This Blog serves as two things: a photo-diary of our lives between 2007 and mid 2011, when we saw some incredible things and met some amazing people; and a reflection of our more normal lives since then.

Friday, 30 November 2007

Sailing again

Our family are sailing again, 18 months since our last sail with Mercy Ships. It feels great to be out in the clear blue ocean again, without a spot of garbage in sight. We left the Freeport of Monrovia around noon on Friday, and followed the coast of Liberia until it disappeared into the dusk. We could clearly see the huge shape of Cape Mountain, from where Libby's Vai Tribe comes from, and where she was born. The sea is very calm, although the Africa Mercy rolls and wallows much more than the Anastasis ever did. Friday morning was taken up with a Stowaway Search, then a Fire and Abandon Ship Drill, and then another Stowaway Search as we started to sail. We spent the afternoon continuing to secure the ship, and getting used to the rolling motion, which makes us tired - Sally and I slept from 9pm Friday until 7ish Saturday. This morning we opened the curtains on a beautiful sunrise over a flat sea, and after breakfast saw a school of dolphins swimming alongside the ship. Now we are enjoying the change of pace and enforced restful weekend, and settling into the routine of the six day sail to Gran Canaria. Olly

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Please pray

Would you pray for one of our crew mates please? She is an 18 year old American girl, who has malaria but recently suffered complications, and yesterday she had to go on a ventilator as she could no longer breathe on her own. Today a Jordanian Army Ambulance took her from the ship's Intensive Care Unit to the airport, under escort from the US Embassy, to meet a hospital plane that will fly her to Germany for medical help. She is still in a critical condition, but stable. Her parents are flying to Germany now to be with her. Please pray that she recovers quickly with no side effects. Olly

24 hours until we sail


Yes, in 24 hours we will slip our mooring lines and sail out of Monrovia, destination Las Palmas, Gran Canaria. Everyone on the ship has been working very hard all week to finish securing and packing in case of bad weather, but today we are seeing the job very nearly completed. Photo of the Land Rovers on Deck 8. Olly

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

UN Drive Roadworks


As the Chinese begin their massive road renewal scheme here in Monrovia, part of UN Drive in Sinkor has been seriously dug up, and diversions are in operation with long delays. Photo of UN Drive taken outside Mona Lisa, facing the city with the Royal Hotel on the right and City Gas Station on the left (really bad photo isn't it?). Olly

Mercy Ships -v- Nepalese Army

This evening the Mercy Ships' soccer team beat the Nepalese Army's soccer team 3-0. Hurray. Olly

Earthquake

An earthquake with magnitude of 5.6 occurred near MONROVIA, Liberia at 10:13 on Wednesday Nov 27, 2007. Source: US Geological Survey.
(It was actually 550 miles from Monrovia, and we didn't feel a thing. Olly)

Rude awakening

We had a Fire and Abandon Ship Drill at 6am this morning, when we were all still fast asleep. I really hate being awakened by screaming alarms. I went to fight the fire whilst Sally and the kids waited on the promenade deck wearing their lifejackets and waiting to abandon ship. The kids were very well behaved. We were all back in our cabin by 6.55am, which is still before our usual waking-up time of 7am. Now we're tired and grumpy. Olly

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Mercy Ships Palliative Care Team


We have a small Palliative Care Team on the ship to care for the seriously ill that we have been unable to offer surgery to, and are dying because of their illnesses. Candy, pictured, has a massive untreatable and unoperable cancerous tumour growing from her eye, and Jean and Michelle visit her regularly at her home to dress the tumour and pray with the family. What brave ladies they are. Their strength can only come from God. This is a sad time particularly for them, as they say goodbye to Candy and other patients in the knowledge that they will most probably have died by the time the ship returns to this country next year. Olly

Hello Mr & Mrs Becker

Our good friends Josh & Sarah Becker have returned to Mercy Ships. They met on the Anastasis in 2005, and got married three months ago. Its great to have them back! Olly

Goodbye Chapman family

Yesterday the Chapman family left the Africa Mercy, to spend the next four months in the USA raising funds before returning to Liberia next April to open a dental clinic. Noah and Anna have grown up with Lauren and Taylor since late 2003 when we first met in Texas, and more recently Samuel and Libby too. We are very sad that they have left the ship, but our return to Liberia next year means we will be able to see them again fairly regularly until we leave Liberia for good in late 2008. Olly

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Whoops!


