What about following the mission?

Come on board the M/V Silver for a month-long humanitarian mission in Papua New Guinea in partnership with Gulf Christian Services. Two medical teams from this hospital will be working with us during this mission. Day by day, we invite you to follow our adventure. We’ll be updating this article as regularly as possible to make sure you don’t miss out on any of the action.

We look forward to sharing these moments with you. You can even leave us your comments, which we’ll be sure to read at the end of the day.

Day 0 : 2024, April, the 9th,

Arrival in Papua

We arrived in Port Moresby from Brisbane airport, which gave us a bit of a headache. It all started with a blocked locker with our luggage inside… By the time we had unblocked the refractory door, we were almost turned away at check-in for our flight to Port Moresby (obviously a blocked locker doesn’t put you ahead…).

We boarded anyway, and now it was on to Port Moresby. Marine’s visa doesn’t suit them… even though she was already in the country a week ago… After a few discussions, we finally got out of the airport and headed for the port, where our accommodation and travelling companion for this month’s mission was waiting for us: the M/V Silverstar.

We’ll be taking advantage of the evening to invite on board Damien Roques (1st photo), CEO of the Total Energie stations in Papua, who has been giving us a lot of advice over the last 2 years. He’s not coming empty-handed, as he’s donating 48 rechargeable solar lamps for the mission. A valuable tool that we’ll be sure to distribute in the villages.

The French ambassador to Papua New Guinea, Guillaume Lemoine, also did us the honour of coming aboard to say hello (2nd photo).

Let’s take advantage of these first photos to identify the volunteers at the start of this mission (from left to right):

– Frédéric Lavigne, dentist

– Jean Percetti, nurse

– Elisa Guerinoni, midwife

– Marine Bayer, president of Aidocean and nurse

– Christophe Grangeon, doctor.

To find out more about the members of the association, a page is dedicated to them

aidocean papouasie total damien roques
Aidocean guillaume lemoine paouasie

Day 1 : April, the 10th

(Story by Christophe)

All hands on deck

Our first sleep on the quayside comes to an end aboard the M/V Silverstar.

5:00 am, impossible to sleep, dark night. There are two of us on deck, unpacking the pallets of pharmacy supplies delivered by crane late the previous afternoon. We make an initial inventory: around 80% of the Kapuna hospital order placed by Dr Valerie is missing…

The day before, after unpacking the equipment brought back from Noumea and that donated by Professor Glen Mola (a full van), we stowed it on board… And to do so, we moved the relaxation lounge around a bit… pushed back the sofas, removed everything that was lying around on the shelves to transform the space into a giant pharmacy… under the cautious eye of the crew.
And that’s without counting the vaccines, which were reported missing.
Marine received a WhatsApp message from Thierry, the Total coordinator: “The boat will leave at 11am, whether you are on board or not”. The Kapuna hospital, with which Marine has been in contact since the start, insists that we bring some as they don’t have enough. On the other hand, Thierry tells us that he’ll make sure the vaccines are on the flight with the change of crew… Order and contradiction. In the end, we decided to go to the central government pharmacy in Port Moresby with the ultimatum hanging over our heads… return at 11am. Oh yes, but the shops don’t open until 9am! Tick tock, tick tock…

pharmacie mission png2024 aidocean

Two teams. The first is made up of Jean, Elisa and Frédéric, on the hunt for the last few essentials: a few beers, yoga mats, an exercise bike, clothes pegs, a charger… a short list of the last items that will make life on board comfortable before leaving civilisation.
The second team, made up of Marine and Christophe, is heading to the pharmacy in the company car belonging to Damien, the Total manager in charge of PNG’s service stations.

A huge warehouse, 4 rows of products on 3 floors in an indescribable mess. The manager of this space, Bibi, rastas hanging down to the floor, a good man, professional and affable, tells us behind his desk that the medicines that have not been delivered are not available. Marine didn’t stay in the room for 5 minutes and took charge of getting the vaccines into the coolers so that they could be sent on board.

