The last night together

Thursday 3 August 2017

Craig’s Cove, Ambrym

 Captain Phil has asked me to write this, (from all the way over here in Melbourne where it barely topped 12 degrees today … brrrr)  … just like he’s asked  everyone else on board to put pen to paper – and they have!!  (As you can see below.)[Click on thumbnail images to see who’s who]
As I’ve discovered, it’s not always that easy to get people to actually “write stuff down”, Well done Phil!!   Although I suspect he might have asked a few times over the past week.  But with everyone aboard in Craig Cove for the last night – that’s 13 people by my reckoning – Phil might have had some additional “leverage” now everyone knows the workings of life at sea and running clinics ashore. Leverage such as … there may not be room in the dinghy for you tomorrow morning, or … I think your bunk might be needed tonight, do you mind sleeping in the anchor-well, or … I’m not sure there’ll be enough dinner to go around tonight, or … worst of all … NO Ice Cream For You !! … Actually, I just made that one up.. We don’t have ice-cream aboard.  We did once and it nearly caused a riot when the local kids heard us quietly say the words.  Got good ears those kids. And who would have known “ice-cream” translates into Bislama so well.Truly though, I have no doubt that when Phil makes a request, those on board would be more than happy to oblige, given his gentle, caring nature, coupled with his strong assured leadership style. So while Phil has given me the floor, so to speak, let me just say that I endorse everything the team members have said (below).  
Phil has done an amazing job as skipper, at times in rather difficult conditions, and MSM – plus everyone on Mission 2 – has been really fortunate that he stepped forward to volunteer.  Thanks also go to all the volunteers, both medical and sailing.  People who naturally give up so much to participate, in terms of time, money and comforts, but as you’ll read below, these truly are priceless experiences and I’m sure everyone feels they are taking away far more than they’ve given. To the local Ni-Van medical staff who lead and participate, we thank you for welcoming us into your world and encourage you to maintain your enthusiasm and commitment in serving the people of your country as you doWhilst every mission comprises similar ingredients, they are each unique in their own special ways … the combination of people; their backgrounds, experience and characteristics … the weather, sea conditions and places visited … x-factors, variables, emergencies, unknowns and curved-balls … the list goes on … Mission 2 has been no exception.Well done everyone !!
Smooth seas, fair breeze and [enjoy] the last night together
Rob Latimer

Everyone has a turn

Morinda Kalmar, Joint Team Leader & PCV Dental Care Worker

MorindaI would like to thank all team members for all the hard work done in this second mission. It’s been great leading a team of old and young professionals which helps build my leadership skills. With all different skills put together to accomplish a great mission.

May God bless you all as He has blessed our people through your good work.

Tank yu tumas. Morinda.


Bob Natuman, Joint Team Leader & PCV Dental Care Worker

BobIt was a joyful mission on the second mission; just like Mission one. There were 13 of us: two nurses, two dentists, one doctor, two optom, two dental assistants and four crew members.

As the dental assistant in the team, I was very fortunate to work with Dr Samuel. A young Ni Vanuatu dentist from Vila Central Hospital Dental Service. He is very capable and confident to work in very remote islands where the team visit to deliver the medical and dental services.

The team traveled in very calm seas on this mission with the hand of Phil who was our cool and capable skipper and the helpful hand of its three other crew members.
A highlight was when we were on  Epi island and  we helped a local who was going across to the small island of Lamen Bay in his canoe which sank!

Bob Natuman.


Dr Samuel Alex. Dentist Ministry of Health Vanuatu

SamuelThe journey in carrying out this mission was fantastic. Seeing several islands that I haven’t been to before and meeting new friends and families. My first time journey on a yacht was awesome despite bad weather.

In carrying out dental treatment (tooth extractions) in a village setting was a big challenging for me. However I did appreciate the experience.

The good thing about the treatments was that I managed to complete all the treatments in the outer islands. I met new friends on board – the medical team and the crew members.

I am so fortunate to have worked with new work mates Dr Barry and Bob. The journey was awesome and I am looking forward to many more to come.

God bless, Samuel Alex.


Dick Stanley, PCV Eyecare Worker

DickThe journey was good. I really enjoy the tribe. Even though it was a long journey.

As an eye care worker I really appreciate Dr David the optician and Vick (a sailor) who helped us with all the eye patients.

Thanks to all the crew members who came for us on the ship amd also the medical team members.

Dick Stanley


David Lawry, Optometrist (Volunteer Victoria)

DavidNot knowing what to expect I arrived at Port Vila airport with some trepidation being transported to the yacht Chimere that evening, quick introductions, a meal and onto the boat.