Q: What do you get when you try to move a 25 ton shipping container on a under-maintained flatbed truck?

A: See photo.

Olly

Friday, 23 November 2007

Last day for Day Workers


Today is the last day for Day Workers on the ship - these are Liberians we hire for $5/day to work as translaters, cooks, cleaners, painters, electricians, engineers, mechanics, watch-keepers, drivers, and nursing assistants. Some of these dear folk have been with us on-and-off since early 2005, and will be returning to work with us in February. They are happy to have jobs to return to, but for the next 2 months they will join Liberia's other 85% unemployed, and try to make their wages last out until their next pay-packet by typically living off less than $1/day. Yet in the midst of their terrible poverty, many of them have presented crew members with traditional Liberian clothes or carvings, as a way of saying thank-you for the last ten months of employment. We look forward to seeing them and working with them again in February. Photo of me and some of the Deck Department's Day Workers. Olly

Last day for patients


Today is the last day for patients on the ward. The hospital is being cleaned and packed away in preparation for our sail to Gran Canaria at the end of next week. One of our Liberian day-workers who lives ashore has been trained in wound dressing, and has been equiped with all the supplies she needs, so any patients needing additional medical care can refer to her whilst we are away. It is an emotional day as we say goodbye to patients who we have prayed for and spent time with, and who have become part of our lives here, especially for me and other technical staff who work alongside the hospital. As I walk the corridors today the four wards are getting more and more empty. There is an atmosphere that reminds me of the last day of school term. I'm sure we will see many of the patients again as they visit us next year, and some will even be re-admitted for follow-up surgery. Photo of Nurse Rachel and Nurse Becky and some of the last patients. Olly

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Christianity Today article

The December issue of Christianity Today magazine features an article about Mercy Ships, and our work in Liberia. Keep your eyes open for it! Olly

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

More emergency power


International maritime regulations are very specific about the amount of emergency power a ship must have, which is why yesterday we took delivery of a second emergency generator to power water pumps for fire hoses and sprinkler systems throughout the ship. The preparation and instalation of this generator and pump system is mostly what myself and many other colleagues have been working on in recent months - it involves miles of cabling and piping, tons of steel, and acres of additional fire-roof insulation. Photo of the new generator on Deck 8 awaiting instalation. Olly

Ceilidh time again


We had another Scottish Ceilidh (dance) on the dock on Friday night. Looking back, it was again a very weird experience - a couple of hundred white people of all ages dancing away under the watchful eye of four Ghanaian soldiers with big black guns. The dance was attended by no less than 5 genuine Scots, but there was not a kilt or sporran in sight. Olly

Sunday, 18 November 2007

School photo


Here is the Africa Mercy Academy's most recent school photo. Click on it to enlarge to see all 48 children and all 14 full and part time teachers. Olly

West African football


The Mercy Ships's football team played Cheesemanburg last Wednesday. Here a goal is scored by Mercy Ships, but Cheesemanburg eventually won 2-1. Our team is mostly made up of players from Ghana; I guess the ship lifestyle of good food and little exercise has taken the edge off their football skills. Olly

Liberia's road rehabilitation program commences

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has broken grounds for the start of major road rehabilitation works in the country. Speaking Friday during the ceremony, the President said the exercise will not be limited to Monrovia alone but extended to rural Liberia, especially in the south east, where roads in that part of the country are in a deplorable state due to lack of maintenance over the years. The President said the labor intensive road rehabilitation project will provide job opportunities for many Liberians and facilitate the movement of goods and services throughout the country upon completion. She appealed for understanding and cooperation as the rehabilitation exercise gets underway. The Public Works Minster disclosed that phase-one of the general rehabilitation of roads will cost $23 million US dollars. Phase-two is estimated at more than $25 million US dollars. The amount is being solicited from the country's development partners. Areas to benefit from the first phase of the road construction and rehabilitation include Greater Monrovia; Freeport to Red Light, Somalia Drive, ELWA Junction to Roberts International Airport, amongst others. Phase-2, according to the Minister, will cover Cotton-Tree in Margibi County to Buchanan, Grand Bassa County, Caldwell, and Careysburg, amongst others. The road project is being undertaken by a Chinese Construction company known as CHICO, The Chinese Highway International Corporation. The company has been involved in road construction in more than fifteen African Countries, as well as Europe and Asia. allafrica.com