Aidocean paouasie medical center

Meanwhile, Bibi explains that he manages the warehouse without running it, that he keeps an eye on the stock but that various governmental and non-governmental missions are looking after it. He instructs a henchman to find us the few litres of saline we need. Two trips back and forth, no serum available…. “No, really, it’s impossible, we haven’t got any…” In the meantime, he goes on like a mantra about the workings of his hangar, his Alibaba cave for apprentice pharmacists… repeats it two, three times… by the fourth, I’m off. I head off to find Marine, who is lining up the salted serum in question… The tone is set, it’s all there, we just have to look for it…
List in hand, we go through the shelves. An hour later, our noses in the dust, guiltily opening boxes in front of indifferent onlookers, we had collected more than half the hospital’s order. But the clock was ticking and the rain had started. Torrents are pouring down on Port Moresby. We loaded up, the company car full to bursting, with no room for two of us to squeeze in. Marine tried to find the driver of a delivery van parked there and sent me off to the boat with instructions to return as soon as possible. It’s now 10.30am… Three minutes later, a message tells me that she’s found the driver and loaded the equipment. We meet up at the boat, it’s nearly 11am, our feet are up to our ankles in water, we’re unpacking our treasure… But the boat is running out of fuel. The captain tells us that they’re running late and will be leaving at 2pm… Anyway. Dried, showered and full, we sort out the medicines for the rest of the day.
The boat sets sail at 2pm. The only problem was that the starboard engine wasn’t working. The chief engineer was on deck. We spent an hour outside the harbour, going round and round in the water while we waited for the broken hydraulic control to be repaired. We spent our first night on a sea of oil, alternating squalls with the hum of machinery vibrating right under our mattresses.

Aidocean papouasie

Day 2 : April, the 11th

Sailing day.

We enter the Purari River at 11:00 am with the tide. Tense navigation on the bridge. This large 35-metre vessel found itself 1 metre under the keel on several occasions. The captain was sweating a bit, but the first mate at the helm was still smiling. He’s done this passage so many times, he looks relaxed.

The sea and the river blend together here in a uniform, confusing brown that leaves nothing to be guessed at. Only the oscillations of the depth sounder and the GPS track of the many passages guide us towards the bottom of the bay. We enter the Purari and the banks move in and out of sight throughout the afternoon. The brown of the water remains uniform, the SiIverstar moves upstream, slowing down with each pirogue we encounter, carved out of half a tree trunk to avoid sinking in the wake.

Phone call. Marine picks up, it’s Dr Valérie from Kapuna hospital: “We’ve been waiting for you since the beginning of the afternoon.
– Ah, we’re still sailing, we only entered the Purari a few hours ago… Our arrival time is scheduled for early tomorrow afternoon.
– We had a 3-hour boat ride to reach you at Herd Base, but you weren’t there… Total offered to let us stay overnight, but we have no food and no mosquito net. Coordination is a real problem…”
Apart from that, everything’s fine…
Dr Valérie shows her annoyance: “If that’s the way it is, I won’t come on site until you’ve arrived…”.
The boat continued on its way, meandering one after the other, the sky sometimes grey, threatening the end of the world, sometimes overwhelmingly blue. The first villages appear. In the late afternoon, as the sun sets over the river, the Silverstar drops anchor. We relax in the saloon with the crew with a little impromptu yoga. It’s always healthier than a beer and peanuts before dinner.

Buk Bilong Pikinini papua aidocean
onesight essilor aidocean
Aidocean mission png2024 fleuve purari
Aidocean mission png2024 fleuve purari
carte mission aidocean 2024

Day 3 : 2024, April, Friday the 12th

Arrival at Herd Base

Wake up to the chain rattling in the windlass, scraping the metal. The boat shakes gently. The team wakes up and gathers one by one for breakfast. The current is strong. The night’s rain has raised the water level in the Purari, and the banks are nowhere to be seen. We navigate between two blocks of vegetation, the branches dipping into the brown water carrying tree trunks. The pilot slalomed to make them pass between the hulls, brushing against the leaves as he touched them. We’re high above the water at the bridge, the river meanders, the Silverstar struggles in the current that pushes it out to sea at up to five knots.

In the pharmacy lounge, the team is busy taking the vaccines out of the refrigerated boxes and storing them in the boat’s fridges, out of the heat. Another morning of tidying up… A hectic time. Then came the time to prepare the bags for the field trip, the vacciboxes, the equipment and the phone calls with Dr Valérie to agree on the final details. In the end, the Kapuna team didn’t wait for us to arrive before setting off, certain that we were on our way to Herd base, they would be there by 2pm.

We arrived at Herd base, Total’s entrenched camp, a few buildings in the middle of the rainforest. The manoeuvring of our ship in the 6 knots of current was impressive. The captain dropped the anchor 30 metres from the quay, then used the thrusters to get closer to the quay before finally dropping the mooring lines and pulling the ship onto the bank. The operations to lift a few drums of fuel could then begin.

papouasie aidocean herd base

Meanwhile, to avoid having to cross the work area, a small ferry picked up the team to take them ashore… 100 metres downstream. We were greeted by the Total coordinator and Sisa, also the coordinator, at 3pm. A few moments later, the Kapuna team disembarked in a babana boat from upstream after more than two hours’ sailing. At last we meet our partners for the next 10 days.

