From September 2003 until May 2004 I volunteered with Mercy Ships in a joint project with Re-using IT (or as it was know back then Computers For Africa). This blog is the diary I kept of this time that I e-mailed back to all those who had sponsored and supported me on this trip.
I am now in Emden Germany for 3-4 weeks, after an uneventful sail across the channel. Went to a concert in aid of Mercy Ships last night (Thursday, October, 2nd).
I am sharing my cabin with 2 others (1 in engineering [welding division]) and the other in renovations [painting, basic maintenance, among 2 of this departments jobs], both from the US, but am (possibly, it hasn’t been confirmed yet) being moved to a cabin, which is being refurbished, near the end of the Germany leg (which may have more people in it). The atmosphere on-board has been relaxed and friendly, so has settled in quickly, with engineering threatening to either go on strike and shut down all ships systems (electricity, water, etc) or throw Gregg (one of the guys I work with and a fellow Scot) overboard if they don’t get another computer (as they feel they could do with another, the department will get but only when resources allow.
Just a few hours before the departure from Sunderland there was a problem with the fire equipment onboard, there are hose’s around the ship and the water is taken directly from the sea. About 5hrs before the ship departed one of the pipes for the fire hoses broke, flooding the bookshop (over ankle deep water was sloshing around there) and the water went through the floor and flooded the cabins underneath (which have not yet to fully dried out). On top of that a pipe for the drinking water burst so the welders were kept very busy before departure.
We arrived in Emden on Monday after 9.00pm, departure from Sunderland was at 6.00pm. To get to the harbour the ship had to go through a lock and take on 2 pilots, 1 for the channel to the harbour and another for in the port itself. The German advance team had come to see the ship in, though it was to dark for us to see them until we were in the lock. What a job the Emden advance team have done, they have got 1 of the local bus companies to allow us on the buses for free (we only have to show our Mercy Ship ID and we get on!) there are also various shops, cafes and restaurants that are giving discounts to the crew.
As Emden is the main port for taking on cargo there has been a lot of activity with regards to cargo arriving and being sorted, in preparation for loading aboard ship. The crew have all been asked not to accept any more cargo, whether big or small, due to the amount already being brought aboard
With regard to my position onboard, I am on the IT helpdesk, which means that all calls that come into the department go through me and either I sort them out or, if necessary, pass it on to the relative person. There is an e-mail café where anyone can check they’re mail or surf the Internet but for some jobs the staff in question have to have orientation on the ships computer system, which I help provide. Since I joined the ship the network has gone down completely once and the Internet fails periodically (among many other smaller problems), along with this all telephones (which run off satellite) are the responsibility of IT. Also the department is preparing to upgrade all computers onboard to Windows 2000, so it can be pretty busy.
My next update will probably be from Malaga, Spain (which is about a 5-7 day sail from Emden), hope you have enjoyed the first report.
Hello everyone. Departed Emden at around 10.00am on Thursday 23rd October bound for Malaga, due to arrive in Malaga Tuesday 28th October.
During the stay in Emden people did various things (went to Holland, saw surrounding countryside and travelled to different part of Germany [some went home to catch up with friends & relatives], 1 weekend both my cabin buddies went to Berlin for a weekend while I stayed behind to re-wire the phone in the cabin (also my money was running short, so thought it would be better to wait for the wire transfer from home to come through first). Whilst the ship was berthed in Emden I went round the town a few times, went to Wal-Mart (people had said it wasn’t that good [expensive, not a lot of choice etc], I thought it was pretty decent and so did Jeff (1 of my cabin mates) and McDonalds and took several pictures. On the 1st weekend the ship was in Emden there were various festival things going on, there was a street market on Saturday and closer to the ship there was a funfair and some really well decorated tractors and trailers. 1 of the IT department was leaving from Emden, to join the Africa Mercy so the whole department went out for a meal (the restaurant we went to proved a bit tricky to find and we spent about 15 minutes trying to find it, which included asking 3 different people were it was and getting 3 different responses!!!). On the weather side everything has been fine, temperature has dropped and have had some frost and rain, Wednesday 22nd October was misty but cleared up in afternoon.
Onboard ship it has been quite busy, with tours, new people starting and loading of cargo. There were loading teams organized, so I signed up for 1 and this was followed by several trips to stores to load boxes of food into fridges and onto shelves. Apart from food, supplies for building and medical plus many donations for ship/crew use (somebody donated enough vitamin tablets for all the crew to have a couple each) and for use in Africa were loaded. Due to this the ship is now fully loaded, with most cargo hatches filled to capacity. New Crew Orientation, basically telling new crew about life onboard, took up the last week in Emden and dealt with problems, how to resolve problems, difficulties new crew might face adjusting to life aboard ship and things like that, the last hours was designated to new crew telling the chaplains who led the orientation about ways life could be made easier for new crew, some suggestions were better guidelines for clothing (i.e. instead of 1 list have 2, 1 for European tours [cold weather and 1 for African tours (warm weather) and location maps, as trying to find things like the ship shop can be tricky when you have just joined the ship (along the lines of “you are here” and markings for where things are found), a ship buddy system (whereby you are teamed up with someone who can show you around and help you adjust to ship life).
In IT Wolfgang, who heads IT, got me started on organizing training in Word, Excel, Outlook and any other packages that people may need training on. As Chris Gregg (former head of IT) left to join the Africa Mercy, Andre Koch joined the department he will be doing a similar job to me, plus he will probably do the training on the various packages people need training on (as he has expressed an interest in this).