Liberia's Vice President visits Africa Mercy

Vice President Joseph N. Boakai has commended Mercy Ships for the invaluable services it has rendered to the Liberian people over the past two years, and indicated that the Liberian government would do everything to get the ship back to Liberia. He said health is so essential in everything man does that words are inadequate for the Liberian people to thank Mercy Ships crew for their invaluable services to humanity, especially the people of Liberia. Vice President Boakai made the remarks on Friday during a visit to the floating hospital at the Freeport of Monrovia. The ship's crew held a forum to thank partners in Liberia and the Liberian government for their support of the Africa Mercy. The Vice President wondered how crew can afford to leave their loved ones to come and render services without taking credit for it, and lauded their commitment. Vice President Boakai said what Mercy Ships is doing should teach Liberians that "love and concern for one another is what gets the world going". allafrica.com

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Kids TV


A very generous donor has given the ship a satellite TV receiver, and the ship's Management Team has agreed to show cartoons on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Imagine how excited I was to introduce Danger Mouse, my childhood hero, to our kids this morning. Olly

Sunken ships


There are currently 16 sunken vessels in the Freeport of Monrovia. These include the Torm Alexandra (previously mentioned), two tugs, the pilot boat, a floating dock, and several freighters and fishing boats. Some of them are still showing above the surface, others are marked by buoys or other floating markers, and others are marked by the beautiful pattern of oil floating on the water above them, as this photo shows. Olly

Friday, 16 November 2007

Liberian Travel Advice

This, dear friends, is Liberia: Please be advised that the route to Tubmanburg is currently blocked by an over-turned timber truck and an additional truck which tried to bypass the over-turned truck and got stuck, creating a further obstacle. Please restrict movement along this route until further notice. Courtesy of United Nations Mission in Liberia

Diamond hunters arrive in Liberia

The hydrographic survey ship M/V Askelad has arrived in the Freeport of Monrovia. The vessel has spent the last four years in West Africa where it has successfully completed analogue and digital site surveys, cable and pipeline route surveys, burial assessment, swath bathymetry, dredging support surveys, and environmental sampling and support services. Got that? It is now leased to a diamond company, which has joined the many other international diamond hunters who have arrived in Liberia since the UN and the Government of Liberia withdrew diamond export sanctions three months ago. Good luck to them. Each company employs dozens of locals, and their very presence has a positive effect on the economy. Shops are now boasting diamond mining equipment for sale, and local metal workers are selling gold pans on the street. Olly

Monday, 12 November 2007

Another Liberian living with pain

I spent this morning working with a mature Liberian lady who was bent double with pain from uterine fibroids, who desperately needs a hysterectomy but hasn't got $400 US for the operation. I often see dispair on the faces of the people I meet here, and today was no exception - I could see that she was trying to manage her pain, while she must have been thinking about the years of discomfort ahead of her in the knowledge that she cannot afford the operation. Regrettably, even the Africa Mercy has its limits, and is unable to offer her this specialised surgery, but after a few enquiries one of the ward supervisors established that a Medecin Sans Frontiers hospital on the other side of Monrovia that can do the operation for free! Praise God! Olly

Mercy Ships surgeon receives top award


Our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Gary Parker, was in London last week to be made a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons. Dr Gary has served full-time as maxillo-facial surgeon with Mercy Ships on the Anastasis and Africa Mercy for the last 22 years, and has done thousands of cleft lip and palate operations and tumour removals. He is one of the humblest men I know, and is full of the presence of our loving Father. Photo of him examining a patient with a massive facial tumour. Olly

We love Liberia


Now here's the perfect opportunity to post this photo, taken in the run-up to the 2005 Liberian elections, during the Mercy Ship Anastasis's second visit to Liberia. At that time, the UN were doing all they could to maintain a fragile peace and encourage Liberians to have respect for each other and their ruined nation, hence the display of large banners to encourage the confused population to love their country. Olly

