DART Sierra Leone 2017 Deployment
DART's Volunteers deliver much needed equipment and training to locals enabling them to create a sustainable way to source their own building materials.
Four DART volunteers left Heathrow early this morning for a two week training operation in Sierra Leone sponsored by Fletcher Stewart/Stein. The DART team will be working alongside partners from Rory's Well, a Gloucestershire based charity that delivers water aid and a range of projects to tackle malnutrition and high infant mortality in 17 communities across the Pujehun district.
The region is rural, remote and poor even by Sierra Leone standards.
Listed 177 out of 187 on the Human Development Index, approximately 80% of the population live below the poverty line of $2 a day. Economically, the country is still recovering from a decade of civil war that ended in 2002 and more recently, the devastating Ebola epidemic.
Since ratifying the Kyoto Protocol in 2006, the Government have taken steps to preserve and manage the country's vast forestry resources. Rainforests, mangroves and savannah forests cover an estimated 2.7m ha and host a wealth of endemic and internationally rare and threatened species. Supported by the UN REDD+ initiative, the Sierra Leone Government have established a number of internationally important forestry reserves and implemented various programmes to tackle illegal logging, including an outright ban on the export of unlicensed timber in 2008. Supported by the regional MP Senesi Fawundu, a government licensed operator has been appointed to provide the DART team with local advice and legal protection.
DART have undertaken to provide Arborist training, equipment, PPE and First Aid training that will help to build livelihoods linked to a programme of tree planting and sustainable forestry management in the region. The team also aim to deliver a Logosol chainsaw milling capability to support community construction projects with legally harvested and locally processed timber.
Deployment Story - Day 1
It's taken 48 hours by plane, Landcruiser and lorry, but we've arrived. Our operating base is the village of #Taninahun in Pujehun district of #SierraLeone.
The team are all keen to get to work, but wait! Surely every DART deployment starts with a meeting or two? In a disaster relief operation, it's important to integrate and coordinate our own efforts with those of the Government, #UN and lead agencies. In this deployment, culture and local politics demand that we respect the role of community elders in deciding who we train, where we train and to what purpose. It's important that we all agree on that. After all, we're not in the business of creating more illegal loggers; the region has enough of those already!
So after learning the all-important local handshake, we all agree that DART's here to provide training and equipment that will complement the work of our partner charity Rory's Well and provide a capability that will bring long-term benefits to the wider community: More efficient clearance of long neglected agricultural land for community planting programmes and the ability to make better use of felled timber to complement local building projects - Not least of all, the replacement of that dodgy old bridge we crossed on the way into the village - The one that keeps getting washed away in the rainy season, leaving the village cut off from the outside world.
We were lucky apparently. The hand shaking and talking was done and dusted by lunch-time; a local record! Now we've got all afternoon to sort the kit. Tomorrow we train!
Deployment Story - Day 2
Six bewildered looking trainees have arrived. Half of them have never touched a chainsaw before, the other three have some experience of forestry work. Their grasp of English is variable. Lots of nodding and the standard response of 'no problem', but we're not sure how much they really understand. Suddenly the instructor to student ratio of 1:2 doesn't feel too excessive; it feels safe! Time to crack on: Lesson 1 - #PPE.
Fifteen minutes later the trainees are, at least, looking the part. Each of them is sporting a pair of #Krieger chainsaw trousers, Werewolf boots, #Stein work shirt and a Super Plasma helmet. The transformation is immediate and I swear they're all standing a little straighter and taller. Time to explain how it all works. They say 'a picture paints a thousand words', so with the help of a few gory photographs and a video of how chainsaw trousers protect the wearer, we soon have their undivided attention. 'You must have seen all this before?' I say to Yusuf the most experienced of the forestry crew. 'The injuries? Yes, many times!' he says. 'No, I mean the PPE.' He laughs and shakes his head. 'I worked for a Government licensed company,' he tells me. 'Some of us had ear defenders. Nothing else.' Now the others are glancing at the chainsaws with a little more respect. Time to hit them with some first aid training:
How do you say 'Catastrophic Haemorrhage' in Mende? Never mind! These lads have grown up clearing agricultural land with razor sharp machetes and they immediately understand my impression of an arterial bleed. They're not slow to appreciate the contents of the Stein personal and medium bleed control kits either. We explain the #WoundClot dressings, practice how to apply a pressure bandage and get them using the #SWAT-T tourniquet. It's all going well until I point out that the para shears in the Stein kit will quickly cut through the ballistic fibres of their chainsaw trousers should they need to get to a leg or groin wound. Now they're all looking at me as if I'm mad and it's clear there's no way they're ever cutting up these chainsaw trousers!' Watching Yusuf, it's evident that he's dressed wounds before and we've spotted that one or two of the others have interesting scars. 'Were you ever in the Army?' I ask him. He hesitates and then tells me he'd rather not talk about it. I feel like Basil Fawlty - Don't mention the war!
