Sunday, May 13, 2012

visit to the HSV2 - Swift

We were at the beach on Saturday. Usually there are 40+ big vessels anchoring outside of the port waiting for a berth to free up so seeing ships while we swim is non unusual by any means here.

However among the drifting ships there was one that was moving FAST! Now THAT was unusual!! We took a few pictures from the distance and decided to go back to the port - we had a pretty good guess where she would be docked at! Yes, you guessed it well - right behind us!!! :)

The Swift is the second from the right
We just got back in time to witness the arrival and were told that a possible tour would be available maybe sometime on Sunday before they leave...

Woman with a 50 cal. machine gun to greet us :)
This little US plane came from Ghana and was circling around and above the ship as they came in.

I rarely have the opportunity to watch my fav. Formula 1 race on TV so I was quite excited to do that today. 30 minutes before the start Darren came running to me with my camera - "there are 2 officers from the Swift on board and they are offering a tour right now!" Formula one ditched I went with him and about 20 others to board that ship. Yay!!! :)

This text is from wikipedia, but the officer who gave us the tour said pretty much the same thing:

"HSV-2 Swift is a non-commissioned, hybrid catamaran originally leased by the United States Navy as a mine countermeasures and sea basing test platform. She is now privately owned and operated by Sealift Inc. and chartered to the United States Navy Military Sealift Command. She is primarily used for fleet support and humanitarian partnership missions. The HSV stands for "High Speed Vessel", and its home port is Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek in Norfolk, Virginia. The vessel has two CONMAR crews that typically rotate every three months to keep the ship deployed eleven months per year. The minimum crew size is 35; 18 are military with the balance civilian, provided through American Maritime Officers and Seafarers International Union.

They couldn't use the normal ramp, which can be used for even tanks!
We walked up on a narrow gangway borrowed from the port.
2 of the 4 water jets that gives her this incredible speed.
our "welcome committee"
the empty cargo hold/deck with aluminum walls
Modified containers to be training classrooms where they train local military people
The ship was constructed by the Australian shipbuilder Incat in Hobart, Tasmania, and was leased to the U.S. Navy. She was the second catamaran the Navy leased to test new technologies and concepts associated with the Chief of Naval Operations's "Seapower 21" plan. The contract value for the first year was $21.7 million.

Swift is the fourth Incat-built high-speed wave piercing catamaran to enter military service, following behind HMAS Jervis Bay, U.S. Army Vessel (USAV) Theater Support Vessel Spearhead (TSV-X1) and HSV-X1 Joint Venture."

The Bridge with the Africa Mercy in front of us

What's wrong with this picture? Darren is controlling this VERY expensive ship with a small joystick in a Mercy Ships shirt
while the Navy officer is taking pictures...
Reka's new video game! :)
The Bridge
It is a wave-piercing, aluminum-hulled, commercial catamaran with military enhancements, such as a helicopter flight deck, strengthened vehicle deck, small boat and unmanned vehicle launch and recovery capability, and an enhanced communications suite. It features a new, modular design, which will allow the ship to be refitted to support any mission without requiring long shipyard periods. While from the front the vessels appear to look like a trimaran, the centre hull does not rest in the water and is not used for buoyancy. As a logistics vessel, it does not have water-tight compartments or weapons systems. Its propulsion is provided by directional water jets, so it doesn't have propellers or a rudder for steering and can maneuver in twelve feet of water."

Sleeping arrangements - triple bunk beds and 18 men / cabin...
The Doc and his "hospital" on board. Hehe, ours is a tad bit bigger and dare I say, better?!
Flight deck with capacity for Helicopters to land.
50 cal machine guns on each side. This ship is not equipped for attack, only for self defense,
however it's great to scare pirates away we were told!
They didn't let me carry this M4 :((((((

We asked repeatedly how fast she can go, but we never got a straight answer. Based on public information, she can sail with at least 50 knots and can travel around 1000 km/day if necessary. 

