For most of us vacation is a time for multi stared resorts, exotic beaches, dancing the night away and being pampered as we lounge about rubbing in the suntan lotion and downing well iced drinks. But for some like Singaporean Joanne Har last years vacation was a time for adventures at sea and unselfish service to humanity.
For three months and almost 2,500 miles Joanne joined the Historic Vessel Vega as part of the crew on one of Vega’s humanitarian missions of mercy. “I wanted to make a difference for people who are not as lucky as I am, but I didn’t want to send money to some big organization that would use it to buy themselves another new Land Cruiser. I wanted my little bit of help to go directly into the hands of the people who really need it”.
“Here in Singapore we are amazingly rich compared to many of the people in our neighbor countries. Things like health services and good educational facilities that we take for granted are only distant dreams for people in places like East Timor.”
“Imagine schools with no chalk, exercise books, or pencils, where children learn to write using a sharp stick scratching in the dirt or a health clinic with no bandages, much less the most basic medicine. Getting sick in places like that is really serious“
“Every year thousands, of children die from simple things that could be easily cured. Even the smallest infection can be life threatening for those people because they do not have the drugs to cure it. Most island villages don’t even have a first aid kit, much less a health post.”
“Being on one of Vega’s missions of mercy was an experience I will never forget. We try to imagine what it is like being poor, but we do it from the comfort of our nice homes surrounded by a very efficient social safety net. If something goes wrong really effective help is not far away. Being poor is waking up hungry in a grass shed with a dirt floor and wondering where today’s one meal will come from. If something goes wrong there is no one with the training or experience or equipment or drugs to help you. I mean it is pretty scary and those people live like that everyday.”
“The people we work with need a lot of things, but what they want most are the basic tools to support themselves, to do their jobs. Farmers need tools and supplies for farming, teachers need basic school supplies, and health workers need basic medications. Sure there are bigger needs but these are needs we can supply right now. S$300 provides a farmer with everything he needs to get his farm going again or provides a teacher with a whole years worth of educational materials for her class”, said Vega’s Captain Shane Granger.
Every year we donate medical supplies to help Dr Dan Murphy who is a local legend in East Timor. “Dr Dan” has worked in East Timor since1998, providing free public health care through his Bairo Pite Clinic, in Dili. Bairo Pite Clinic provides free health care services to those in need. That he somehow manages to run this free clinic on an almost non-existent budget speaks wonders for his dedication.
The clinic sees an average of 300 patients per day and is one of the busiest health clinics in the country providing maternity and infant care, vaccinations, tuberculosis (TB), malaria and dengue fever treatment, HIV diagnosis and treatment, in-patient and dental services, health outreach, and training for local health care workers. The clinic also operates a medical laboratory and pharmacy.
It was amazing, there I was, me in East Timor, Handing over medical supplies I had helped deliver to a doctor who really needed them to help people so poor you cannot imagine. When he thanked me he said those drugs were needed to save lives and prevent young children from going blind. Suddenly all those late night watches, all the rain and wind, all the lost sleep, it was all worthwhile.
In July we sailed for the small islands of Teun, Nila, and Serua. These are small islands that are officially uninhabited but in reality have several communities each living n them with no government assistance at all. There we delivered Educational and medical supplies as well as midwives kits and of coarse gathered lists for next years deliveries. Then we sailed for the Banda Islands.
The Banda Islands are the most beautiful small islands I have ever seen and the people are so friendly. Banda is about the opposite of Singapore where everyone is running around chasing some elusive dream of success. In Banda everything goes slower, a more friendly speed. People have time to talk with each other and just be friendly.
Our work in Banda was very different from what we did in East Timor or the small islands. People here are not so poor and the government is constantly trying to make things better. What they do need is help for the schools, especially the technical subjects and learning English. None of us on Vega are teachers, but we spent a lot of our time teaching computer skills and helping students practice their English as well as helping refurbish the smaller health posts and schools. The nice thing is we all learned a lot of Bahasa at the same time.
Before I got on Vega the biggest thing I ever sailed was a small dingy at the sailing club. Suddenly everything looked so big and ropes seemed to go everywhere. On my first night watch I was so nervous I don’t think I sat down the whole time and when I had my first thunder storm the strong winds and heavy rain was really scary.
“But it wasn’t all storms and big ships trying to run over us, always on my watch I think, we saw hundreds of dolphins jumping and playing, sometimes swimming along in front of the boat. Oh! And we saw whales, a big whale with her baby swam along beside us one day, and we even saw a huge big shark!”
“There I was all alone on watch in the middle of the ocean on a 118 year old sailing boat watching the bow sprit raise and fall as we sailed into the sunrise. It was amazing! I felt so alive. Here in Singapore we watch television, go to movies, and even create virtual adventures on line all looking for a second hand reality, but they can never be as real as being there seeing the sunrise, the sunset, and I can’t even describe what it’s like to look up and see so many stars at night.”
“I changed a lot on that trip. On land everything is regulated and the government does a lot to make sure we are always safe. At sea the only thing between disaster and me were my shipmates. The ocean doesn’t care what I do or if I live or die. Sometimes it was really scary and the little voice inside me was screaming, “ Oh my God, Oh My God, this is really dangerous”. But if I just ignored that fear and did my job the best I could, everything was fine. I also learned I can do a whole lot more than I thought I could.”
“It is amazing when you realize that your shipmate’s lives depend on how you do your part of the job. One of us is out there on the bowsprit with the waves crashing all around them trusting completely that the others will do their part to get the sail down”.
“The first day I was back my friends took me out to dinner and sitting there I couldn’t stop thinking of what we were spending for one meal. With that money I could save lives or help give children a future. I could stock a village health post or supply a small rural school for almost a year! And it was just a normal restaurant, not some place fancy.”
“I need to go back this year because I promised to do a work shop training session for the small grass roots NGO’s in East Timor about web design and help Banda promote their islands, how to let people know what they are doing, things like that. It doesn’t sound like much, but for them it’s really important”.
The 120 year old Norwegian built historical vessel Vega was recently featured at the Boat Asia boat show in Singapore where they donated their time and efforts to help attract attention to The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund and The Business Times Budding Artists Fund. Vega and her all volunteer crew spend half of each year helping support health and educational facilities for small isolated island communities and the other half in Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore seeking supporters for those programs.
For about the cost of a good night out you can support a small school with a year worth of educational supplies or provide a complete set of tools and supplies so a farmer, carpenter or mechanic can get back to work. Vega’s crew purchase these supplies where the prices are the best and deliver them to those most in need in the name of the donor who made it possible. Often companies will donate materials directly to support specific programs, which Vega then delivers in their name. Their very modest overheads mean that over 90% of the donations they receive go directly to the programs they support in the form of materials and supplies. If you would like to know more visit Vega’s website at www.sailvega.com