The DART instructors start working through the safety features of the Cobra saws, the basics of safely mixing fuel and oil to the correct specification, lubrication and pre-start checks, etc. The journey down here reminded us that our trainees are a long way from any chainsaw servicing shop, so equipment needs to be locally maintainable, straightforward and robust. It also need to be affordable; in a price range that will allow our partner charity to buy in replacement units when it becomes necessary. We wanted a reliable, good value saw for occasional farming use, rather than a professional saw for everyday use. We're confident that the Cobra Gardenrange with their Walbro Carburettors, Oregon bars and chains will meet that requirement.
The day ended with an introduction to cross cutting techniques and a demonstration of the Luke Dollaghan improvised chainsaw vice (patent pending). Most importantly perhaps, we survived our first day of cross language, cross culture, chainsaw training in #Africa without any accidents or diplomatic incidents. Hallelujah! Let's celebrate with a warm beer!
Deployment Story - Day 3
Today the trainees are progressing from cross-cutting to tree felling techniques and the talk is all about assessing environmental factors, planning escape routes, safe corner cuts, dog tooth and barber chair failures. I'm not sure who's enjoying this phase of training the most - the trainees or the DART instructors?
To practice the various felling cuts, they've all moved down to an area of bush designated for a community planting programme. It's ground that was used for agriculture some years ago, but now it's completely overgrown. Once cleared, the entire area will be re-cultivated, with the higher ground used to grow millet maize, beans and vegetables and the swamp area put into rice production. By September, the community will be harvesting much needed food from this plot of land.
Earlier we sprung a surprise First Aid scenario on the trainees. They coped really well; straight to the Stein Products Limited Bleed Control Kit, on with the #Woundclot and a textbook dressing of a neck injury using the raised arm technique to add additional pressure to the wound. They even remembered to put on the surgical gloves which surprised me until I remembered that all of these guys have survived the #Ebola epidemic. They've probably thought about cross-infection more seriously than I hope we ever will!
Deployment Story - Day 5
This morning we got invited to a neighbouring village to watch Yusuf demonstrate planking Sierra Leone style. Naively perhaps, we imagined this would take an hour or so, but this is Africa where meaningful events invariably demand serious, prolonged and often heated negotiations. Just when it felt like we were about to witness the outbreak of another war, everyone suddenly started smiling again. The village elders were happy, the owner of the saw was happy, Yusuf was happy and the lady who owned the tree was happy. Phew! Let's get this show on the road before someone changes their mind!
With great reverence the villagers brought out a Stihl 070 with a yard long bar that, let's just say, 'had seen better days!' The old saw might have been held together with chewing gum and string, but ten minutes later Yusuf was skilfully using it to convert a freshly felled tree into a pile of standard 14' long planks with nothing more than hand/eye coordination. Apart from his obvious skill with the old saw, it was an amazing demonstration of core strength and 45 minutes later he looked like he'd run a half marathon. 'If you can do that by hand, why do you need the Logosol?' I asked him. 'Your machine is so easy. To do it this way all day is very hard work.' he replied.
Back in our base village, the trainees fashioned a #Timberjig from some of the timber they processed yesterday with the Big Mill system and then continued planking with the Logosol UKl. I think we have a winner!
Deployment Story - Day 4
Yesterday's felling activity has produced a good quantity of useable timber, so our main training focus today has shifted to the Logosol UK Big Mill system.
