Big day’s clinic at Ipota

Wednesday 5 July 2017
Ipota Village, Erromango Island

The eye, dental and medical clinic had steady business all day with the Oral Health Survey meeting its target of 10 participants (two from each age group) by 11:00am; they are getting good!

With an island population of around 2,500 the survey requires a sample of 25 (on this island) – all selected at random of course. Nearby Tanna island has a slightly smaller land size, but has a population of more than 30,000, so requires 300 survey participants … you’ve probably figured out the 1% sample-size methodology by now …

Back on Chimere, there was a steady stream of locals invited out for a tour, of all ages, which would invariably involve a feed of rice crackers, bread and vegemite, beetroot, Logan Bread, cold water from the fridge, jelly (both lemon and raspberry – a very bit hit it must be said!) plus Doritos and baked beans (as a substitute for the salsa sauce which we couldn’t find) – and in one case a little bit of each.

Who would have thought that inviting that first group of kids aboard yesterday would lead to a steady stream today…?! But as they say in Alaska, “pat one husky, pat them all” So as groups gathered and demonstrated their persistence by sitting on the rocks, we’d eventually relent and nick across with the dinghy and pick them up – so much for that afternoon nap!

With one group I pulled out the laptop and started showing photos I’d taken back in 2009 when we visited the (relatively) nearby village of PotNarvan (north along the coast from here) In conjunction with the head teacher at the school I’d offered at the time to take, and then print and laminate, class photos. So when I showed the photos today, 8 years later, they excitedly pointed to face after face that they recognised, giggling and laughing at each one. This went on so much that in the end I pulled out the ship’s printer and laminator and did them a copy to put on the school noticeboard for everyone in the village to see.

As we returned each group to the shore we’d sometimes drop a hint that “maybe you find us some banana, or fruit?” … and one group returned late today with a bag full of goodies. Just great kids !

A local boat-man, George, came alongside with his red topped “banana” boat and asked if we had any fishing lures he could buy. He came aboard and there were several old ones I gave him as I apologised for being such a bad fisherman. “you from Ipota? … I asked

“No, me from PotNarvan, one hour and a half up the coast” he said.
To engage him some more in conversation I said, “We’ve been to PotNarvan two times before, in 2009 and 2010 we met a man with a boat there … in fact we fixed the roof of his boat”

“yes, it was the yellow boat, I remember now … maybe you come to PotNarvan and fix the roof of my boat ?” he said with a cheeky grin. “How much vatu for these?” he asked, holding up the handful of old lures, trace and hooks. “E-free, to you, no charge” … which made him happy. And as a bonus I gave him one of our cheap, basic, but near-new life jackets, plus a coil of rope … two things in very short supply out here!!

The general consensus amongst those we met was that this was the first yacht they had ever seen anchored in the river – not quite sure how to take this – but when you look at the lack of detail on the chart plotter I can see why. Whereas the inaccuracies at other anchorages (such as Aniwa island) showed our position on the chartplotter as in the middle of the island 500 metres away, here at Ipota it shows us out to sea, off the coast! Almost as disconcerting.

All the children who came aboard were so respectful and polite. It just seemed a universal expectation that you sit quietly and observe, rather than make lots of noise. Questions centred around … “where are you from?” “Who are your family, pikinini blong yu? Wife?” and “where have you been?”

Cyclone Pam hit this island, along with nearby Tanna, particularly bad two years ago, and whilst leaves and branches have mostly grown back on the trees, the buildings and infrastructure are a different story. One young girl explained that they sheltered in the school and clinic from the worst of the storm, and summed it up in terms of … “things go on, but there is sadness still. We lived in an Australian AID tent”

We asked the kids why they weren’t at school … “no school today?” we ventured …

“Yes” came the answer, (as is the answer to most questions when asked) … “No school because of the clinic”
“So there’s no school so everyone can go to the clinic?” I inquired deeper … “Yes” came the reply again.
Funny thing, later in the day we had one of the local primary school teachers out on the boat, a great bloke called Sanuel (with an “n”) and in making conversation I put it out there … “I hear school was cancelled today so children could go to the clinic?”

“No” (uncharacteristic answer) “No, only for those children who need to go, they were given time out of class”
“ohhh, I understand” I said with a smile, “maybe the kids misunderstood?!” to which Sanuel smiled heartily

Towards the end of the day, with bread out of the oven cooling on the side and plans for dinner well advanced, the VHF radio crackled into life … “Ello Chimere dis is Bob, do you copy, OVER?” … so began the process of de-camping the clinic, carrying everything back to the dinghy, (thanks to a large collection of local volunteers and conscripts too no doubt) stowing it into the white bulka bags (making sure the heavy items like the gas bottle were at the bottom) and then lifting them onto Chimere’s deck, to be lashed down and covered with a tarp.

