On September 18th of this year a small 2 ‘man’ project team headed out to Cape Verde in response to a request from two ex-patriots living out there. The request had been made primarily for first aid equipment to aid delivery of courses to the local villagers as there was next to nothing on the whole island in regards to emergency services other than a small police force, fire service and a ‘hospital’ which was more a health centre.
The island of Maio is one of the smaller Cape Verdean islands and sees very little in the way of tourism. There are a total of 14 villages dotted around and 4000 inhabitants. Florian saw an opportunity here to initially provide the equipment required and training to go with it. We also chose to use this as a fact-finding mission to see how we could perhaps be of further assistance in our usual role of improving firefighting capabilities.
Jo and Dylan took to the long journey (3 flights over 2 days.) with their luggage and the equipment in several bags. Luckily a little ‘charming’ and politeness at the check-in desks (and the fact they were in uniform) helped in being allowed the excess weight in this area.
Upon arrival at Maio we were greeted by our hosts Janette and Stephen and taken to the main village on the island known as Vila de Maio. The night was dark and there was an obvious lack of street lighting. The roads were more dirt tracks and the majority of dwellings just breezeblock shells. Many people were simply sat on their doorsteps and we were told that their front rooms were often used as bars, grocery stores, bakeries etc with a view to making a few extra escudos wherever possible.
Maio has a reputation of being the ‘forgotten island’ according to the inhabitants and this is put down to the fact that historically where the capital Santiago and all the other islands traditionally vote one way, Maio has always voted the other and therefore any supplies, aid, provisions sent to Cape Verde tend to be distributed to the other islands first and Maio receives basically what is left.
The following 2 days were spent being shown around the village including the ‘hospital’, ‘fire station’ Red Cross centre where the training would be taking place and the police station. We were also introduced to our translator for the time we were there and the Manager of the Red Cross centre and made a visit to the fire station to introduce ourselves. It was clear that the village was expecting us and that everybody already knew who we were and why we were here.
Throughout the following 10 days we delivered a one day course to different people on each day. The initial idea of running two 3-day courses was dismissed after discussions due to it being difficult to expect people to miss work and also, we wanted to reach out to as much of the community as possible so shorter courses but more of them made much more sense.
The courses were very well received and the feedback we got was always very positive. We managed to ‘train up’ over 150 people from a wide range of occupations. The whole fire service, the police force, a group of mothers and babies, the general public and as many of the fishermen and Bus drivers as we could.
We catered the course to the most relevant topics necessary with a view to reducing the unnecessary number of visits to the hospitals that were over-running the ONE doctor on the island and the sparse hep that was there.
Aswell as running the daily courses which ran from 2pm – 8pm to suit the islanders, we spent our mornings trying to work on what Florian could maybe continue to assist the island with in any way possible. This involved meetings with the chief of police, The man in position of authority for the fire service in ‘city hall’, the doctor at the hospital, Jo did an interview with the local radio which was aired to all the islands and resulted in the Head of the Cape Verde Red Cross wanting to meet us in Praia on our return leg. This unfortunately didn’t materialise, but has been followed up with emails on the return of the team.
When we could find the time, we managed to work with the fire service on some more job-specific exercises and this gave us a chance to evaluate their skills and equipment. There was a ‘pump’ of which apparently did work although we didn’t witness this. The equipment in the lockers that had any in them was outdated to say the least and not particularly appropriate for the tasks the volunteers would be required for. They were improvising a longboard with a door off the station back entrance!!
The PPE the crews had consisted of a few old tunics donated some years before and several helmets although these helmets had no inners and so would just roll around on the wearers head. There was no B.A, no wetlegs, no boots. Our hosts explained that at a recent house fire in the village the firefighters had turned up in ill fitting helmets, tunics, shorts and flip-flops!!!
The crews seemed to have very little in the way of formal training but were VERY keen and eager to get involved and join in with every aspect!
On the final day we even managed to put together a short demonstration which was performed in the centre of the village and allowed for interaction between the fire service, the police force and the local people too. This demo attracted lots and lots of spectators and became the talk of the village after showing just how well the lessons learned could be put into practice should the worst happen.
This demo was followed by a last minute course for a small group of people that had been unable to make the previous 10 courses and then a group presentation of the certificates earned in which all those that attended were given recognition for their time, efforts and participation.
The visit overall was extremely well received and those involved made it clear that any further help would be very much appreciated and extremely useful.
In the opinion of the Florian team, there is a definite potential for there to be additional works that could and should be done to aid the country, but in particular Maio with further fire fighting provision and training.