Press Release: Africa Mercy to return to Liberia for 2008

MONROVIA LIBERIA, November 2, 2007 - Her Excellency Ellen Johnson Sirleaf announced this week that Mercy Ships has accepted her invitation for the Africa Mercy to return to Liberia again for 2008 following a short dry dock away from the nation at the end of this year. The Mercy Ship expects to leave port at the end of November and return from February through to November 2008. This will be the fourth Mercy Ships visit to Liberia since the charity's previous flagship, Anastasis, first called into the Port of Monrovia in 2005. Since that time, Mercy Ships volunteers have transformed the lives of the Liberian people by providing life-transforming surgeries, state of the art medical care, and community development projects throughout Liberia. In May of 2007, the new flagship of the Mercy Ships Fleet, Africa Mercy, was placed into service in Monrovia and immediately more than doubled the capacity of health care and services that could be provided. Conservative estimates state that the Africa Mercy's volunteers will be able to provide over 7000 medical procedures during a standard 10 month deployment. The invitation to return to Liberia was discussed during meetings in Washington D.C. this past week when President Johnson Sirleaf was honoured at the AFRICARE Conference. Don Stephens, Founder/President of Mercy Ships was in attendance for this conference and enjoyed an audience with Her Excellency prior to her key note address. "Part of Mercy Ships goal in returning again would be to strongly support momentum for Liberia's national health policy and increase capacity for medical care by using the Africa Mercy as a platform for medical education and mentoring in administration/management infrastructure," stated Don Stephens.
"Mercy Ships is committed to increasing the health care capacity of Liberia and our volunteer crew will also deliver selected small scale construction and renovation projects alongside the medical training and surgical services the ship provides," Stephens said. All Mercy Ships services are provided free of charge to the nation, thanks to donors around the world who are passionate in their support of the volunteer professionals onboard the Africa Mercy. This commitment also follows on the heels of a decision by Ann Gloag and the Balcraig Foundation whose generosity contributed to the refit of the Africa Mercy, to also agree to assist in the renovation of the JFK Hospital in Monrovia which has served as the on-land location for the ship's medical and dental screenings. This and several other projects are planned to assist in establishing a long-term medical infrastructure within the nation after the ship concludes its service at the end of 2008. Prior to arriving in Monrovia, the Africa Mercy will make a short courtesy stopover in Sierra Leone for a formal protocol signing for the ship's next port of service in 2009. This signing represents the organizations' ongoing commitment to help the people of West Africa emerge from the difficulties of war and subsequent disease related to the destroyed medical infrastructure in this area of the world. Mercy Ships was originally invited to Liberia in 2004 by Jacques Klein, Special Assistant to United Nations Secretary General, the Liberian Council of Churches and in partnership with Dr Gwenigale of the Liberian Ministry of Health. www.mercyships.org

A letter from Mercy Ships Founder/President

Dear Africa Mercy Crew,
After considerable prayer and process, a decision has been made to formally accept an invitation from the Liberian Government to return in 2008. This is a shift in our original plans, but is consistent with our long term strategy. As you will read from the Letter of Invitation from President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the continued service in Liberia allows us the ability to impact this region in a larger and more lasting way. Mercy Ships will continue to have the opportunity to work with the Liberian Government and other charitable organizations to begin projects that will bring significant health care infrastructure to the people of this region. The Africa Mercy will use its 2008 service to build the foundation for these projects in Liberia. It is our plan to move the Africa Mercy to Sierra Leone in February 2009. However, some Sierra Leone community development projects will run concurrently without the Africa Mercy in port. Mercy Ships is privileged to have this opportunity to make an even larger impact on the people of Liberia and West Africa. The opportunity to help the people of West Africa build for their future must always remain at the forefront of our goals. Change may bring frustration for some, but it is through our ability to react to change that we continue to set the standard for bringing Hope and Healing to the Forgotten Poor of West Africa. May God continue to bless Mercy Ships and the Crew of the Africa Mercy. May our hands and minds be used to bring hope to His people! Looking forward,
Don Stephens
Founder and President
Mercy Ships