Sailing to Emae and we were greeted by the first of the many friendly NI-Vans we were to meet from there it was clinics with lines that ran almost out of sight

The local Ni-Van has so much and so little they live in astounding scenery with abundant food but access to doctors dentists and optometry is intermittent at best with many having not seen any for up to four years.

Reading glasses were heavily in demand. Sun related eye disease is prevalent mainly pterygium and cataract from a young age. We were kept busy with the eyes and hopefully left many better for the visit.

Regardless of what we could do they were happy and laughing at all times.

The combination of sailing and working made this a great trip and will leave lasting memories the most vivid being the friendly nature and greetings from the islanders, the volcanoes and stunning scenery

David Lawry


Dr Nic Allen, (Volunteer, UK)

NicThe MSM mission has been a fantastic and fitting finale to my sabbatical year. The crew have been both professional and dedicated, working tirelessly to support the on-shore team.

The dental, ophthalmic and medical team have worked flexibly and effectively to deliver care to many Ni Vanuatu and hopefully leave a lasting improvement to their health.

Above all I have been impressed by the Ni Vanuatu in-mission team. Their humour, patient care, and energy have been an inspiration.

A big thanks to MSM for a great trip and I hope to return in a year or two.

Dr Nic Allen


Nicola Young, (RN NZ Oral Health Survey Coordinator)

NicolaI have really enjoyed mission two. Having helped out in Vila over the last few months with the oral health survey planning it’s great to take part in undertaking the survey in five of the islands.

We have had a wonderful team of people who have worked really well together. Everyone had different skills and talents to add including professional skills, bread making, cooking, joke making etc!

It was so interesting to experience five of the Vanuatu islands: Emae, Tongoa, Epi, Paama, and Ambrym. (plus little Lamen Island too, Ed.)

The local health staff (nurses and nurse aids) on each island welcomed us warmly and worked hard to help us organise the clinic and the patients. They do amazing primary health care work. As well as this the people in each village were welcoming.

Our team leaders Bob and Morinda did a fantastic job and it was great to meet medical colleagues. Thank you to the crew – we felt safe and well looked after.

Thank you PCV and MSM for this opportunity.

I will remember this experience forever and I look forward to continuing to help with the survey when I’m back in Vila. I hope I am fortunate enough to work on another mission in the future.

Tank yu tumas bae lukim yu fella back again sometime.


Nicola Young

Glenys Janssen-Frank (RN & midwife, Volunteer Australia)

GlenysIt sounds like a holiday. I write this under a starry sky with a gentle ocean breeze across the stern of the yacht. The last few weeks we sailed to remote Vanuatu Islands and set up medical, dental and optometry clinics.
It was delightful having a warm welcome from the pikininis – waving, yelling and following us through the village. As a volunteer it was challenging sharing the yacht with up to 13 people. But it is rewarding reflecting on how 464 people have been seen in our clinics in 2 weeks.

There were big smiles from people arriving to get a pair of glasses. Lots of laughter and smiles from those saying they didn’t need a dentist because they didn’t have any teeth!


Glenys Janssen-Frank

Todd Macdougall, (MSM Volunteer Crew Member)


ToddMy involvement in the mission started during the dry dock phase at Hastings. Chimere was a sad sight that transformed to the beauty she is today over the couple of months of hard work, fairly adaptive planning and a lot of logistic support. Seemed that the more we scraped and peeled back surfaces the more work was revealed beneath. It was a labor of love that we knew had to be done right.

The mission was a talking point for a few months prior to leaving as friends, relatives and colleagues drilled for more information about the mission reckoning it was a bit of a holiday or a swan in the South Pacific for a couple of weeks. The reality was certainly different with duties on board followed by supporting roles with the dental survey team. It was full on for the entire trip.

The most memorable aspect of the experience for me was the environment generated by like-minded people wanting to make a contribution to people who have very little and want for even less. Applying our collective experiences to a common end of making someone’s life a little bit easier, or living with having less pain, is so simple and the reality of our involvement.

The locals are just so happy and appreciative of our efforts everywhere we go.


Todd Macdougall


Mark Stephenson (MSM Volunteer Crew Member)

MarkAll that is left of Mission 2, from my perspective, is to take Chimere back to Port Vila; over 100 miles – an overnight sail. I could call this my half way point as I will be staying on for Mission 3.
I have cooked, cleaned, set sails, set anchor, driven outboards over reefs and small surf onto black sand beaches. As well as a myriad of minor repairs that need doing on any yacht in constant use. I’ve sat anchor watch whilst anchored on a lee shore with the sound of the surf on the nearby reef for company, and played grab everything as a set of waves start the rolling that threatens to throw everything that isn’t tied down onto the floor.