Onboard there are several children (ages range from 1-18), 1 of these is an energetic young guy called Shane, during the stay in Emden Shane and me were having a “punch-up” and his Dad (Ken, who is head plumber I think) came along and said I could attack Shane whenever I felt like it (several other guys have been given permission too!!!) so that helps liven up an evening!!!
During the stay in Emden there was an inspection by people from Lloyds of London (who provide the insurance for the ship) to make sure she was still seaworthy, this included a full fire and lifeboat drill, the lifeboats were lowered right down into the water and taken around the dock to make sure everything worked fine, apart from a few m minor hiccups (a dead battery and stiff couplings) everything did (normally during a lifeboat drill at dock the boats are only lowered to the promenade deck were the boats are loaded and at sea the boats are not lowered at all).
Departure from Emden went smoothly. I was wanting to get a picture of the lock we came in from, but due to the New Crew Orientation, I wasn’t able to get out for the picture so have had to make do with a shot from further away. That night the ship passed a large oilfield and on Friday morning at 8.00am the White Cliff’s of Dover and the coast of France could be seen of either side of the ship and during drill the Needles could be seen followed by the coast of Dorset (if I have my Geography correct). Today (Saturday 25th October) I went up to the bridge for some photographs and then went down to the engine room to see what it was like [you can get permission from the chief engineer to do this but Jeff my cabin buddy works there so he gave me the guided tour] (very noisy, ear protectors are required), but not as hot as I thought it would be (gets worse the warmer it gets, so I’ve been told).
I haven’t, as yet, got seasick. Hope it doesn’t happen either. A few people have been, but so far the sail has been smooth and the weather good.
Greetings from somewhere in the Atlantic:-)
Departed Malaga at around 2.00pm on Tuesday 11th November bound for Freetown, due to arrive in Freetown Monday 17th November.
The sail down from Emden was OK from Emden to the Atlantic, after we started in the Atlantic things got really rough. On the 3rd night the captain came on the PA and requested all department heads go to their respective departments and make sure everything was secured down and all crew to go to cabins and make sure all items in cabins were secured down, in IT this meant the computers were put on the floor and the chairs laid down, so they wouldn’t roll about. Most departments ended up closing due to the movement of the ship (made sitting down tricky as the chairs all have wheels) and staff being sick. During the rough sail I had a sore head mainly but also a bit nauseas but I still enjoyed the sail (although when I joined the ship I thought I might get seasick, as it happened my 1st time on an overnight ferry and nearly happened the 2nd time), I did find though that I had to stay outside, as otherwise I would have been sick (30 minutes was the longest I spent in the office during the sail from Emden to Malaga. The communal lounge (which is supposed to be the best place during rough sails) looked like a refugee centre, many people had slept there (I suspect most were from C1, which is apparently the worst place to be during a rough sail and most of the 1’s who a were feeling sick or had been sick were there also. Only after the ship entered the Strait of Gibraltar did things calm down, but it still took some people till after we docked in Malaga to fully recover.
The ship spent 2 weeks in Malaga, 1 week was the final PR week and the 2nd week was ship R&R (holiday). The 1st week was busy with various tours going on and all the usual PR things, in IT we were busy as during the rough weather some PC’s hadn’t been properly secured and had fallen of the desk (1 PC ended up going for a swim when a toilet overturned and flooded 1 office, miraculously the PC worked after being given a blow with the compressed air used for blowing up bike tyres!!!), most PC’s and monitors survived falling off desks but 1 monitor needed replaced. There was a guided walking tour of Malaga, which was very interesting, saw the old Moorish fortress (great for pictures of Malaga), a Moorish palace and walked around the cathedral (which hasn’t been finished, due to Politics and money (1 authority was supposed to give some money towards building the cathedral and refused, they felt the money would be better used improving the roads around Malaga and to the outlying villages – which is what they used the money for).
During the 2nd week in Malaga, as it was R&R., the ship had arranged various tours. The only 1 I wanted to do was to Gibraltar and me and 4 other guys (Lafe Wood, Jeff Howard, Tony Van Alstine and David Hazeltine) had decided to go to Morocco for 3 days. As I was the only 1 booked on the Gibraltar tour, the other 4 guys decided to try and see if they could get on the Gibraltar tour as well so that there wouldn’t be a problem trying to meet up somewhere, luckily they managed to get on the bus as when we got to La Linea (the Spanish town next to Gibraltar) the Spanish had closed the border due to the P&O cruise liner with 400 sick people onboard. Subsequently the tour bus had to return the passengers to the various locations they had been picked up from, but me and the 4 others asked to be dropped off in La Linea so we could take the bus to Tarifa to get the ferry to Tangier (this is the quickest ferry taking only 35 minutes), which we were allowed to do.
After spending most of the afternoon looking around Tarifa, we arrived at (roughly) 1.00pm and the ferry left at 4.00pm, we got the ferry to Tangier. As we left the ferry several guys claiming to be tourist board employed guides (probably none were) approached us and we ended up withy a guy called Rashid. Our original plan had been to skip Tangier and go straight to Casablanca, but Rashid said we would be better spending the night in Tangier and catching a train next day (as the train would get into Casablanca at 3.00am). So we spent the night in Tangier, Rashid showed us to a reasonable hotel and then took us to a local restaurant for dinner (superb local food) after dinner we went to a shop, which sold traditional rugs, jewellery etc, and I bought a rug and a local garment (that I can’t remember the name of).