An invitation from the President of Liberia

Dear Mr. Stephens,
On behalf of the people of Liberia, I wish to thank the Mercy Ships for the continuing excellent medical service rendered to our citizens. This is also a warm invitation to the Africa Mercy to return to our country in February 2008. As Liberia works to rebuild its health care system, the Africa Mercy offers an indispensable bridge by responding to the individual medical crises that have kept too many of our citizens on the sidelines. These are people who want an active role in the reconstruction of Liberia - the fulfillment of their dreams of a strong and stable country. We also welcome back to Liberia the hundreds of volunteers who donate their human and financial resources to provide care and comfort to our people. These dedicated volunteers make it possible for the people of Liberia to receive first-class medical care. This relieves the burden on our Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, thus allowing Minister Walter Gwenigale and his team to formulate and implement the National Health Policy and Plan that will take Liberia into the future with a dependable national health system. In order that you might receive the maximum support in the service of our people, I have asked Dr Gwenigale to coordinate, on behalf of Government, your return visit in Feburary 2008. Once again, please accept our profound thanks and appreciation for the sacrificial service rendered by Mercy Ships.
Sincerely,
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
President of Liberia

Sunday, 11 November 2007

We remembered them too

Today, Remembrance Sunday, we met on the dock at 11am with a handful of other Brits and tuned-in to the BBC World Service to hear the Service of Remembrance from London's Cenotaph. We remembered those from our country who had fallen in two world wars and military conflicts since then. We wore red poppies which Sally and the kids had made earlier, and we took time to explain to Noah and Anna what was going on. It was very moving. Olly

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Happy Libby Day


Tomorrow, 11th November, is the second annual Libby Day, when we celebrate that two years ago an abandoned Liberian baby called Luquata Kiawen aka Liberty Kiawen Peet aka Libby came to live with us. Photo of the first time we met her in the orphanage. Olly

Jedi Youngling Noah

Wonderful Aunty D in England sent Noah a Jedi Cape for his birthday. He wears it everywhere, even in the dining room. His teacher, Miss Nikki, had to ask him to take it off when in class. Never has such a small boy been made so happy by some brown cloth. Olly

High School Musical

Our kids and their friends are obsessed with the Disney Kids movie High School Musical. Its a good clean wholesome movie about a musical in a...err...high school. Sally and I now fall asleep with the movie's songs going round and around in our heads. Any other parents out there suffering the same fate? Olly

Friday, 9 November 2007

Another message from Anna


Yesterday we had Celebration Day in school. We had so much fun. We had face paint and we pretended to be cats. Cats are my favourite. Here is a photo of me with my friends in school. Love Anna

Medical care ashore

Yesterday Sally talked many times on the phone to a pregnant American friend who lives ashore, who had been suffering from acute diarrhoea for 24 hours and needed advice about which drugs she can take. Unbelievably, there was no way of obtaining any decent advice ashore, as the only reliable doctor is away in America on home leave. These are some of the very reasons why we found living ashore so hard here, and why we jumped at the chance to come back to Mercy Ships when a position was offered. Olly

A celebration of International Thanksgiving

Last night we had a celebration of International Thanksgiving, here onboard the Africa Mercy. Chef Mel and his cooks created a fantastic turkey dinner, and then we had a special Thanksgiving service in the International Lounge, where crew members of all 36 countries represented onboard were able to give thanks to God for their countries. It was a very special night, also because our good friend for over 4 years, Keith Chapman, lead worship for the last time before he leaves the ship with his family to set up a joint Mercy Ships/SIM dental clinic at ELWA here in Monrovia. Olly

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Pre-war Liberia

I'm fascinated by what Liberia used to be like before the war - everywhere I look there are remains of once-great things. Does anyone out there have photos of the Mount Coffee Dam, Bong Mines, Bomi Mines, Monrovia City, the Freeport, the airport...in fact, anything now reduced to a shadow of what it once was? Olly

Noisy again

Yes, Sally has got her voice back. The peace was great whilst it lasted, but now she's making up for lost time.Olly

Monday, 5 November 2007

Bonfire Night


Tonight us Brits had Bonfire Night celebrations on the dock. We lit a small bonfire and pretended we had fireworks (by all going "ahhh" and "weee" whilst looking and pointing up into the night sky), and drank hot chocolate, ate Bonfire Toffee and Parkin Cake and roasted marshmallows...some crazy folk even came wrapped up in hats and gloves and scarves, even though it was about 30 degrees. We finished with a Ceilidh courtesy of our three Scottish crewmates. Crew from other nationalities standing nearby clearly thought we were daft. Photo of the five of us warming our hands over the fire. Olly