I’ve seen tropical sunsets, glowing volcanoes and amazing white smiles on dusky children.

All in all a fair exchange for a Tasmanian winter.

Mark Stephenson


Vic Aston (MSM Volunteer Crew Member)

VicReflecting on what has been a great experience, the memories that I will carry away will stay with me forever.

The constructive attitude of a team of volunteers working with volunteer Health Professionals has been an enlightening experience. Myself being part of the sailing crew supporting the medical crew dealing with the native population of small remote villagers, is an experience that I would have never believed that I would be part of.

The dedication of the management and liaison crew of The MSM organisation has been total, in ensuring the success of this mission with more than 600 patients being consulted and assessed. As part of the sailing crew I can only thank the professionalism and ability of skipper Phil Wicks, crew Mark Stephenson and Todd MacDougall for keeping us all safe when conditions have been marginal at times.

I congratulate The MSM for their commitment to the Ni-Vanuatu people.

Vic Aston     “Sailing Crew Member”


Dr Barry Stewart, (Volunteer Dentist, Australia, National Oral Health Coordinator)


BarryIt’s an Island life… or is it?

Island hopping by yacht in the Shepherd Islands, Vanuatu, is breathtaking – densely vegetated, often steep slopes arising from mainly black sand or coral beaches, here and there a small clearing for village gardens, puffs of smoke from subsistence farmers clearing vegetation for new gardens or from cooking fires, copious coconut palms, cloudy mountain peaks, volcanoes that emit red glows that are clearly visible at night, thatched dwellings, outrigger canoes, coral reefs, island tramp vessels, and other visual delights.

Stepping ashore… welcoming smiles, small neatly constructed traditional dwellings, broad shady trees with benches often fixed to the base of the trunk, kava bars, nakamals (for village gatherings and meetings), chiefs, elders, groups of women with their pikininis, pigs, dogs, sometimes cattle, and a profuse number of roosters, and little chicks following their mother hens.

Football (that is, the real code… soccer) is probably the most popular sport for boys and volleyball for girls. Climbing trees, paddling outrigger canoes, fishing, swimming, lots of fun and laughter, however, are universal pastimes. Traditional music and dancing is a bit repetitive and bland for my ears, but the opportunity to attend a church service is guaranteed to please through the natural ability of islanders to sing in harmony… one person will start singing a few bars and the rest will just simply join in.

Life appears to be so uncomplicated… most people, especially the ‘olfala’, don’t even know their birth dates! Kids have basic playthings, so a simple gift such as a toothbrush together with a small koala toy, pencil, a hair tie, or just a simple sticker brings out the broadest of smiles. It’s the sort of life that might satisfy the soul as opposed to the trappings of a modern society with TV, supermarkets, cars, ‘climate control’ in homes, Netflix, and every kind of electronic device to keep ourselves entertained and in touch with the ‘world’.

In reality, however, life in the islands is harsh. Any desire to live a simple, island way of living is quickly dispelled… average life expectancy is significantly lower than in Australia. Common medical problems include musculoskeletal problems from everyday activities such as gardening and mat weaving, diabetes, high blood pressure, worms, and accidents that are often untreated or uncontrolled; the incidence of eye problems such as pterygium and cataracts is significantly higher… something that could be reduced simply through wearing of sunglasses and hats; then there are the dental problems… many people have suffered from chronic dental pain for weeks, months, and even years… but this is likely to be the result of the more recent increase in consumption of foods containing refined sugars rather than a traditional problem. Gum disease, on the other hand, is most likely to have been just as common in the past even before Western influence.

The perceived poor status of oral health in Vanuatu is in fact the main driver for one of the key objectives of MSM 2017… a National Oral Health Survey covering around one percent of the total population and half of the inhabited islands in the archipelago.

After seven weeks of checking many mouths of people of different ages in Port Vila and the Shepherd Islands, it’s time for a welcome break… all I can think of is having the first hug with my wife Evelyn in a few days! The rest will be short-lived, however, as I will be departing for a further 3-week stint in September, including a week in Luganville and finally MSM Mission 4 in the Banks Islands.

Smooth seas, fair breeze, and a better island life for the many people served by the MSM Mission 2 medical team and sailing crew. Well done everyone… and thanks for the great time and your wonderful company!


Barry Stewart

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