Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Opening ceremony marks completion of construction work

Mercy Ships recently partnered with Bethesda, a Benin-based NGO (non-governmental organization), in the construction of the Bethesda Community Development Agriculture Training Center in Hévié, Benin. Now completed, the facility is serving as the venue for a three-month agriculture training program, “Food for Life”, which teaches farmers biblical organic agriculture skills in nutrition and crop production. The training center contains a lecture room for classes, as well as living quarters where participants will reside while attending the “Food for Life” program.

(taken from a longer article written by Megan Petock)

Mum- This is the site you visited while you were here, isn't it great that it is finished!

See pictures:

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

It's hot again

It is hot here again. Our thermometer is reading 28 degrees despite our curtains being closed all morning to keep the sun out and the fans being on all morning with the door open when we have been here. The boys don't ever sleep with any covers but now even pyjamas are just too much. Thank goodness there is some air conditioning at least, although it works better in some parts of the ship than others - it is certainly a lot hotter outside and it still feels a relief to return to the ship.

swallowing the swimming pool

So we had some fun borrowing an underwater camera! Tom with goggles on and mouth closed...
...whereas Joshua is happy to have his eyes and mouth open - providing a big clue as to why we have to take so many bathroom trips...
...and then the bigger people had fun with the camera and the boys fishes that sink to the bottom that you dive down is Sam finding one...

Monday, 28 September 2009

a week flies by

Slennett's in Benin, two of our fav people in the world :-)

It seems like Amy only just got here, but we have had a busy week showing her the local sights and our favourite places in Benin, and sadly she is on her way back home. It has been so much fun having her and we are just glad that Christmas is not seeming too far away before we see her, and everyone else again.

pirate fun

When packing for a visit to West Africa you have to think really carefully about what you might need to take, but as long as you plan for a pirate picnic and water fight you probably can't go too wrong, although you may get very wet :-)

Getting very wet!
Thanks Auntie Amy for the pirate t shirts!
Next time bring yourself a water gun so you don't have to use Mummy's washing up bottle?

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Saturday, 26 September 2009

return to Porto Novo...

With a ship holiday and Amy visiting we went to visit Porto Novo for a change. Firstly we went to the botanical gardens which Tom and I had visited on summer programme. We went armed with plenty of bananas and a couple of our own little (and one fairly big) monkeys to try and encourage the monkeys to come and play. Here is Sam helping Joshua feed one...

And Tommy feeding one...ok so you get the idea...there were lots of monkeys...lots of picture bananas left for lunch...lots of very full then we had some lunch sitting in the peace and quiet of the garden and let the boys play...lovely times with friends and family...

...then John and Bethany decided it would be fun to buy the thing the lady was selling...she didn't mind having her picture taken...but we have no idea what it was we were all eating...some kind of fruity sludge...which she suggested we were not eating the proper way - as we should really have taken it home and mixed it with milk or ice cream...anyway...if you look carefully you get the idea of how lots of things are sold in little bags like this and carried on the head... then we looked for the Ethnographic museum, taking a rather more interesting route than the guide book suggested (note - do not give the map to Sam unless you wish to ensure your children have their weeks worth of exercise on one day), getting a bit more of a feel for the town and not actually having enough time left to visit the we kept walking...had the opportunity to buy some live chicks that two ladies were carrying on their heads - who declined the opportunity to have their photo taken in the same way that we declined the chicks...and finally got back to the car at the same time as a fan ice man which was a lot more appealing than the chicks...

And that was another day in Africa :-)

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Nursery field-trip

We took the nursery out today for some sensory play in some clean sand. Does that sound better than 'we went to the Beer Garden for a nursery outing today'?

The nursery: Joshua (middle), Nathanael (right), Xavier (left) digging - you can't really see just how badly the play equipment was falling apart but it didn't stop them having fun

The setting was beautiful, palm trees, comfy chairs with big cushions, cold (non beer type) drinks and MASSIVE great holes in the slide, playhouse roof etc to remind you that it is still Africa!

The three boys had a lovely time playing in the sand and pottering about while we just enjoyed having a break from the normal Thursday routine of doing pretty much nothing all day and tried not to feel guilty about escaping from the ship for a bit while everyone else was at work.

Twin day

The latest dress up day in the Academy involved finding your long lost twin and dressing the same as here are ours...Emma (a lovely high school student who could not persuade Tom into the stick on nose stud idea :-)) as Toms twin and Mr C (our PE teacher) as Tommys...