Fluffy bunnies for Africa


One of the many projects run by Mercy Ships here in Liberia is a rabbit breeding program, where selected communities are given a breeding pair of rabbits and taught how to keep them healthy and encourage multiplication. We've told our kids its because the malnourished Liberian kids like to stroke the lovely fluffy bunnies, but of course rabbits provide an excellent source of meat and, well, they breed like rabbits, so the meat should be plentiful. Photo of Abraham and Sarah and their many offspring. Olly

It's quiet...

Sally has lost her voice. Praise God. Olly

Eggs

Liberia imports eggs from India and China. We just received a few boxes on the ship, production date 23rd August 2007, expiry date 23rd February 2008. How do they make eggs last 6 months? Olly

Friday, 2 November 2007

Welcome back, Mel!

Much to the delight of all Brits on the ship, the legendary ex-Royal Catering Corp chef, Mel Somershall (and his wife Sue) have returned to serve on the Africa Mercy for seven weeks. British morale has immediatly improved, as we look forward to each meal. So far we've had genuine British fish & chips, roast pork, roast chicken, traditional stew, and spag bog - each meal in itself a work of art - and finished with a traditional British pudding, like spotted dick or apple pie and custard. God bless you Mel! Olly

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Electricity in Liberia...Part 2


In 1968, the Mount Coffee Hydro Plant was constructed across the St Pauls River 25 miles outside Monrovia. The river was trapped by a dam and then forced through four massive turbines which generated 64kw of power, until Charles Taylor's rebel army looted essential controls from the plant which led to reduced outflow causing an overtopping of the dam and finally erosion to the embankment north of the powerhouse, where the river broke through completely and cut itself a new course until it met its old riverbed. Since then the plant has suffered 17 years of continual, large scale looting, until only the concrete shell remains. A $400,000 feasibility study is currently under way, looking at rebuilding the facility at an estimated cost of $500 million, and a construction time of 5 years. Until then, Liberia will remain in the dark. Photo of the inside of the powerhouse, and of looting in progress. Click on photo to enlarge. Olly

Electricity in Liberia...Part 1

Our little generator at our house here in Monrovia had a generating capacity of 2,000 watts of electricity - enough to power some lights and fans and the fridge;
Our big generator had a generating capacity of 20,000 watts - enough to power every light in the house, two water heaters, an oven, a kettle, a well pump, a washing machine and a tumble dryer, a TV, a computer and a couple of battery chargers;
Liberia Electric Co has a total generating capacity throughout the whole of Monrovia of 1.3kw or 1,300,000 watts;
The Africa Mercy has a generating capacity of 3kw, or 3,000,000 watts;
The Mount Coffee Hydro Electric Dam had a generating capacity of 64kw, or 64,000,000 watts until it was destroyed by Charles Taylor's rebel army in 1990. More on that in "Electricity in Liberia ...Part 2". Olly

Monrovia's Water Plant


Today I accompanied the Africa Mercy's Chief Engineer and Chief Electrician to Monrovia's Water Treatment Plant, where they finished installing a third water pump which will increase water pressure sufficiently to allow treated water to be pumped right into the Monrovia's city centre for the first time in 17 years. Back in 1990, Charles Taylor's rebel army destroyed the Mount Coffee Dam, which provided both water and hydro-electric power to the water plant and city, and although European Union funds and engineers installed diesel generators and pumps in 1991, the plant still remains a shadow of what it once was. It currently produces 3 million gallons a day, but before the war it was producing 16 million gallons a day. The World Bank is currently in the process of funding a multi-million dollar investment in the plant, which should begin mid 2008, but in the meantime Mercy Ships engineers are keeping the plant working - since early 2005 they have rebuilt two pumps, installed one other, mended numerous leaks, replaced numerous valves and made countless modifications and repairs to keep the water flowing. Photo of Chief Engineer Richard Postles and Chief Electrician Arthur Francis installing the new engine and pump. Olly