Day 2 saw the group depart Tangier for Casablanca; the station in Tangier was only opened this year and is very impressive (lots of marble has been used). The train was very comfortable, but the toilets were certainly different to the 1’s on British trains (there is no internal sewage system, just a pipe right on to the tracks), the taxis are different as well (there are 2 types, petit taxis (which are licensed to carry 3 people and Grand taxis (which are licensed to carry 6, excluding the driver): the whole Grand taxis were 70’s or 80’s era Mercedes built to carry 5 and very few Grand or Petit taxis would pass an MOT!!!). After arriving in Casablanca at 2.00pm we only really had time to see Hassan 2 (the 2nd biggest Mosque in the world) as we were meeting a friend of Tony’s, but due to it being Ramadan we couldn’t go inside. After spending our 2nd night in Morocco we caught an express train to Marrakech, where we spent the day looking around the market (tried my hand at haggling, enjoyed it) and took a taxi out of town to ride a camel. After seeing Marrakech the group caught the night train back to Tangiers and then the 1st ferry back to Spain.
After out return to Spain, we were going to go to Gibraltar but we were all to worn out from our Morocco adventure to be bothered. So we just got the bus back to Malaga from La Linea and collapsed in our bunks. The last Saturday in Spain I went to La Alhambra, near Granada and then up into the Sierra Nevada Mountains (to a town called Sierra Nevada) were there was snow.
1 downside to Malaga was a problem that had been with the ship since Emden, which was that the ship was leaking oil, though nobody was quite sure if it was cooking oil or lubricating oil, test done by the German authorities proved inconclusive. I think the problem was eventually sorted, as if it had not been Paulo Ekkebus (the Captain) would have been arrested and sent to jail.
Our 1st night out of Malaga was spent anchored off Gibraltar (what an irony, I only get to see it from off shore!!!) to re-fuel. The sail from Malaga has been smooth ever since the ship left and the weather is getting warmer and more humid. It is supposed to be a smooth sail all the way to Freetown.
During the sail Wolfgang organised a day where the whole department had a meeting, free from the phone going off and people coming in with questions. It was basically about the department’s plans for while the ship is docked in Freetown (and a bit about what is going to be happening in the future), 1 guy is leaving and I am going to Outreach (though not a soon as I hoped, I thought I was going to be transferred when the ship docked in Freetown, but apparently Gary thinks it would be best if I join in the beginning of January (so will have to see what happens). As of Monday I will no longer be on Helpdesk as Andre (the guy who joined in Emden) will be taking over that role and doing more crew training, I will be taking over from Gregg when he leaves in December as the Software Technician (though thankfully that does not include programming which I am no good at). Many other points were raised that various members of the department felt needed to be addressed.
Saturday 15th we got buzzed by a Dutch navy helicopter, which was based off a ship that we were passing, a French naval vessel was also in the area conducting a joint exercise with the Dutch ship (though the Anastasis had not been notified). Our captain had a go at the captain of the Dutch naval ship about the chopper pilot coming so close to the Anastasis, the Dutch captain got a shock when Paulo (who recognized the ship from a festival of the sea, when The Anastasis had been in Rotterdam) started having a go at him in Dutch (English was tried and failed). After this exchange, the naval captain asked if he could use the Anastasis for an exercise, which was refused (due to the fact that when the Anastasis had been returning from Togo last year, a refueling barrage had come out from Tenerife [I think] to re-fuel the ship and IOC (International Operations Center) in Texas contacted the ship to find out what was wrong (they had had calls from worried family members that the ship was out of fuel and adrift!! – whether that is what crew members had said to their family or if the family had misinterpreted the message they were sent I don’t know) so unfortunately we were denied the chance of seeing Dutch or French marines (or a combination of both) rappelling on to the deck of the Anastasis, which many crew members were disappointed about.
In the evening there was an “hour of power”, basically an hour of worship music being played on the bow. During this scores of flying fish (which had been around all day) and dolphins appeared, so every 1 got snap happy with they’re cameras. During the day whales (of which I saw the top of 1), sharks and turtles where also spotted.
After the buzzing by the Dutch Navy the rest of the sail to Freetown went smoothly. 2 hours from Freetown the captain came on the Public Address system and said that he was going to stop the ship, as we were ahead of schedule, and let anyone who wanted to go for a swim off ship. Certainly not an opportunity to be missed, so after a briefing in the dining room those of us who wanted to go for a swim went and got changed and lined up at the pilot door on the port side, where we were allowed to “jump ship” into the middle of the Atlantic miles from land. The captain and his wife also went for a swim, jumping out the door hand in hand.
The arrival in Freetown went relatively well, the only problem being a ship who’s crew had been placed under arrest was in are berth and the Sierra Leonean army was sent aboard to get the ship moved. On the dock there was a large welcoming party and on board there was a group of Sierra Leonean crewmembers playing various traditional Sierra Leonean hymns and singing the national anthem (which we all sang as the ship docked). The harbour has sunken wrecks, of which 2 can only be seen by the funnel [there may be more but these are completely submerged] and several rusting ships at anchor. The locals cross the harbour in dug out canoes, which look just as dangerous as the local road transport.
Freetown was once described as the jewel of West Africa (and this can still be seen in some existing architecture, but now it is mainly just a big slum. The city was built to house 250,000 people, today Freetown’s population is over 2 million (virtually all internally displaced people from the war who have not returned to their villages up country as the village was totally destroyed during the war. There is a constant smell of wood smoke hanging over the city from the cooking fires. The roads, in general, are in terrible condition (definite 4×4 country – although it is a city), but there are hundreds of cars and motorcyclists whose drivers and riders all seem to think they are invincible, local buses (known as put-puts) are battered vans/minibuses that pack as many people as possible inside and those who cannot fit in hang on the outside. Most are decorated with slogans such as God Bless Islam and a whole variety of others.
