Late nights and early mornings!

If we hadn’t figured it out before, it was around now that it became apparent that running dental clinics alongside eyecare clinics introduces a whole new logistical element that needs to be taken into account when planning where we go and the timing between each village/clinic Read more…

Wednesday 4 September
Losalava, Gaua

Having arrived yesterday and conducted an afternoon clinic, it was now a simple case of ferrying the medical volunteers ashore around 7:00am to start work as soon as the first patient arrived.

The plan was to get away around 11:00am, shoot around to the other side of the island, West Gaua, or Dolap village, and conduct another clinic there in the afternoon.

If we hadn’t figured it out before, it was around now that it became apparent that running dental clinics alongside eyecare clinics introduces a whole new logistical element that needs to be taken into account when planning where we go and the timing between each village/clinic

There are also the x-factors that seem to just pop up – like the weather and tides, evacuating Fiona, an impromptu stop at Merig, a clinic building that has two empty water tanks because both have  leaky taps that can’t be fixed etc etc

On the topic of the watertanks, the health worker, Stephen Nako had shown the problem to a yachtie who had passed through some time back and he had generously bought three new brass taps when he’d got to Santo and posted them back to the clinic with a note saying that another yachtie will be able to install them for him.  Well, we were that yachtie.  To fix one tap we called for a willing, small young boy to be lowered on a rope into the tank so as to screw a nut onto the threaded tap shaft which we inserted from the outside; complete with lots of sticky sealant stuff.  In the end a skinny man jumped in and it was fixed in a matter of minutes

The other tap was pretty straightforward to fix and there were leaking taps on two additional tanks we simply ran out of time to fix.  The guttering on the front of the clinic was largely missing, and this had led to the front of the veranda decking rotting, along with the stairs I’d built when I was here 4 years ago.  This time I asked if anyone had any cement, and again health worker Stephen came through with the goods.  He carried a bag of cement from his nearby house and got some chaps to bring two bags of (black) sand from the nearby beach.  He even had a shovel and trowel which enabled me to cement some (found) concrete blocks in place to make stairs at the front and end of the veranda.  Plus there were a couple of lengths of ridge iron, removed from a nearby shed that we bent into guttering and attached to the front of the building that whilst it didn’t look pretty it will at least protect more of the veranda from rotting and direct more water into the tank (now repaired.

Meanwhile, inside the clinic building, the medical team continued their tireless work and between patients, crew member Dave – who has taken on a role of dental support worker, his specialty “suction” – took a multi-metre to the solar electrics atop the building to establish there was a problem; one we could not fix.

Speaking of David, reminds me that yesterday he and Matt walked Fiona (who we had evacuated from Merelava) up to the grass airstrip to find the man who arranges bookings on the plane that does the milk-run route through certain islands each week.   I say “walk”, but whilst it was a walk for Fiona, it was something of a jog/run for David and Matt.  Fiona, remember comes from the incredibly steep island of Merelava, and when she hit the relatively flat tracks of Gaua, she was off!

After buying the ticket to Santo for Fiona, Matt and David made their way back to the clinic building and somehow came across a school full of children.  In talking with the teacher about our visiting medical team it was decided the children should go.   I heard this on the handheld VHF radio we sometimes carry.  It went something like … “airport team to medical team … returning from airstrip now, but we look like the pied piper with a couple of dozen kids following us back to the clinic for screening of teeth and eyes”


One quite amazing meeting today was with David and Anika Livingston and their new baby.  We’d met David and Anika in very sad and distressing circumstances three years ago.  Their little baby had a hole in the heart and the eyecare team were arranging for the little baby’s transfer to Australia through the Rotary Club for life saving surgery.  The baby had died a short time after we met them and they were just so thankful for the assistance provided, specifically the flights from Pt Vila back to their island of Pentecost so they could bury their baby.  It was wonderful to meet them and now Anika is a teacher at the local school and David does casual work and looks after the baby.

In the end we go away from Losalava around 1:00pm and it ended up taking about 3 hours to get around to the otherside of the island.  Consequently we just had time to take the equipment ashore and prepare for the next day’s clinic – a half-day session on account of having to make our way to the island further north – Vanualava.

I should also mention that this island of Gaua has suffered considerably as a result of the resident volcano, Mt Gerat, which became very active 2-3 years ago resulting in the whole west coast being evacuated for more than a year due to the ash and risk of explosion – after all the volcano lies beneath Lake Letus, one of the biggest freshwater lakes in the South Pacific.  Anyway, to cut a long story short, two boaties we met in Santo – Ken and Joy off Trinity Castle, had been in Gaua a week before and had met with Anglican minister Father Levi who had shown them the rust on the roof of their brand new church – further effect of the volcano.  As I say, we got to know Ken and Joy very well – Ken, who knows a lot about the workings of boats, actually diagnosed the electrical problems we were having on Chimere and made the necessary repairs.

They had Cathy and me over to their lovely boat for dinner and had asked that if we were going to Gaua could we please take some paint and brushes, plus a car battery for the church’s solar panel.
Now I’m not sure that Ken is overly religious, but he could see the wonderful work Levi was doing in his community and felt it was a shame that after all they had gone through and the work involved in building the church over many years, that the roof should now be rusting.

For the MSM team it was a special thrill to be making this delivery, but before we got to the west coast to make the delivery, Dr Doug from our medical team returned to Chimere declaring that all the roofing screws at the Losalava clinic were starting to rust and that we should find a way to paint them.  At the time I don’t think Doug was aware that we had two big, donated drums of paint aboard … and so that’s how about 3 litres of paint, a wire brush and two paint brushes were deployed – attending to the roof of the Losalava clinic building.  (I conscripted two local lads to help with that while work was going on elsewhere)

Smooth seas, fair breeze and late nights and early mornings!

Robert Latimer

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