The medical team members ashore, Tami, Antonio, Doug and David, plus Bob, Morinda and Dick will be returning to Chimere at 5:30am tomorrow – along with their bags – to begin the relatively short 5-6 hour sail around to the other side of the island at Williams Bay.

But more of that tomorrow.

In closing I should say that Ipota has left a very positive impression on all of us and Chimere will be taking a little bit of her away with us – mostly paw paw, passionfruit and a small quantity of bananas.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and big day’s clinic at Ipota

Rob Latimer


Onboard “Cub Reporter Daniel” submits his first post-from-the-field…

Ipota, Erromango Island
Wednesday 5 July 2017


Dearest Readers of the MSM blogs,

My name is Daniel and at 23 years old I am the youngest crew member aboard Chimere. I dare not hazard a guess by what factor I am the youngest, however I am sure that no one would take objection to me suggesting I am the youngest by at least a decade (or two…or three…or…).

First let me introduce myself. I am currently studying a Master of International Public Health and am also a keen sailor. Long story short, I came across MSM last year in a search to satisfy my desire for adventure whilst broadening my understanding of health care delivery in under-resourced settings (and it is safe to say it has delivered on both fronts!!!).

With the other organizations that I have been involved, I have taken considerable time to evaluate whether their mission, objects, and delivery of their service coincide with my own values. This process was a short one with MSM. With the stars aligning this year, I finished my last exam and was on my way to join the crew in Port Vila the following morning.

Before arriving I certainly had my anxieties. Although I had been to Vanuatu on two prior occasions and felt relatively comfortable with village life and the country on the whole, the realities of a mission such as this have considerable unknowns.
One of these unknowns being who I would be spending the next 4 weeks with, in quite intimate proximity and in quite testing scenarios (which I am sure has been made clear from Rob’s previous blogs!). After a welcoming cup of tea and a biscuit or two, I was made to feel immensely comfortable. It was immediately clear that the crew had huge diversity of experience that I knew I would be able to learn a lot from.

Broadly speaking, there have been no shortage of ‘character building’ moments. In these environments you are exposed to settings and situations that often require you to pinch yourself. From observing tooth extractions as pigs and dogs walk within inches of the threshold of the surgery, to seeing children who will not receive simple treatment to prevent life-long damage (see Annette’s post), to rescuing a shipwreck, to living in a close proximity with people you don’t know, to standing in some of the world’s most isolated regions, to engaging with completely foreign cultures, to communicating post operative instructions when neither of you speaks the others language, to eating local cuisine…the list goes on.

It has been one thing after the other. It has been exhausting but immensely rewarding. From my perspective I have gained considerable insight into the functioning of a health care NGO, in the areas that work well, the areas that can be improved upon, and the areas that will be a challenge to overcome, no matter what, I might just add that the shipwreck fiasco might be quite a novel scenario for a health care NGO.

It is easy for a group such as this to come in and deliver short-term primary care for the day that we are in the village.

Where I have taken great joy in this context has been through the bottom-up approach of the mission. Although providing primary care has been an important part, empowering our Ni-Vanuatu team leaders to make the changes in health care that they want to see in their communities is of the greatest value. Cultural attitudes towards healthcare must come from within. This is a long term process and it has been an absolute pleasure to say that I have been a part of it in its infancy.

I will say that if you are considering jumping on board and being involved in an organization like this, you have to be mentally prepared. These settings take their toll emotionally and can drain your energy quickly. However, if/when you get the chance to reflect on it, as I currently am writing this, you won’t regret your decision to take the journey.

Don’t worry about any differences in age or culture, just be receptive to learning from those around you, and the trip will be worth it. Challenging, but worth it.

This certainly isn’t a contiki tour around Europe, but an education on steroids. I have found I have learnt so much about myself, about other individuals and about another culture in such a small space of time that it has been at times challenging for my brain to compute. What I have been able to process however, I can say with absolute confidence, enriched my still elementary understanding of the world.

Wishing you all the best on your future travels,


2 thoughts on “Big day’s clinic at Ipota”

  1. Love this.
    Daniel, huge kudos to you. You’ve described exactly why I’m a huge fan of the way MSM works. Far more effective to upskill, educate and empower others than to try to ‘save the day’ in a short term trip.Read More…

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