The weather is not unbearably hot or humid; the ship is here during Sierra Leone’s cool season (which is still much warmer than Scotland in the middle of summer!). Most days are spent in shorts and T-shirt, except when on ship business when shorts have to be swapped for trousers, due to cultural reasons. Weekends are spent by the ship swimming pool, unless someone invites you to the beach or you want to go shopping in a seething mass of humanity, which is what the streets and markets are like (also walking downtown runs the risk of getting run over by a local driver/motorcyclist – I am not sure whether Sierra Leone has a driving license [although there is at least 1 driving school in Freetown], as there is no requirement to have a license for motorcycles).
The evening after we docked there was a briefing held about various things we, as a crew, needed to be aware of. Such as crime and local customs. This was in addition to 2 briefings held during the sail on the history of Sierra Leone and the civil war that tore the country apart for nearly 10 years. At all ports there are briefings on local customs and in country dos and don’ts, but arriving in Sierra Leone theses briefings took on a much more serious note as, although the war has been over for 2 years, there is still a lot of poverty and hence a higher risk of crime than in most European ports. 1 of the things we were told not to do was go out after dark and to never go out alone, but go in small groups. At 1 of the at sea briefings we watched a video on Sierra Leone that was supplied by the UN, we were also told about another 2 videos (Cry Freetown [filmed during the war] and Return to Freetown [about 3 or 4 child soldiers that were freed by the rebels and taken back to their families]) that were made during and after the civil war by a local camera man, both are very good (but, especially Cry Freetown, has very harrowing footage that is not allowed to be broadcast on TV). One problem that presented itself was that we may have had to go to anchor, as 2 naval vessels were due and may have been allowed to use our berth (we didn’t have to go to anchor as there was a berth in front that was clear and the other ship anchored off shore and when in needed to come in it tied up next to the other naval vessel).
On Thursday 20th had a meeting with Gary Graham (Outreach Manager) to discuss the C4A project, found out that I am not going to be in Outreach for entire time we are in Sierra Leone (as was my understanding) but only for 1 month. Wolfgang was supposed to be at the meeting as well but 1 of the servers was not working properly (both main servers are very old and not very reliable), so no one could log onto the network and as such Wolfgang had to stay and work on that. The outcome of the meeting was that I would start assessing the sites for the computers 1 day a week until January and then at the beginning of January have another meeting with Gary and decide were the computers are to go, also a trip up country to Kenema and Bo are going to be arranged to check some sites up there for suitability (as there is something else organised as well, some conference for ministers). Have now assessed all Ministry of Education sites and most either have no electricity or such unreliable electricity that they might as well not have any!! 7 schools in total were assessed for the ministry of Education and 1 school was assessed independently of Mercy Ships/Ministry of Education, this was the blind school that Ross was contacted about before the computers were shipped to Sunderland for loading on the Anastasis and a single church that wants to start a e-mail café was looked at and the final thing done before the Christmas break was meeting with New Steps (a land based Mercy Ships initiative in Freetown) about where the computers assigned to them are going to go (these will be assessed in the 2nd week of January).
A member of the British Military, who was based in Sierra Leone in but is now back in the UK, arranged the blind school project that C4A is involved. So when I went to the Blind School I was picked up by 2 guys from IMATT (International Military Advisory and Training Team), 1 (Tim – 1 of 2 contacts for the blind school) who had been in Sierra Leone for a year and was back for a 2nd tour and a new man so the trip to the Blind School involved Tim pointing out the best place to eat, get drunk and were to avoid after dark. The other contact is Barbara Davidson (the 2nd blind school contact), a Brit who has lived for most of the last 12 years in Sierra Leone (only leaving once when the fighting got really bad) and has worked in the blind school most of those 12 years. On the trip over to the blind school asked what problems IMATT face in training the Sierra Leone army and the reply was that the main problem is that Sierra Leonean’s are very laid back and can’t see the point in planning ahead (tomorrow is tomorrow so we don’t need to worry about it just now).
During the 2nd week of our time in Sierra Leone the screening for patients was done in Freetown, the 1st week screening had been done up country. The following will give you some information on how many were seen, what is going to be done and what the medical team will be doing aside from surgeries while in Sierra Leone:
The pre-screeners saw approximately 2000 people.
Dental – plans to see around 2000 patients
CHE (Community Health and Education) and Training – Will have monthly seminars involving around 50 medical staff every month (6)
Nurses training program will train around 100 nurses during the 6 months CHE will be targeting 2 groups of 16 persons each for intensive teaching and then these trained person branching out to basic training of several communities. They will also be working with the local health district officer in partnering teaching with them in some cases.
Elizabeth Hunter will also be working with Traditional Birth Attendants and providing training for them.
Eyes – plan to operate on around 450 patients
Maxfax (includes plastics) – scheduled 325
Ortho – scheduled 45 surgeries
General surgery – scheduled 114 surgeries
VVF – plan to screen and operate on around 90 women.
At the community meeting before Freetown screening started there was an announcement that volunteers were needed to help with security, giving out water and a few other jobs that needed done. On the 2nd day of screening, Friday, I went down to the stadium and helped out with security. This was challenging, as when I arrived the line had been closed to new arrivals, including those who had been Thursday and had been given a card to come back on the Friday (Those with the card were supposed to come back and resume queuing between 7.00am and 8.00am). As the last few people were pre-screened a barrier was placed across the entrance to the stadium to prevent anyone else getting seen (The ships officer in charge, Jonhard, warned that there could be trouble when the barrier was finally closed) the gate to the stadium was closed after the final people had been pre-screened all crew moved through the gate into the main stadium compound and the gate was shut and padlocked. A further screening for eyes is planned for after Tenerife (I think).