Friday, 18 September 2009

Auntie Amy is here.. REAL LIFE!! (Tom's words not mine)

After leaving London late we all feared that she might not have enough time to make the connecting flight with only five minutes in Tripoli, Libya but we all prayed somehow she would and due to some very helpful strangers and the plane making up a few minutes en route she made it here last night as planned. After Mum's detour and overnight stay in Togo we are very glad that Amy made it safe and sound to Benin. She is feeling slightly sleep deprived, but in one piece and has been greeted with lots of hugs from the boys who are incredibly excited to see her. Now we are just praying the luggage follows tonight so that we can collect it Saturday morning.

Looking forward to lots of catching up, a fun filled week and eating Cadburys chocolate again now that a new supply has arrived!!

Sunday, 13 September 2009


We have been watching the dredging for the last few weeks, as the dredger (pictured) has slowly gone backwards and forwards, in and out of the dock. This must be one to make all other jobs seem less boring, just going up and down like a big vacuum cleaner and then emptying out at sea and then doing the same thing over and over again.

This weekend the port required us to move so that the dredger could access our spot of the dock, so it was scheduled at 8am yesterday and actually happened around 10am today. Then they decided after a short survey that they probably didn't need to dredge that bit after all so we are moving back again. I can't say that it has affected us much, except to have a different view for a few hours, but has taken up most of the technical crews weekend off :-(

Our new view - one of the cement hoppers at the end of the dock used by the ships coming in to unload things

the end of the dock, usually where ships are docked behind us and unloading which is why our dock is so busy and at times dangerous with lots of lorries

Friday, 11 September 2009

the diving team

Following on from the picture of Olly diving, this is a bit more about the diving team, written by someone who has a bit more clue about what they do and why!

In order to keep the machinery onboard the M/V Africa Mercy running effectively, divers must plunge into murky, polluted water every week to prevent obstructions from blocking the ship’s seawater intake valves.

The Africa Mercy’s machinery is cooled by seawater pumped in via intake valves on the sides of the ship. Without a continuous intake of cool water, the generators that power the ship and the various facilities onboard, including the hospital, would all cease to function. Also, the air-conditioning system would shut down, resulting in a rapid increase of temperature that would cause discomfort for crew members and patients, as well as creating a risk for certain pieces of hospital equipment that require a steady temperature to function. The emergency fire hoses receive their water supply from the same intake valves. Thus, the need for constant monitoring and regular maintenance of these valves, as well as having standby divers for emergencies is all of great importance.

Because the Africa Mercy docks in third world ports for months at a time, it is in slow-moving, severely polluted water for the majority of a year. Some days, trash completely surrounds the floating hospital ship. “Sometimes the layer of garbage is so thick you could walk on water,” joked P.J. Acceturo, one of several ship divers. Plastic bags and other refuse get sucked into the vents and restrict the flow of water into the valves. Within minutes, the air-conditioning shuts down, and the entire ship is in danger of losing all power. The Dive Team must be quick to respond to clear the vents of any blockage. Sea growth, including barnacles and seaweed, is another problem that affects the intake of seawater. Divers have to remove the build-up of this growth regularly. It can be an extremely strenuous process.

The Dive Team currently consists of nine divers. At the beginning of each week, Olly Peet, Dive Team Coordinator, contacts the various divers to find out who is available to dive. Because the divers all have other jobs that take priority, it is sometimes not possible for them to help.

On occasion, divers have been required to suit up and descend below the ship as early as 4 AM. Night diving is extremely dangerous, but even diving during the day can be hazardous. “The water is usually so cloudy, you can’t see your feet,” said Peet. “Visibility is only six inches, which sometimes makes it difficult to find the intake valves.”

But a lack of visibility is not the only risk facing the Dive Team. “The sewage discharged from the Africa Mercy is fairly sterile, but it’s the sewage from other ships in the port that is a problem,” said Peet. Before any crew member attempts to dive, the medical department assesses their vaccination forms to ensure they are covered against serious diseases like hepatitis C, typhoid, and cholera. “Whenever divers have gotten water in their mouths, they’ve ended up with an upset stomach,” said Tracy Swope, another member of the Dive Team.

Because Mercy Ships is a non-profit organization, much of the Dive Team’s equipment is getting old and worn-out. New equipment, including full-face dive masks, would drastically decrease the health risks that divers endure so frequently and ultimately increase their efficiency and effectiveness. “The dive masks we want to get would prevent us from getting any water in our noses, eyes, or mouths,” explained Accetturo. “They would be a welcome addition to the aging equipment, some of which is more than fifteen years old. However, they are quite expensive,” he added.

