|Vega’s Humanitarian Mission|
Vega takes us on a Mission of Mercy By Shane Granger
For most people the dream of yachting is lounging in the sun while a gentle tropical breeze wafts us along at a leisurely pace to some picturesque anchorage. For those of us who own yachts the reality is a bit different. Still, once we clean off the anti fouling from our hands and apply a few plasters to the residual blisters from scraping varnish the underlying dream remains the same.
By Shane Granger
"If we tie her to a pier she will die in a year. A boat like Vega must keep working if she is to stay alive and in seaworthy condition for another 100 years", says Capt. Shane Granger.
"At first we had our hands full just restoring Vega to proper a seaworthy and liveable condition. When we acquired her the interiors looked like a cross between an Afghan goat shed and an African chicken coop – I think the chickens were winning bye the way".
As the project progressed we began to realize that there is more to owning an old boat than possessing it. We needed a purpose, one we could feel comfortable with, that purpose came to us just after the great tsunami of 2004.
We were in Langkawi deep in the beginning of Vega's refit when the tsunami struck.
After a deep breath, and with the skipper's knees knocking nicely, we set out on that momentous journey. We did make it down the west coast, at last, and successfully off loaded our supplies. The trip back was one none of us would ever forget. Although the boat was just fine, her crew suffered the whole way. After it was over we made a contest of who had the most colorful collection of bruises.
That voyage was tough, but it taught us that although no longer able to carry commercial cargo as she had for over 100 years, Vega was perfectly capable of carrying cargos of hope in the form of educational and medical supplies to remote island communities. Slowly as our refit progressed so did our vision of how to employ Vega for humanitarian voyages.Over the years, that vision has evolved into our yearly "Mission of Mercy". Every year Vega sails approximately 7,000 miles delivering roughly 25 tons of donated educational and medical supplies to some of the most remote communities of eastern Indonesia and East Timor. Half the year we busily gather those supplies and the other half of the year we are out delivering them. The uncomplicated way we work has proven to be very effective.
Our method is simple. We ask teachers, midwives, and community leaders what they need to do their jobs. We then bring those lists back to our supporters and try our best to fill them for next years deliveries. Then we gather new lists and the whole process begins once again. That means every item we load has been requested by someone who is waiting for it and needs it to do his or her job.This "direct from the hand of someone who wants to help into the hands of those who need help" system has proven to be extremely efficient and effective.
When we discovered that the area we assist has one of the highest maternal and natal mortality rates in the world we began to concentrate our medical help on the traditional midwives. Traditional midwives deliver roughly 80% to 100% of all babies born on the islands we assist.
When we first started our program a traditional midwife's entire medical kit usually consisted of a sharp knife and a piece of string. Large numbers of women were bleeding to death and babies suffocating simply because those midwives did not have the equipment, supplies, and training to prevent it happening.
We now provide comprehensive kits to over 100 traditional midwives and re supply/upgrade those kits with pharmaceuticals and other expendables every year. We also have a fully qualified Indonesian doctor on board who not only holds clinic on the islands, but also provides training for the traditional midwives. The results have been spectacular. In some areas maternal and natal mortality has fallen by over 50% in just 3 years.
Education is an important part of any community's development. Even more so for communities that are isolated from outside influences. We concentrate our efforts through two basic programs. "Kits-4-Kids" and "Classroom in a Box". We also provide individual support to teachers as encouragement for their dedication.
"Kits-4-Kids" is a simple program where individual students in wealthy schools each prepare a backpack stuffed with school supplies from a list we provide and in most cases an additional toy or stuffed animal along with a note about themselves, where they live, and perhaps even a photograph.
We then deliver those bags to students in some of the poorest schools we assist. As each child receives their new bag we make a photograph and send those pictures back to the donor school where they are posted on a notice board so the students can see where their bag went. Often we receive notes from those receiving bags to take back to those who donated them. Last year we distributed over 350 "Kits-4-Kids" bags.
Classroom in a box is a program that targets the needs of teachers and the school itself. Often the community, using local materials and volunteer labor, constructed the school's building, tables, and chairs. The teachers are volunteers from the community who take a day off each week from farming or fishing to teach. These are things the community can provide with their own hands.
The problems arise when school supplies need to be purchased. On some islands there are no shops at all, so purchasing school supplies is impossible even if the money could be found. For other communities where entire families are surviving on US$1 a day, or less, the cost of even one pencil poses a problem. That is where we come in with our Kits-4-Kids and Classroom in a Box programs.
Many places we go the children have never seen a real football. They have always played with a bundle of leaves tied together with coconut string. A real football quickly becomes a community treasure.
Those highlights are the main stay of our deliveries each year, but are not always the most effective part of our work. Vega is a catalyst that attracts attention to our work and allows us to reach out to these remote places. Much of our most effective work is facilitating contact between those who need and those who are ready to help.
Vega's participation is often critical: whether it be finding a big generator for the Bakita Vocational Training Center; helping the people of the Banda Islands to build a replica of their traditional sailing boats for use in cultural events; helping build proper incinerators to dispose of a village's rubbish; or as happened last year, helping to save the lives of two small children, who needed urgent medical attention beyond the means of Dr. Dan's free Bairo Pite clinic.
When Dr. Dan in East Timor contacted us in a desperate last-ditch effort to save the lives of two young children we were able to connect him with one of our supporters in Jakarta who not only took on the project, but also saw it through to a successful conclusion.
Both of those children had a treatable type of leukemia and were in such a bad state that the boy had to be tied into the wheel chair and the girl could no longer get out of bed. Several months later when we visited Jakarta on our return trip we had the pleasure of hosting both of those children on Vega. The boy was running around the deck and the girl had regained 8 kilos. That was, for us, a major success even if all we did to help make it happen was introduce two of our friends.
Vega's work is effective mostly due to our friends and supporters who provide the items we deliver. In almost every case that support is from private individuals. Many of which have been with us since the great tsunami. There are no big companies paying the bills, although several companies do generously contribute educational and medical supplies as well as the basic medical equipment needed for our deliveries. Several times in the past we have been at a complete stand still looking for our next fuel top up or some small spare part. Running costs are our biggest worry each year.
If you would like to join the Vega team, either as an individual or through your company's CSR program, there are many ways you can assist in our humanitarian work.
Please visit our website at www.sailvega.com
or simply Google "Humanitarian Vessel Vega" to see what others have to say about Vega and her yearly Mission of Mercy.