Visited an African market on the 2nd weekend and got some wood carvings, which have to be frozen for 2-3 days to kill any termites or other nasty insects which may reside in the wood (there have been problems in the past with people buying wood carvings and the whole cabin having to be stripped, with all material put in the freezer and all wood having to be incinerated – because the carvings were not put in the freezer). The 3rd weekend went to 1 of the many beaches in the area and went swimming in the sea; hope to get to the rest before the ships time in Sierra Leone is over.
The cabin I am in may get a new lino floor sometime early next year, as Paulo ordered it to be done (although he left this week to spend Christmas/New Year in the Netherlands [were he is originally from] and then to fly to Canada [were his wife, Sandy, is from and were they plan to set up home with the 3 kids]), but there are no available cabins in January (or so it seems talking to Human Resources). This week is the Christmas break so Jeff and me are going to paint the cabin, as it also needs that done, the plumbing also needs done so am seeing if Ken (head plumber can put us up the list – as it seem pointless putting down a new floor if it is going to get ripped up to do plumbing work sometime in the future). The bin bags full of clothes were removed a couple of weeks back so, while I washed down the walls in my cabin in readiness for painting, David attacked the bathroom with bleach and a broom to get it looking have decent (as there was a nasty smell coming from the it and it was filthy). So hopefully these projects will be completed by my next newsletter.
On-board ship there are various things going on for Christmas. There was a winter wonderland market were people could either bring thing they wanted rid of to either sell or give away and there was also some home baking, there was a Christmas story telling night (where several people wrote a story based on Christmas and then read it out) and Yesterday there was a special dinner (for those who wanted to go) for Hanukkah, on the 26th there is a Southern hemisphere Christmas Barbecue plus many other things going on.
Today the ship departs for Tenerife for 2 weeks R&R after completing phase 1 of the outreach. In January I joined Outreach full time and have managed to complete all Ministry of Education sites (6 sites, 4 in Freetown and 2 in Bo). I have also assessed the New Steps sites (4 sites of which 2 will be getting computers); the chosen sites will get computers after Tenerife.
1 of the days when I was in Outreach I took the afternoon off and went with Josh Fletcher (the ship photographer) to River No2 (which has fantastic views of forest covered mountains and palm trees on the beach – what I imagined a tropical paradise would look like), to take photos as the current DTS (Discipleship Training School) were doing team building and Josh had to go and take pictures. Josh had said that if I wanted to, and so jumped into a Defender and drove over to the beach for an afternoon of picture taking. In total I took, roughly, 258 pictures (150 digital and 3 rolls of 36 exposure film) that day – I am definitely taking to many pictures on this trip (have taken over 2500 pictures since I joined the ship in Sunderland!!). The road is like most roads in this country (little or no tarmac and heavily potholed) so driving back in the dark was an interesting experience (pitch black outside the headlight beams and being bounced around the whole time).
The schools in Freetown that were selected were Annie Walsh Memorial Secondary School (all girls), St Edward Secondary School (all boys), Prince of Wales Secondary School (all boys) and Milton Margai Institute of Education and Technology (college for both sexes). Both Annie Walsh Memorial and Prince of Wales had computers, so these 2 got newer computers and the old 1’s I took away for use elsewhere (the 1’s from Annie Walsh were so old that I decided to strip the computers down for parts – as 12 computers that were added last minute in the UK and some did not have CD-Rom drives installed so this gave me some of the CD-Rom drives that I needed to install into those without drives).
There were 2 trips up to Bo. The 1st trip involved 2 things, the Computers For Africa assessments and the planning and organising of the pastor’s conference in March (which involved Steve Warren [my driver], Gary Graham [Outreach department manager], Kevin and Rachel Yangas [2 ship pastors] and Alfonso [a pastor with New Steps, the Mercy Ship land base in Sierra Leone] and the 2nd was taking up 10 computers for 2 schools in town (Queen of The Rosary Secondary [mixed] & Christ the King College [all boys]), with Steve Warren and Augustine [a friend of Keith Thomson’s who is originally from Sierra Leone, but now lives in Ghana and is IT trained].
Bo is the 2nd biggest city in Sierra Leone and not as badly affected by the war with regard to damaged buildings (the citizens put up a strong defence against the rebels and as a consequence the rebels were never able to occupy the city, but put the city under siege instead). The trip up to Bo is 150 miles and takes between 5-6 hours as the road is in very poor condition, bouncing around in the Defender and occasionally hitting your head on the roof (apart from, roughly, the 1st 50 miles out of Freetown when the road is pretty good), the rebels destroyed all road repair machinery during the war, but the scenery is fantastic ranging from forests to open rice paddies. The road passes through some small villages that do not have running water or electricity. Driving up requires using the whole road as there are many potholes and ditches that were dug by the rebels to ambush motorists during the war (as you approach the ditch you have to slow down (which is when the rebels would strike), although there are efforts to improve the road (as was shown on the 2nd trip up, when we passed men filling in potholes). On the way up to Bo there is still evidence of the war; mainly burned out buildings and construction equipment. Bo’s electricity supply is more stable during the rainy season, as they have a hydro plant, which is shared with Kenema (a town close by) but during the dry season there is only 1 other power plant that cannot cope with supporting Bo and Kenema, so there is frequent power cuts during this time, but most business’s and some homes have generators.