Until then, the divers continue to risk their health to keep the Africa Mercy operational, ensuring that Mercy Ships can continue bringing hope and healing to the world’s forgotten poor. “Even though it’s dirty work, I’m happy to dive every week,” Accetturo said. “It’s all part of serving the crew and continuing this ministry.”

Written by Richard Brock & PJ Accetturo

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

growing boys

People have always said our boys are big, from about 28 weeks of pregnancy when people couldn't believe Tom was not ready to come out, from their nice respectable birthweights of 4.4kg and 3.6kg to now. They have always vaguely followed a line near the top of the centile charts. So what? you might ask, all sounds pretty normal?

We have just started using a new chart in Admissions, plotting childrens weight on a growth chart, in addition to just weighing them and documenting this for the purposes of surgery.

Today I admitted a lovely little boy, he didn't stop smiling, he showed me his toy car and let me have a look at his fingers which had suffered a burn and now wouldn't straighten. He let me take his blood, still smiling (despite nearly jumping out of his skin at the little prick) and then put his head on my lap when we prayed for him. When we weighed him, he weighed less than Joshua (at 2 1/2) did a couple of months ago. His notes said he was five years old at screening - we double-checked his age - he had turned six in July. I couldn't plot him on the graph, the lines were no where near.

It just makes you think.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

The Academy

Here are the staff and students in the Academy on the map, students are from all over the world, although mostly Europe and North America but with some from West Africa. Quite a few have parents from different countries which makes it harder to place them on the map!

The map shows Tommy's old classroom in the top right, which is next door to our cabin. He now has to walk down the corridor into the big room with the funny shaped desks (computer lab, science lab, library) and then into the first classroom off of takes about 30 seconds now rather than 10. Hard life.

It is strange having a five year old who walks himself to school and back again, (although nice not to have to leave the cabin before 8am!), both the boys have to go up to deck 7 so it takes them about a minute to walk to school, if they try and go slowly :-)

Monday, 7 September 2009

It is official

Our calender says so. Auntie Amy is coming to visit. And we are very, very excited.

woooo hoooo

Someone is coming to visit. Our calender says so. Do you recognise yourself Auntie Amy? We are sooooo excited!

So who else would like to come and visit and feature on our calender? Did I mention we are sooooo excited, we love visitors, come on so who else fancies a visit to Benin? Tenerife? Togo? South Africa? Come on its sounding tempting now I can tell....


The best way to convince the boys to go for a walk along the sandy streets in the African heat is to mention the magic words 'fan ice'. And by that we mean wander around until we see a man in Fan Milk blue with a bike like this. I have just discovered they have a website which lists the nutritional information (not quite like nutritional information back home - there are no numbers or percentages!) so now I can convince myself that it is good for us too...

They are based in Lome, Togo where we will be living next year which is good news for all of us!

Check out their web site to see more of our favourite treat (at least in the land that does not have Cadburys chocolate...)

Sunday, 6 September 2009

watching footie

Yesterday we went to watch the Africa Mercy's football team play a local team. Football in Africa is taken very, VERY seriously. Our players were a little put out by the perceived need for a goalie by the other team, considering it was the size of a five a side pitch and the goal was about the size Joshua would have looked about right standing next too. But that aside there was a nice goal snuck in past the said goalie by none other than by my lovely brother, although that sadly was not enough to win! And yes our team plays in Chelsea kits - don't ask how well that went down with some people!

Our very own yovo - Uncle Sam in action
The team gathering before the matchThe incredibly luxurious seating for us spectating, bet you are jealous!

Baby Feeding Program

Amitatau was extremely underweight when she came to the Africa Mercy. At four weeks old, she weighed only 2.3 kg, just half the average weight of babies her age. Amitatau’s uncorrected cleft lip and palate had made nursing difficult for her. As a result, she was starving.

Babies with clefts often have trouble feeding. The malformation of the mouth makes it difficult to forcefully suck, making it difficult for the baby to get enough milk. “It can be very difficult to feed babies with clefts,” said volunteer nurse Debora Saur. “Because of the hole they have in the mouth, the milk can come out of the nose. Mothers particularly have trouble breastfeeding because it’s hard for the babies to create suction. The moms and babies can really struggle.”

Breastfeeding mothers can also lose their ability to produce milk if the baby isn’t nursing properly. If this happens, some moms will attempt to feed with formula. However, many can’t afford to buy the amount of formula necessary to ensure proper nutrition. Often, the formula is watered down, and the baby does not receive the nutrition needed to develop and grow. Without intervention, these babies can die.

Amitatau’s mother felt helpless and alone when she brought her daughter to the Africa Mercy. After the baby was examined, it was determined that her clefts were correctable. However, she could not safely receive surgery until she gained weight.