They were here for only 30 hours and as I type they are on their way to Congo, which will take them only 1 day to get there... :)

 They pulled out and were gone in 35 minutes! A fun Sunday afternoon on the Africa Mercy.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Our Team in Togo

Finally we got around to have a group photo with all (but one) members! :)

Front row from left: Armelle, Franck and their daugther, Mirabelle from Benin; Bill (Eileen, his wife is missing) from New York; Blandine (Benin), who is married to Chris (standing in red shirt)
Back row from left: Reka from Hungary; Cheryl and Barry from UK; Eliphaz from Benin, Ryan from South Africa; and Chris (USA) 

We are called the Off Ship Program Team, but when we explain it to non-ship people we often say we work with Non-Medical Programs, which makes more sense when you live and work on a hospital ship... :)

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

VVF Dress ceremony for a lady with Darren's blood

First thing first - a little explanation of what VVF is and how it destroys ladies' life in Africa:

"Vesicovaginal fistulas (VVF) typically happen when a woman suffers through a long, obstructed labor. In western countries, almost all women in danger of developing this condition are able to have a cesarean section. VVF practically unheard of in western countries, is rampant in developing countries. Fistulas happen when an obstructed labor and delivery inhibits adequate blood supply to the pelvic region, damages nerves and tissue, and creates a hole where there was none. The baby typically dies, while the mother is left with a fistula that causes incontinence, continual leaking of urine and/or feces, and other physical problems. Nerve damage to the legs can also make walking quite difficult. These women are often abandoned by their families and shunned by society. Alone and in isolation, these silent sufferers typically hide from community activity and social interaction, they often live in hiding, believing that no cure is possible.

Exact figures for VVF and RVF prevalence are unknown because of the stigmas associated and due to the hidden nature of women affected. The World Health Organization estimates that there are at least two-million women living with fistula worldwide and that another 50,000-100,000 new cases occur annually. In Togo, a country with just over six-million people and an annual birth rate of 36 per 1,000 people, there are an estimated 432 to 648 new cases of fistulas per year. 

During a six week schedule, we plan to perform 68-78 surgeries to repair fistulas. Along with these surgeries, Mercy Ships will provide spiritual, emotional, and physical care for these women, helping prepare them to rejoin their communities. Before going home, each woman receives a new dress and participates in a celebration to rejoice in their new lives without fistula."

Ladies arriving in their new dresses for the celebration.
This year's pateints came from the northern part of Togo. For the many women who live with an obstetric fistula, accessing the immediate medical and surgical care needed is extremely difficult due to remote locations, lack of medical facilities, and financial constraints. Since they came from far-far away we housed them in the Hope Centre. It was very encouraging for the ladies to see many others with similar conditions - to know that "I am not the only cursed one" as they sadly often belive. Some patients actually cringe when caregivers draw near because it has been years since they last felt human touch.

The Lady in Red is the one who received Darren's blood
Once onboard the Africa Mercy, surgery is performed under spinal/epidural anesthesia or other sedation in a safe, hygienic, well-equipped operating room. Extensive procedures may require general anesthesia.

You cannot have a proper African celebration without drums, dancing and singing...

Lady with Darren's blood thanking God for restoring her life!
Each lady is given a Bible and a small gift with the dress.

Another life saved, another hope restored.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Leadership Conference for ...the Government???

The title sounds funny and can imply a condescending tone if you don't know the details so do read my report and then we talk, 'k? It's certainly not a "white people trying to tell Africans how to run their country" type of thing, more like a beginning of a healthy 2-way conversation.
Leadership Conference III
Government Sector in Lomé

          “The African spirit of community and family is the foundation of development. This is 
                    something the West could learn from us, Africans.”
(Dr. Chris Ampadu)

During the 2012 Togo Field Service Mercy Ships organized three conferences each to a different audience. After two successful conferences upcountry; one for Community Leaders and one for Church Leaders, this third conference in the capital city focused more on governmental employees and the top tribal leaders of the greater Lomé area, who are recognized by the government and can represent 10,000 or more people each.

The Leadership Conference was opened by Mr Agagah who represented the Ministry of Community Development. He expressed his gratitude towards Mercy Ships for organizing the conference and helping the Togolese government and the vision of the President that is to “see a change in Togo”. He also acknowledged with delight the presence of all the tribal leaders from the different communities.

During the two day conference (10-11 April) participants gathered in the ENAM building provided by the government. The main speaker for the event was Dr. Chris Ampadu again, whose presentation was slightly adjusted from the last two times to better deliver the message to this audience.