During the 1st trip to Bo, in January, we stayed at 2 different sites (as you drive up 1 day, do what needs to be done the 2nd and drive back the 3rd). The 1st place we stayed was a hotel in the centre of town, the rooms were reasonably good with ceiling fans (except the 1 in Gary’s room which was not that efficient – the blades had been put on the wrong way round, so he tried to get a new room, but all then other rooms were taken or the fans had been installed similar to the room he had been given so the guy who was trying to get him a room with a working fan offered to get him a “beautiful woman” for the night instead!!! which he declined) and reasonably comfortable beds, the 2nd night was spent at a guest house outside town which was quieter, the guest house was owned by a Institute in agriculture who run it to make money for the running of the institute. At the hotel there was electricity all night, but the 2nd had no power in the evening (but switched on the generator at night to run floor fans and the TV).
The 2nd trip up to Bo (during the 2nd last week in Sierra Leone before R&R), Steve, Augustine and myself went up and stayed at the guesthouse again and this time there was electricity all evening but the generator was switched off at midnight. The setup of computers in Bo went smoothly, the pastor that we had met during the 1st visit made sure that both sites were ready for us coming up and that the rooms were ready so once arrived on site all we had to do was unload and setup, which went without a problem except that I had not brought enough power cables (everything else was 10, but power cables were 20 [1 for each monitor and 1 for each base unit]) so that was kind of annoying, but Steve can take the cables up when he goes in March for the pastors conference (I may go but it depends if Wolfgang will release me from IT).
During the final week before R&R Ross flew in to have a look at how things were going. On the Monday Ross, Steve and myself had planned to visit New Steps and then the Ministry of Education sites that had had computers donated, instead when we got to New Steps the logistics co-ordinator was there so we ended up bringing all of the remaining computers (minus the 1’s without CD-ROMs, which I plan to install spare CD-ROM drives into and software onto during the sail) to New Steps to store while the ship is in Tenerife (as there is no secure storage at the port and the chief officer wanted nothing reloaded for the sail, except vehicles). Tuesday was spent visiting the Ministry of Education sites (Annie Walsh, Prince of Wales and St Edwards) that had had computers donated to see how things were going; Wednesday went to Milton Margai, the dean of campus had been planning to have a big formal handover with local dignitaries and press, but as the College had not phoned me (and I couldn’t get the phone number that they gave me to work) there was no press or dignitaries although the dean did have a smaller handing over ceremony where Ross had to stand up an make a speech (which had the gathering of students listening to every word and laughing). As the ship was leaving Freetown on Saturday there was fewer vehicles as the loading of vehicles began at the beginning of the week so the vehicle that we used in the morning had to be back for the dental team to be picked up that afternoon. Thursday went to the New Steps sites, which don’t have computers from anywhere yet; to let them know that after the ship returned from Tenerife they would be getting computers (again we only had the car for the morning, someone else had it booked for the afternoon) and so that Ross could see those sites.
The final week also saw the start of cabin renovations in my cabin (replacement of water pipes [the cabin has no hot water and only a trickle of cold], unblocking and replacement of toilet and [to the surprise of both my cabin and the next door 1 which shares the bathroom] the shower [so that it does not have to be done to soon in the future]), which was supposed to have been started in January (but was postponed due to lack of cabin space, or so we were told – a few people aid that hey had empty cabins near to them). The work was supposed to start Monday morning, the only problem was that nobody in my cabin was told we had to move out over the weekend, so work started Tuesday. The 1st step of renovating the cabin was to remove all the furniture and unscrew beds from the wall to make removing the old floor (worn out carpet and original linoleum from when the ship was a cruise liner) easier. Then parts of the concrete under the old lino was replaced, as rust was present underneath, which caused a lot of noise from the hammering to break the old concrete up and loosen the rust: then the plumbers started on replacing the pipes, shower and toilet. Me and the other 2 guys (Jeff and Balaraj [who joined the ship in January]) moved out but are supposed to move back in before Tenerife, although this may prove difficult, as the plumber has only finished the sink today and the concrete will probably be laid Monday and take a day or 2 to dry before the lino can be laid and everything moved back in.
1 thing that has become apparent is the need in this country for IT equipment, as well as a need for the basic things that we in the west take for granted (e.g. clean water, adequate food). As in the UK young people are finding that not having any IT experience is hindering them getting jobs and there are very few schools that have IT facilities to provide this training (of the sites I looked at only 3 were presently using IT). While Ross was here he spoke to the New Steps education liaison, Lesley Clarkson, and suggested that he should consider speaking to the Ministry of Education about Computer Aid, which does what Computers For Africa does but on a bigger scale (container loads at a time) and charges the recipient for the shipping cost only, which would mean that more schools would benefit from IT. So Lesley is going to speak to the Ministry of Education while the ship is in Tenerife.
After Tenerife I am due to be back in IT until April and the transfer back to Outreach to finish off the computer project as well as doing 1 day a week in outreach during March. Then re-join IT for the sail back to Europe on May 29th until my departure in Liverpool sometime between the 14th June and 5th July.
Below I have copied a table fro the ship intranet of how many people were operated on, and the number/type of procedures carried out during the 1st Outreach phase:
The ship has now left Freetown and is heading for Tenerife after completing 7 months of Outreach. In that time The Computers For Africa project delivered computers to a total of 10 sites: 7 schools, 2 churches and a polio centre. Only 2 of the schools and the polio centre require the computers to be set-up. Meanwhile medical completed the following:
After an uneventful sail from Sierra Leone the ship docked in Tenerife, where my family (mum, brother, aunt and uncle) had flown in to meet me, as it was my brother Geoff and my birthdays so they decided it would nice to celebrate our birthdays in Tenerife. So for the duration of the break I spent all of my time off ship seeing the island with the family. Due to poor weather (although, overall, the weather was good) the cable car up to the top of El Tiede, Tenerife’s volcano, was closed which was 1 of the things we were wanting to do, apart from that everything went well and saw most of the island of Tenerife and had a really good break.
