I would (drive) 1000 miles…

 Last week the ‘Checklist Team’ reached a milestone. In fact, we reached the 1000th! We have now officially bumped, rattled, snoozed and trundled our way over one thousand miles of road in Madagascar during our mission to introduce the World Health Organisation’s ‘Surgical Safety Checklist’ to every one of the 20 regional referral hospitals in the country. In fact, including flights, I have now covered well over 14,000km on this project since I left London. 

As you can tell from the picture above, public transport designed to accommodate the average Malagasy person is not designed for the optimal comfort of someone of my proportions! However at the end of every road, we have found a reward that makes every mile worthwhile; like seeing the team above use their new pulse-oximeters for the first time to monitor the oxygen levels and heart rate of a very sick patient following a bad road traffic accident. Due to the injuries involved, the anesthetic was tricky and the operation was complex, but the team was able to use the teaching they received during that week to improve their teamwork and communication, incorporating new safety checks and using new monitoring equipment to keep their patient safe.

One hospital told us that although there are many great public health interventions in their area (for example vaccination programs and malaria prevention), this was the first time anyone had come to do training like ours specifically for their operating department. That is a big motivator for our team, as many people don’t realize that a lack of access to safe surgical services  is one of the most important, yet frequently overlooked issues in global public health. In fact this was the topic of a recent New York Times op-editorial piece by Mark Shrime (who also works with Mercy Ships) and John Meara.

One other course attendant wrote ‘This course has brought our team closer together, the training has newly reinforced the cohesion in our team.’

 These hospital teams often act as referral centers for very large populations, approximately 2 million in the case of last week. So the opportunity to work together to build up surgical services through delivering team training and essential equipment makes every bump in the road, every early morning completely worth it.

Trainees become trainers: an anaesthetist teaches his whole theatre team what he has learned in Lifebox training

The team behind the team:

Even with all this to encourage us, being constantly on the road is challenging at times, like earlier this week when the alarm went off at 2.30am to catch our flight. At that time, it can feel like a mini triumph of hand-eye co-ordination and manual dexterity simply not to poke yourself in the eye with your toothbrush! In the flurry of activity I sometimes loose track of what day of the week it is …(ok, this is not entirely new for me!)… Instead it’s day 1/day 2/day 3 of the course or a ‘travel day’! A project like this would be impossible without the amazing extended team back at the ship, and with the support of our friends and family. 

So this last week, I have been particularly grateful for a mystery envelope which I received several weeks ago before we hit the road. It was from a group of girls I met in the first few days on the hospital ship the ‘Africa Mercy’ in Tamatave, where they have since been working. This was what was inside….. 

For the record, ‘when youre hungry’ came in very useful during a 12hr road trip, ‘ when you are bored’ kept the team entertained through the 3rd power cut of the day


Envelopes of encouragement

It may seem a small gesture, but I was totally taken aback by the thoughtfulness of this act. I had only known these girls for a few weeks, they had only recently met each other, and came from multiple different countries  but they got together and spent an entire evening of their precious off-duty time to consider how they could encourage and support me. None of them receive a salary for working on board, in fact as volunteers they pay to work here! (Mercy Ships is a charity operating a fleet of hospital ships in developing nations since 1978).  Yet even with their free time they chose to be generous and think of how to encourage someone else. 

As someone who often fails to get round to even pairing my own socks (much to the despair of my extremely tidy and organized ex-flatmate) I find this humbling. It seems like a pretty good demonstration of what can happen when a group of people ‘desiring to follow the model of Jesus, seek to: 

– love God

– love and serve others

– be people of integrity

– be people of excellence in all we say and do.’  (Mercy Ships core values). 

It also pretty much fits a description of what following this ‘model of Jesus’ should look like, written 2 thousand years ago in a letter to the early church; 

Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.”‭‭ Philippians‬ ‭2:1-4‬ ‭(Message translation).


Yep! Some of them are ever so slightly nuts….


Farewell dinner


It seems our culture gets pretty preoccupied with ‘getting ahead’. After all, whether the issue is time, money, energy, jobs, houses… there never seems to be enough to go round, so you better look out for number one, after all, it’s a jungle out there right?! It seems totally nuts to ‘put yourself to the side and help others get ahead’. 

But it’s encouraging to remember that something as small as writing a quick note to a colleague or spending a few minutes to come alongside someone else in their task can have a bigger impact than you would ever imagine. I’m sure it didn’t seem like a big deal to my friends to scribble a quick note, but through those little envelopes of encouragement, they have become part of making this project happen. Especially the envelope that had the chocolate in it. That one fueled a whole teaching session!

Of course, in Aesop’s fable of the Lion and the Mouse, the Lion eventually gets the unexpected rewards of his kindness returned to him in  a ‘what goes around comes around’ kind of way. But even though it doesn’t always work out like that….

Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.‘ – Martin Luther King Jnr

I quoted Martin Luther King Jnr in my last post, and I’ll let him have the last word again! If what he said is true, it would seem that doing what is good for someone else, can actually turn out to be what is good for us too. So here’s to creative altruism!


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