It nearly didn't happen! Yesterday afternoon I unpacked the kit and was horrified to discover that our supplier had sent the wrong size ripping chain for the saw. 'Game over,' I thought. 'Without a ripping chain our milling system is nothing more than excess baggage!' Time to own up to the rest of the team. 'Sorry lads, I should have taken the saw out of its box and checked the chain against it before we left.' 'It's not that big a problem,' said Huen Coloma. 'I'll grind one by hand from a standard chain.' And he did! It took him all afternoon with a round and flat file, but he did it. What's more, it performed beautifully. One more reason why #Arborists are so well suited for disaster relief work. Problem solving and #improvisation is part and parcel of their everyday working lives.
The trainees really liked the Logosol Global, but the village carpenter liked it even more! Timber producers in Sierra Leone generally turn out standard planks of 14' x 12" x 1". The finish is invariably rough cut and we'd watched the carpenter and his team spend hour after hour hand-planing timber to produce a smoother finish to their work. 'These planks are already planed smooth,' he declared. 'This machine would save me much work!' An interesting development and certainly not one that we'd anticipated. It prompted some interesting discussions about how the Logosol might be used to make more economic use of shorter lengths of timber with a better quality finish. I guess time is money here, the same as everywhere else!
It's been very hot today, so we're all going to sit in the river for an hour. The locals have assured us that there are no river snakes to worry about. The crocs have eaten them all.
Deployment Story - Day 6
Graduation Day! The trainees have successfully completed the DART training objectives and today they're on their own. Better still, they're getting paid for completing the swamp clearance under the watchful eye of lead farmer Yuki, with more paid work on a similar project arranged for next week Team boss Yusuf has gone to a neighbouring village to carry out the site survey and make all the necessary arrangements.
Meanwhile, the DART team are preparing an inventory of all the equipment generously donated by Fletcher Stewart (Stockport) Limited Stein Products Limited, before conducting a formal handover to the local staff of Rory's Well. We're all trying to keep busy to avoid interfering with our former trainees, but the sound of #chainsaws and trees falling is too big a draw for the DART Arborists and by mid morning all three of them are finding excuses to 'just pop down and see how the lads are getting on.' Oh well, if they're going down there I suppose I might as well have a quick look! I find the farmer smiling from ear to ear. Not surprising really; a month's worth of hard labour with machetes completed in just one day! The earlier in the dry season he can plant, the more the community is likely to harvest.
Later I meet with Fatima, the village nurse, to hand over some medical supplies and brief her on the contents of the Stein Products Limited Bleed Control kits. We're a long way from the nearest hospital, so a comprehensive trauma kit and the training to be able to make proper use of it has been an important element of the capability we've delivered to this community.
Tomorrow we start the long haul home. On behalf of everyone involved in our Charity I'd like to thank Ian and Nigel Fletcher of Fletcher Stewart (Stockport) Limited Stein Products Limited. Their ongoing support over the last 3 years has been remarkable and without their generosity this deployment and previous operations simply wouldn't have been possible. The same applies to our volunteers; on this occasion Alex Hebden, Huen Coloma and Luke Dollaghan, who represented not only DART, but the wider UK #Arborist Industry with complete #professionalism. Finally, our thanks to the people of #Taninahun for their hospitality. It's been great working with our trainees Yusuf Mustapha, Mohamed Sesay, Ansu Kamara, Mustapha Lukulay, Abdulai Sengo and Usman Koroma. Good luck to you all in the future.
Team are all well and in good spirits. The DART training program has been a great success and equipment and PPE provided by our sponsor Fletcher Stewart (Stockport) Limited gratefully received by the local community. Today our six Sierra Leone trainees (three of whom have some forestry experience and three complete beginners) have been helping to clear land earmarked for a community agricultural initiative and milling the timber Logosol UK as part of a vital bridge replacement project. The villagers have been busy excavating sand from a local river bank, our partner Charity have funded reinforcing steel, the local MP has funded the purchase of cement and DART trainees are providing milled timber for the concrete shuttering; a real partnership project!