After returning to Freetown I was once again back to 4 days in IT and 1 in Outreach after having spent the month prior to the ship leaving for Tenerife R&R as a full time Outreach person. 1 of the 1st things to be done when the ship had returned to Sierra Leone was to check that the New Steps sites that I had selected to get computers before the ship had sailed had got a room ready, this ended up taking 4 weeks travelling back and forth before I decided to drop both sites as they had been given plenty of notice to get a room ready and had failed to do so, the main reason being that there was not enough cash to renovate a room to be able to support computers.
As none of the sites New Steps thought could benefit got computers this allowed for other sites to get computers. These sites were Leonard Cheshire Home (received 5) and Free Pentecostal Church (see paragraph below).
During the week Ross was here 1 of the New Steps drivers approached him about a site, Free Pentecostal Church, that he thought could benefit from computers so Ross went along and had a quick look. The end result of this was that when I got back from Tenerife I went 1 evening to assess the site and see if it would be suitable, it was and after the necessary work was completed (ceiling fans, more power points and 3 phone lines) and they have received 10 computers. My last full day here in Sierra Leone was spent at this site setting up a network and trying to get modems to work, several external modems had been included in the Computers For Africa shipment from Edinburgh and Pastor Tim had also sourced a few internal modems, after spending the day working on this 5 of the 10 were networked (only 5 had network cards) and 1 was able to access the Internet, 1 of the external modems had no power supply (it had burnt out), the other wasn’t being recognised by Windows and none of the internal modems had the necessary drivers.
Of the 8 computers that were kept on the ship, to have CD drives installed, only 2 of the systems recognised the drives and were useable by the time the ship returned to Freetown. The others had various problems, mainly not recognising the CD-Rom drive or the hard drive. Chuck Dodgen, the sales/transportation manager on the ship, knew a guy (Amadu) in Freetown who has been able to fix things for the ship that repair centres in Europe have said are not fixable, so I spoke to Amadu and he managed to get 3 of the remaining machines fixed (he kept what equipment was not needed as payment).
My last few weeks in Sierra Leone were spent checking sites to see who they’re computer programs are coming along. Overall things are going well, with a few exceptions. 1 site is still having power problems, the Ministry of Education is being charged 1million Leones (between £200 and £300) per month for electricity by the National Power Authority but the school is receiving none, the only generator they have is a 1.5Kv which can only power 4 computers at a time and another school will not have a room ready until September due to other renovation work being done, but there is a teacher from this school starting a course in IT teaching (some one from New Steps is going to be checking how things are going at the end of September or beginning of October – when the work should be done and the computers up and running).
I was wanting to get back up to Bo, but due to the fact that Outreach had been taking vehicles for several days at a time I wasn’t allowed to take 1 for the 3 day trip. The only update I have got was when Steve, who was my normal driver while on Outreach, went up with another team, who were doing a pastors conference, and did a quick check for me.
During 1 of the final trips to New Steps to collect computers I counted the remaining machines to make sure that what I thought I had left matched what I actually had and found that there were some base units and modems missing. After discussing this with Vincent (New Steps manager) and Gary (Outreach manager) it was decided to move the remaining equipment back to the ship, New Steps also wanted this space back anyway. After everything was brought back to the ship another problem presented itself, that of storage, as the guy in outreach who was assigned as Outreach cargo coordinator (Chris) wanted nothing to do with the computers (his words). So Gary gave me 2 options:
- I could carry all the remaining kit up to Lido Deck conference room, no suggestion on who may be able to help or who I could find people. Not really a viable option, carrying 13 monitors half a dozen base units and 2 boxes (1 which required 2 people to carry it) up the gangway (which at high tide was very steep) and then 3 flights of stairs.
- Leave on the dock under a tarpaulin (by this stage it had started to rain most evenings and there is still the problem of dust).
As I wasn’t happy with either I decided, until a better solution presented itself, to leave all the remaining equipment in the back of the stores van (later that day Chuck took me to meet Amadu and got rid of some of the equipment, the base units for repair and some of the extra equipment that was unneeded, but the rest remained for in the van for 3 days), which made me really unpopular!!! It turned out that there were other containers on the dock the ship had the use of – but Chris failed to mention this.
1 member of Outreach had the van and was going to be filling it up with something or other as the were going out shopping for 1 of the projects they were involved with, she threatened to dump all the kit that I had left in the back on the dock if it wasn’t moved (but another vehicle was returned early so she took that 1 instead) and someone else was supposed to use it and wasn’t happy (who was the 1 who told me about the other containers, though not exactly which 1’s where for ship use). In the end the Outreach department all went to the beach on the 3 day and I dumped the remaining kit in the Outreach container and left it there, Chris ended up moving it to a container that was practically empty and the ship had the use of. It then all got taken to a site the following Wednesday, which is when I found it in the other container from the 1 I had put it in.
Other problems that arose during the 2nd half was not having a driver at times when I needed 1 (this was a problem I had during the whole Outreach), it got to a point were I was going to just take the Defender that had been booked and worry about the fallout after I had done what I needed to do, which (in this instance), was a meeting at New Steps!!