papouasie aidocean
papouasie aidocean

After the welcome, the first Total briefing takes place. And it won’t be the last. This time, it’s an induction for the right to set foot on the site. After the briefing, the Kapuna team put their bags on board, in line with the HSE (Health, Safety and Environment) dictatorship. Everyone gathered in the pharmacy lounge for a presentation of Aidocean by Marine. Then the pairs formed up and discussed the equipment to take with them for the next day. The dentist with his assistant, the nurses with the vaccinators, the midwives with each other… Will the quantities be right, will we be taking one medicine or another? We can’t take everything with us… Some choices have to be made. What lies ahead is a bit unfamiliar. After a good hour of excitement, the pressure eased a little and we headed for dinner… chips, fish and vegetables on the menu.

papouasie aidocean

Day 4 : 2024, April, Saturday the 13th

 First day of care

Up before dawn. PNG time… The ferry that is due to take us to the village will be waiting at the freeboard for us at 6.45am. The final preparations and breakfast are due in an hour’s time. I spill out at the bottom of the bunk bed in our cabin, still flushed from breakfast.

An hour later, fifteen carers with syringes between their teeth are ready to do battle… with the briefings. The overnight rain had been intense, pouring over the surrounding hills to the point where we would no longer be able to sail. 7.6m of water this morning for a limit given as 8m… Mud was in the air and the banks around Herd base and the efforts of the Total team to get us to dock and obtain the following briefings were in vain. Fortunately, they were the ones who came on board…
An army of HSEs to tell us what to do and what not to do… Common sense put into boxes and explained from every angle. One briefing hides another, and we’ll have two in a row. The plans are evolving and this morning it will be our ship, the M/V Silverstar, which will take us to the village. Thierry explains the interactions between the different tribes who will share the subsidies from the programme set up by Total. Most of the tribes from the north are nomadic. There are still a lot of beliefs in witchcraft around here…

papouasie aidocean

After passing through the rapids in the river, our huge ship drops anchor in front of the village of Poroi2, and we disembark in two waves with our equipment… It’s 11am. The new, still empty infirmary inaugurated the previous week by Total was opened to us.

We split up into teams. Upstairs, the doctor, eye nurse and dentist, downstairs the vaccinators and the midwife. We had a good first half-day’s work there, treating a few children, pulling a few teeth, putting in implants and completing the family planning programme. It’s 5.30pm when we return to the boat for a short yoga session.

mission humanitaire aidocean papouasie
mission humanitaire aidocean papouasie
mission humanitaire aidocean papouasie
mission humanitaire aidocean papouasie
mission humanitaire aidocean papouasie

Day 5 : 2024, April, Sunday the 14th

Sunday morning, the Lord’s day, 6.30 am… last chance for breakfast. We’re alone at the table. Everyone has already eaten! Papuans certainly seem to be early risers.

The boat sways on its mooring, only the hum of the generator disturbing the pseudo-silence. The reality is different: we’re actually the first ones up. The team slowly emerges from the mists and heads down to the galley. The plates fill up and the kitchen comes alive. We get a little reminder from the cook: you’re all coming down outside the timetable… It’s from 5.30 to 6.30. The heliotrope version of PNG Time, even for Team Papou, Sunday is Sunday. And while we’re at it, the first officer on board chides us: you used 4,000 litres of water last night, which is far too much for the boat’s capacity. We should be at half that.

The Silverstar starts sailing towards the next village (Kaevaria), arriving late this morning. The ritual of the mission with Total is organised around the briefing, a little litany of dos and don’ts. Marine started talking about customs and habits, comparing them with New Ireland. No mass this morning, so everyone prepares their bags for the day.

Two trips to bring equipment and teams to a village that has been flooded for 3 days. The houses on stilts have their feet in the water with a view of the river… without interruption. In the street immediately along the riverbank, people travel by pirogue. A microscopic Venice where children play. A house away, the streets are no longer navigable, with sometimes ankle-deep water, sometimes mud.

Mission humanitaire papouasie aidocean
Mission humanitaire papouasie aidocean

Consultations are held in the communal house, which opens directly onto the water… disjointed planks that sometimes threaten to split open under our feet. We get there by using a pirogue as a footbridge. Pell-mell, the dentist’s chair in one corner, the consultation in the other, the vaccines in the middle. At the entrance, patients are sorted and directed. It’s a veritable little dispensary that gets up and running in thirty minutes. The first patients arrive by rowing boat or with their feet in the water. Curious onlookers scrutinise the merry-go-round. The village chief welcomes us with a broad smile.

Mission humanitaire papouasie aidocean

The first children cry when they see the needles. Malaria is everywhere. The team is running tests all over the place, and of the 43 tests carried out, 23 are positive. It’s a real epidemic, and the boxes of treatment are rolling in. We’ll have just enough to keep us going until the end of the week before we can have some repatriated from Port Moresby with the change of team.

