park at the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation headquarters in Accra – a popular place to watch the football and the location of our campaign

Those who are brave enough to seek treatment for HIV find solace at the International Health Care Clinic, run in association with WAAF. I say brave, not because the treatment itself is particularly gruelling , but because they face marginalisation in their own communities if others learn of their positive status. Many don’t even know about the treatment available, believing that HIV is a ‘death-sentence’ –which it certainly does not have to be. There are concerns in Ghana about a potential lack of medicines available, and although this seems to be under control as of now, it does require a lot of rallying by the clinic to release funds to buy these medicines.

There are endless challenges facing healthcare in Ghana, not just within the field of HIV and AIDs. Not least is the traditional belief in spirits and magic that doctors contend with on a daily basis in practice, nor the lack of infrastructure in many parts of the country that prevent many people from even reaching a healthcare facility. But this is a country with the potential to change and improve the lives of it’s people, and I have every intention of returning to Ghana to address these challenges as my medical career progresses and my love for the African continent undoubtedly grows.


A passer-by on a busy street in Osu pledges to ‘Protect the Goal’


A colleague of mine discussing concerns with a gentleman prior to undertaking HIV screening


The process of HIV screening involved many hands, to ensure it was accurate and quick

  Thank you to the Go Abroad fund for this opportunity

Las Vegas, NV: Frontline Work in the Human Trafficking Heartland

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This July I travelled to Las Vegas, Nevada, aided in part by the University of Edinburgh’s Go Abroad Fund, to widen out my PhD research examining the intersection between human trafficking, politics and the impact that trauma has on survivors. Las Vegas, a city whose reputation rests as much on its illicit activities as its licit ones, has recently passed an important human trafficking law, known as Assembly Bill 67. With nearly 1 million children sexually exploited worldwide through human trafficking, and 2,300 victims of sex trafficking reported since 1994 in Las Vegas, this is a critical time for the state to flex its legislative muscle. The bill, championed by the State Attorney General’s office as well as law enforcement officials, legislators and NGOs, places harsh sentences on pimps forcing children into prostitution, with the possibility of a 15-year-to-life sentence for recruiting those under 14 years of age. Another important piece of legislation, Assembly Bill 311, has established a fund to support victims of human trafficking. My interest in visiting Las Vegas comes at a time when the UK is considering various pieces of anti-trafficking legislation, including the Modern Slavery Bill and the Human Trafficking (Scottish) Bill, and I was interested in seeing how the US implements criminal law related to the offence of trafficking, and what governmental and civil society work it is doing to support survivors.


My hope prior to arriving in Las Vegas was that I would get the opportunity to meet a representative cross-section of groups and individuals working on issues of human trafficking in the region. This chance arose in the form of several meetings I had, one with Chief Deputy Attorney General Russell Smith, who was an engaging and enlightened public servant on the issue of trauma and trafficking, with an unimpeachable record in the field. He explained the vital efforts the AG’s office is making in terms of protecting survivors of human trafficking, including taping testimonials to avoid re-traumatisation, and working closely with specialists in trauma throughout a case.

Role of Trauma

Another aim of my trip was to get an overall picture of the groups working collaboratively to address human trafficking in Nevada. I was invited to attend the Southern Nevada Human Trafficking Task Force quarterly meeting, where their focus is strongly on prevention, prosecution, protection of victims and partnership. In this particular meeting, training was providing to help identify aspects of trauma for those working with survivors. The work being done by professionals in Southern Nevada was instructive in how different states and cities adapt collaboratively to address the crime of human trafficking. In the UK, where it is estimated that up to 10,000 people a year could be exploited for forced labour, current legislation admittedly is falling short of getting prosecutions and providing victim support. This is why the sharing of best practices across cities and states is vital, and why a broader understanding of frontline support across international borders is needed more than ever.