Fortunately for Amitatau, Mercy Ships runs a feeding program specifically designed to help babies with clefts gain weight. It is operated by Debora Saur, who is from Germany. This is the second field service during which Saur has run the program.

The feeding program gives mothers the educational and physical resources needed to ensure their babies maintain an adequate nutritional intake. Babies typically stay on the program for three to eight months before surgery.

Initially, an appointment is scheduled on the Africa Mercy with Saur, and the needs of mother and baby are assessed. “They come, I weigh them, and I teach them how to feed the baby. I also explain why it is important for the baby to eat regularly,” said Saur.

If the mother is still lactating, Debra will encourage her to continue breastfeeding by teaching her techniques to improve the baby’s suckling ability. However, in cases where breastfeeding is not an option, Mercy Ships supplies the mother with formula. “If breastfeeding is not enough, I give them formula and carefully explain how to make it,” said Saur.

Every two weeks, mothers come to the Africa Mercy to receive formula. During every visit, the baby is weighed, and the weight is documented on a growth chart. Additionally, Saur provides emotional support to the moms. In many West African communities, babies with clefts are often viewed as cursed, and mothers are encouraged to abandon them. This worldview can further compound nursing difficulties and leave mothers feeling very alone.

“Often the community will think the baby is cursed because it is born with something that is not normal. It can be very difficult to for a mom to live in her community with that pressure,” said Saur. “I think it’s important for them to know that someone cares, and there is a place that they can always come to – they are not alone. I think it makes a difference.”

Already, Debora has seen several babies successfully gain weight and receive free surgery. “Last year I had a baby in Liberia who came at the beginning of the outreach. She was really small when she came. After going through the feeding program, she was able to have cleft lip/palate surgically corrected. It was really exciting,” said Saur.

The feeding program will continue throughout the duration of the 2009 Benin Field Service.

Story written by Megan Petock

Saturday, 5 September 2009

communal eating...

Enter the dining room: you grab a tray, you pile on four plates, four lots of cutlery and then join the queue for the hot food, then the bread, salad and cold foods and take your pick. You hold up the line whilst trying to work out what the children will eat and in what quantity.

Photo taken by Joshua: Tom by one of the food lines on a day when there is no lunch served, so you have to imagine the queue and masses of people...

You find somewhere to sit and try and convince your children to choose the same table, preferably somewhere where Daddy, Uncle Sam and Amy and anyone else who fancies joining us can find us - not on 'Port side' which is hidden away (even though it does have the best view of the tug boats and unless it is weekend breakfast when no one with any sense has made it out of bed to join us anyway).

This is about a quarter of the larest section of the dining room, there are a couple of alcoves near the food lines as well - and you won't ever find it this empty unless you choose your moment carefully to take a photo!

You then get up again to get the plates that didn't fit on the tray, then again for some drinks, then again to stick toasted sandwiches in the machine if it is lunchtime, then for some fruit that also didn't fit on the tray, maybe again for some napkins, although more often we just use the ones Amy has brought :-) and then you are set. As long as no one needs the bathroom, a drink re-fill or anything else.

Photo by Tom: in his eye one of the most important parts of the dining room - the apple juice and the 'red juice', plus one of the toasters

The food is pretty good, while it has the school dinner feel while standing in the line, the food is much better than school dinners, fantastic considering they are cooking for hundreds of people and we are in Africa.

On birthdays someone rings the bell and everyone sings and bangs on the tables. Good reason to avoid the dining room on your birthday if you are over the age of 10.

Then you put your plates on a trolley and some other lovely people do the washing up. Good eh?

Visiting Surgeons

I have just come across this article about Dr Leo, a Surgeon that lived in our village and comes out here in his's not a new article though so you can't go to the talk it mentions!

Friday, 4 September 2009

sunsets and rescued lorries

This is the port tonight, from deck 8 while the boys played

This is the port earlier in the week, when they were recovering a truck that had somehow ended up in the water!

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

the dock and the ferry...

Olly has posted about the ferries that travel here from Gabon...there is a great picture of the ferry, the dock and the people all piling off the ferry. That was what the dock was like the first time I got back from driving here! If you get to see the people from a distance it is a pretty amazing array of colours on the dock...

Tom's class

This is a picture taken by Miss Estelle of Tom's class on their 'field trip' to the pharmacy on deck 3 as part of their topic on sorting, pictured with Miriam and Barbara our pharmacists...

Starring Daniel (Ghana), Andre (Sri Lanka/Netherlands), Tom, Megan (USA/Canada), Libby (Liberia) with Barbara (Germany) and Miriam (UK)