SAFPROM Scholarship Gives Aspiring Veterinarian a Second Chance

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13 October 2022: After studying at the Oceania University of Medicine (OUM) for six years but unable to do enough to graduate, Nelson Meleisea wanted to move into animal health. His journey began at the bottom when we was knocked back as a Paravet, then applied for a lower position at the Ministry of Agriculture and started at the bottom cleaning the farm at Nuu. 

Today he is one of two recipients of a SAFPROM funded scholarships to study in the 6 year Doctor of Veterinary Medicine Program at the University of the Phillipines Los Banos (UPLB), College of Veterinary Medicine.

With the on-going shortage of vet specialists in Samoa impacting the ability to provide critical services, the Government of Samoa in partnership with the World Bank through the Samoa Agriculture and Fisheries Productivity and Marketing Project (SAFPROM) is funding two scholarships for eligible students to study in the 6 year degree.

“I studied medicine for six years at OUM but sadly, I was not successful. After that, I spent time looking for other relatable fields because I did not want to lose the knowledge I had gained from that experience” said Meleisea.

“This led me to animal health. While I was looking through the circulars I saw a posting for a Paravet in 2018.

“Although I wasn’t successful when I applied for that position, I was determined to get my foot in the door somehow. So when I saw another opportunity to apply for a field assistant position in the Ministry, I went for it. Thankfully I got the role and worked my way up by cleaning the farm at Nu’u.”

His persistence paid off when six months later, a vacancy for the Paravet role opened up again and this time when he applied for the position, he was successful.

“I was really happy when I got the job and I started working as a Paravet in 2019,” he said.

“We went out in the field every day, I spent time helping the farmers when they needed assistance with the health of cattle, pigs or whatever livestock animals they owned.”

“A former veterinarian I worked with at the beginning taught me everything I know. Dr. Renee helped me transfer my skills and knowledge from my background in human health to animal medicine. It was from there I developed an interest in veterinary medicine”.

Meleisea says it became an everyday learning experience working as a Paravet out in the field.

“And when I went home after work, I continued to do a lot of reading and studying as well to expand my knowledge.”

After several years of dealing with the disappointment of failure in his first attempt to study medicine, Meleisea said being selected for the Veterinary Medicine Program at the University of the Phillipines Los Banos (UPLB) with assistance from the SAFPROM Project and the Government of Samoa, felt like a second chance at life for him.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I want to succeed, especially because Samoa does not have any veterinarians..

“It’s a huge responsibility but I feel ready to face this. I am very happy and thankful to SAFPROM for this opportunity. I did not expect that I would get a chance such as this but it’s a miracle and I’m truly grateful.”

As a father of seven children, leaving behind his wife and family to take on a life changing opportunity will be bitter sweet but Mr Meleisea is grateful for their support.

Meleisea also acknowledged the support of his colleagues who have helped him immensely throughout his journey.

“I want to thank my team because they all contributed through knowledge and skill sharing. They are like a second family to me, and if I become successful in the future, I will come back and work together with them.”

“When I travel to the Philippines for studies, it will be the first time I have ever left Samoa. I will definitely miss my family, especially my children but I know they will be the reason to keep me going. I am determined to do this not only for my family but also for the country.”

With the on-going shortage of vet specialists in Samoa impacting the ability to provide critical services, the SAFPROM initiative aims at strengthening the capacity of the Agriculture sector.

The SAFPROM support identifies the important role of qualified veterinary specialists in the treatment of domesticated and agricultural animals.

“They also ensure bio-security at the border by preventing exotic animal diseases from entering Samoa and help drive production of animals for food and nutrition security”.

Without a locally qualified veterinarian to meet the growing and urgent demand of services needed for cattle farming, domestic animals and biosecurity; Mr Meleisea well understands the gravity of responsibility he carries as he embarks on his academic journey abroad.

“Having a qualified veterinarian is a game changer for the livestock development in Samoa,” said Mr Meleisea.

“There is a great demand for veterinarians because currently we have limited knowledge and expertise around various diseases that can affect our animals.”

Meleisea says they only possess knowledge that has been taught by former animal doctors.

“When there is a case of discovering new diseases that we haven’t encountered before or have no knowledge of, then it becomes a problem and we walk blindly into certain situations.