Overall my biggest problem\frustration was not being in Outreach for the whole time we were in Sierra Leone, which was what I thought the plan was. This meant that I couldn’t get everything done as quickly as I would have liked and when I started something I had to leave it for a week before I could finish it, I made this clear to Gary when we had a meeting to discuss some problems that New Steps had, Gary had received an e-mail from Amaru (who is in overall charge of New Steps) with 3 concerns that they had of which 2 concerned the Computers For Africa project, these concerns were:
- None of the sites that New Steps suggested to be recipients of CFA computers got computers.
- New Steps didn’t get any, the advance team apparently told them they would get at least 5. Though this was never discussed with either Ross or myself.
When we were discussing these 2 points I told Gary that if I had been in Outreach for the whole time, instead of having to jump between 2 departments, then I could have assessed the sites earlier (all assessments could have been done the 1st month instead of taking nearly 3 months) and they could have had more time to prepare a room.
During the 2nd half of the Outreach there seemed to be more to due during periods of free time, this was 1 of my biggest problems during the 1st half – weekend boredom. The 1st weekend back a combined group from Mercy Ships and New Steps climbed Sugar Loaf mountain, while not the most demanding walk I have done it was 1 of the most challenging, due to the heat and humidity. Another weekend was spent camping at Bureh Town beach, about a 45-minute drive on 1 of the better roads in Sierra Leone, the north end of this beach, where the group had camped was made off limits a weeks later, as 2 Mission Challenge (an off shoot project of Mercy Ships) people drowned and a man from the UN drowned whilst I was there with the camping group, due to rip currents. Other weekend adventures included driving to a waterfall (though there was practically no water, as the dry season was just ending), a visit to another beach, this beach is 1 were you have to know where it is to find it otherwise you would drive straight past it and going out with Josh Fletcher, the ship photographer, to take pictures around Freetown (1 guy took objection to Josh taking pictures of the dump and demanded the film out of his camera only thing was there was no film in the camera as it is digital and therefore uses media cards instead – funny looking back on it, but was pretty dangerous at the time as the guy was getting really annoyed with Josh and grabbed the strap on his camera) .
I was invited to attend the Free Pentecostal Church on Sunday. If you’ve never experienced church in West Africa it is totally different from any I have been to in the UK, the service lasted 3 hours (4 if you were a kid – as Sunday school starts an hour earlier than the main service and then runs into the main service) and the singing is much more lively. There were ushers during the service and toward the end they had to shake people (adults as well as kids) awake.
There have been a lot of changes on the ship, security wise, as there are new regulations coming into force before the end of the year. This has meant that there have had to be locks fitted to all outside doors and a new sign in/out system has to be introduced. Most of this work needs to be done before Tenerife (as there is an inspection and if the ship doesn’t pass they we can’t sail), so this has kept some people busy, although the new sign in/out system will not be fully implemented until Tenerife. There is also a new ship security officer (who has to make sure that all the new rules that are coming into force are met as appropriate) the guy on this ship who has selected for this post has plenty experience (he previously served 20 years in the US navy, with his main responsibility being base security and preparing personnel for service in Korea, though not quite sure what was meant by this).
At the end of every Outreach there are department de-briefings, which is time for departments to get together (without the head of department – they have a separate de-brief) and talk about individual experiences during the Outreach. I summed up my experience like this – was frustrating and annoying (due to not being full-time Outreach, apparently my bed was transferred to IT from Outreach though nobody told me, which was part of the reason I wasn’t permanently transferred – though, I said, as far as I was concerned it didn’t matter what department the bed was assigned to my 1st priority was to Outreach) but also enjoyable, interesting (experiencing a new culture) and kinda fun (seeing the peoples reactions when computers were given – the Polio centre managers was to scream in delight and bouncing around inside/outside the Defenders when travelling around visiting sites) which gave every one a laugh. Comments from others was that there wasn’t enough time off ship to either relax or to do minor jobs and that peoples attitudes toward certain aspects of IT (mainly the distribution of pagers and cell phones, [people were not to concerned about having to sign these back in before handing them on to someone else who was taking there place in a certain role, may not seem like such a big deal but it is]). 1 of the things that was good about our debrief was that 1 of the IT guys there is now head of department, so hopefully he will take into consideration all that he heard and try and make some changes (if possible) during the next Outreach. My room mate, Jeff, said that 1 of his expectations during the outreach was that there would be enough juice available between meal times (which there was during Europe but not during the Outreach)
Prior to departure ship security is stepped up, with more people on night patrol to try and prevent people boarding to stow away and before and after departure stow-away searches being conducted. A stow-away can wind up being very expensive to deal with, 1 ship wound up paying $25,000 to return a stow away to his country of origin (in that case the stow-away was from Jamaica and managed to stow away until being found before arrival in the US), it is not just flights that have to be paid, but also armed guards to escort the stow-away home. A stow away searches is basically a search of the entire ship to find anyone who shouldn’t be on-board, on the Anastasis kids are used to ensure the search is conducted properly and to add an air of “realism” to the searching.
Departure from Sierra Leone had a party atmosphere to it, there was large crowd and some locals had set up a small stage and were playing music and dancing. Some people on shore where getting a bit emotional, especially 1 kid who looked in tears. I think a lot of people on the ship and a lot off the ship are going to miss the experiences each brings the other, as this is the last Outreach the Anastasis is doing to Sierra Leone. The next Outreach is either Togo or Liberia followed by dry dock in South Africa then 1 more outreach in Africa before, possibly, being sent to Asia (although nothing is finalised about what is happening, but when the Africa Mercy comes online this would mean 2 ships serving the west coast of Africa, which seems kind of silly).