I take advantage of a break in the consultations to take a tour of the village with the chief and the Total coordinator, with our feet in the water, fearing neither leptospirosis nor the dry toilets that have no doubt been scattered in the floods… The chief takes us to his house, the highest and largest in the village. He proudly displays the skull of a crocodile that he himself killed with his spear, followed by tiny pig-nosed freshwater turtles hidden in a bucket of dirty water.

Mission humanitaire papouasie aidocean

It’s already time to go home.

The Silverstar weighs anchor late this afternoon to head for the next village and anchor before nightfall. Tomorrow morning, work will start early. Evening falls between the trees, flooding the brown water with golden light. The children follow in the dugout canoes to the edge of the houses… here too the streets are flooded.

Mission humanitaire papouasie aidocean
Mission humanitaire papouasie aidocean

See you soon for the rest of the mission…

Day 7: Tuesday 16 April 2024

Marine leaves this morning with the Barramundi (a small catamaran which serves as a slightly luxurious tender provided by Total) to see if the village in front of which we anchored can accommodate us. In fact, we already know that they can’t because they don’t have a communal house and, like the day before and the day before… they’re underwater… In short, it’s more to tell them that they can come and see us at the next village. Act of courtesy. The other option would have been to move the whole team from house to house… not very realistic… But the idea of going door-to-door in a hollowed-out tree trunk version of a canoe was rather amusing. The Silverstar sets sail without the Baramundi team… we’ll be joining them in an hour: time for them to install some equipment and set up for the day.

mission santé aidocean Papouasie

The village of the day (Aumu) is level with the floodwaters, and you walk from house to house with dry feet on logs or planks thrown across the muddy lanes. The consulting room overlooking the river is narrow. People arrive by canoe from the river and wait their turn. The atmosphere is calm. In four hours, we have exhausted the pile of health records we have accumulated. Few cases of malaria. The villages follow one another and the pathologies are similar… with variations.

mission santé aidocean Papouasie
mission santé aidocean Papouasie
mission santé aidocean Papouasie
mission santé aidocean Papouasie
mission santé aidocean Papouasie

Aside from the hustle and bustle, since yesterday Marine has been trying to get a young girl with a decompensated heart (a complication of heart failure) repatriated to the paediatric centre. Here, there is no treatment available. The parents cannot afford to travel to the capital and the disease is progressing. The case is progressing very slowly in conjunction with the Kerema hospital, which may be in a position to repatriate the patient by helicopter to Port Moresby… more in the next episode.

Day 8: Wednesday 17 April 2024

Apiope. Entrance to the Purari River. The beach, coconut palms and white (oops! grey) sand of this magnificent seaside town welcomes you… and that’s it! No swimming pool, no mojitos, no tattooed surfers. On the other hand, you’ll have to put up with flooding every month at full moon: a few mud baths for 3 days at high tide… The village is built on a spit of sand… pandanus and logs. Housing: one or two storey versions, rather plush…

aidocean vaccination papouasie

Ce matin encore, la marée est passée, le sable a déjà tout repris, nous débarquons sur la plage à pieds secs. L’officier de liaison nous accueille, quelques jeunes, des enfants. Ils nous aident à porter le matériel le long de la plage jusque sur la place du village. Rituel d’installation… Aujourd’hui, c’est consultation en plein air, on cherche les places qui resteront à l’ombre une partie de la journée… Après trente minutes, tout le monde est prêt. Petit discours d’introduction de la part de Total et de l’homme en habillé orange (le même officier de liaison mais avec les vêtements). Petite variante, je vais faire les visites à domicile pour les personnes âgées et les cas désespérés ce qui me permet une petite promenade en compagnie du chef de village. Les consultations s’enchainent à un rythme qui permet de chasser cette impression de faire de l’abattage qui persistait encore au réveil ce matin…

aidocean vaccination papouasie
aidocean vaccination papouasie
aidocean vaccination papouasie

Back on board, after a day spent under the trees with our feet in the sand, we’re looking forward to a shower, then packing our bags again and filling out the statistics… But this evening, our routine is interrupted by an emergency. Someone has collapsed on a pirogue close to the boat. By what miracle Vincent (from the Papuan team) was informed remains a mystery. After discussions with the captain, we dropped anchor and took the Baramundi.

Two hundred metres further on, an elderly person was lying at the bottom of a pirogue. He had been vomiting all night and was very weak. His family managed to get him onto the bank and brought him on board. Jean infuses him with saline solution to rehydrate her. We take him aboard the M/V Silverstar to get some more medication and take the opportunity to do some malaria tests. After a litre of saline, our patient was smiling again. Another life saved and routine broken. As a thank-you, one of the young people present teaches us to shoot with his bow… it’s not tomorrow that we’ll be able to kill a bird to eat. We’re going back to the boat for dinner, it’s safer…

aidocean vaccination papouasie
aidocean vaccination papouasie

See you tomorrow in Marea village.

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