His main message remained the same: presenting a different picture of Africa to the audience, a continent that is capable of sustaining itself and its people if the decision makers are willing to adjust their word views and see the “cup half full”. He emphasized the importance of partnership. “If you do something today, Togo will be transformed. If you wait for the USA or France, nothing will change. They come in for a short time and then they leave you. But we at Mercy Ships are committed to Africa and can offer you a lasting partnership”.

A tribal leader commented on Chris’ first segment by bringing up emigration as a major hindrance; they send their university students to the West for quality education and they never return to become the doctors, engineers, lawyers…etc Togo so desperately needs. Chris was quick to turn their arguments around by emphasizing that “Our Africa is alive and full of hope. God works through people, leaders like you. The hope I am talking about is YOU!” He did an excellent job by bringing in God from time to time to prove his point while being respectful towards the many Muslims and Animists who not only attended the conference, but were nodding their heads repeatedly and were taking notes eagerly.

When Chris mentioned the tribal competitions (“my tribe is superior to yours”) knowing smiles were seen on the faces of the tribal leaders who were sitting side-by-side in the first row.

Talking to government people about economical challenges provoked heated discussions that continued throughout both days and gave an opportunity to tribal leaders and other government employees to sit around one table and exchange their views and ideas.

The second day started with a spontaneous feedback session with generally very positive comments like “We’ve already learnt so much”, “last night I was telling my family and colleagues what new ideas I learnt here”, “thank you Mercy Ships for investing into our future, “as a young man finally I heard those ideas spoken out to all that I’ve been thinking for a long time”, “now we know development is not a chance, it’s a choice.”

Later on Chris was teaching the participants how to do a community assessment. It was a step-by-step exercise with real life examples and pictures projected onto the big screen. After the conference, we heard many people mentioning this part as the highlight of the two day gathering; something tangible that made everything more real and helped to sink in.

The biggest question is always: What can I do? Chris again was sowing seeds of “Love in Action”. Practical applications of demonstrating love to the people around themselves is a powerful tool to start community development, may it be large or small scale. He finished his lecture by calling the participants “Agents of Change” just like he did with the small community leaders and church leaders before, demonstrating that position is secondary to the inner power any person can have over their own community.

We registered 240 participants altogether (151 on Day 1 and 240 on Day 2) and they received eleven hours of teaching sessions from Dr. Chris Ampadu.

The most animated part was the last Q & A session. The feedback we received demonstrated loud and clear why it is crucial to organize a conference for the government people. They said: “This conference really helps us to understand more our role and how to help our community.” “We are grateful to Mercy Ships for organizing this conference and we hope that the change will come to reality in the communities. You will surely see the difference when you return”

It was agreed by all that they can and want to play a role in the change of their communities.

The final part of the conference is always the loudest and most cheerful; the distribution of certificates. Signed by Franck Gouhizoun, Off Ship Projects Manager on behalf of Mercy Ships and Dr. Chris Ampadu on behalf of Samaritan Strategy tribal leaders came forward one by one to receive their certificates from Chris and .Danny Saleh, one of the sponsors of this conference. 

Report written by Réka Borsiczky (April, 2012. Lomé)

With Danny Saleh, one of the major donors for this conference
Now that all 3 of the major conferences are behind us I can evaluate them better. Let me start by saying these are MY VIEWS only and they don't necessarily represent the views or plans of Mercy Ships!

The first was for Small Community Leaders, followed by one for Church Leaders (Pastors mainly) and this for members of the government. I think we can expect the greatest impact from the first one. Those people often have only little power, little money, little opportunities, but I am confident that they WILL make a difference. As for the government people... this is more than just my general skeptical myself when it comes to governments... The majority of the audience were from the older generation where traditions are important, where everybody knows the corporate ladder you need to climb first in order to get to a certain position and sadly once you get there often there is the abuse of power for personal gains... These old people in power are the decision makers, but as such often not motivated themselves to initiate a change - for obvious reasons. 

My hope is in the younger generation though, the future leaders who are not in power yet, but have the potential to get there some day. They can and  - I believe - will make a change. Sadly, this will not happen tomorrow or even in the very near future...  So, the potential is there and great seeds were sown ... but maybe not for the best audience. :(

It will be interesting to see the results in a few weeks when we go upcountry again to have a short follow-up meeting with each group. I am very curious to see the results!