Not been able to write much recently, as my laptop is on its way out. Basically the hot weather and being an elderly computer, means that when the battery gets hot, it presses on the tracker pad and bar from underneath, with the result that it picks up everything, highlights everything, and deletes everything, and you can’t type a single thing. Thankfully, it is a little cooler right now, first drop of rain in ages, and I have about 20-30mins before the battery gets too warm to type anymore.
Thank Goodness for Lush
Thankfully, due to our receiving funding from Lush for OPG (turns out the funds had been sitting in our account all this time!), I’ve been able to order a new laptop, as well as two ipads, a camera, video camera, time capsule, and a projector (and £800 for the year as my salary, having worked without an income since March), and am now just waiting for them to arrive from the USA. I’ve tried the USA2Georgia service for the first time, and whilst I’m really anxious about the whole process, a lot of expats swear by it, so let’s see how it goes. Will be a godsend when we get them, as I need them before I head off to Latvia for the summer, where I need to put together our website, and write our OPG workbook ready to be published in September before our new intake of students. We also have several grant application deadlines looming for the 1st August. And I should hear on the 15th July about my scholarship application for doing my MSc/PhD in Maritime Archaeology in Sweden. If I get it, then my course starts in Sweden in August, and I’ll need to go and meet my supervisor and put my modules and timetable together, so its all going to be a bit exciting if I’m lucky enough to get it, which I’m not convinced about right now. Time will tell!
But, not having the computer right now, has meant being able to turn my focus to the decorating, moving rooms around, and getting the house, OPG office, and new OPG classroom all set up ready for our next term which starts on the week of 22nd September. Sadly this has meant missing yoga sessions, but I am at least getting practiced at decorating and exercising my shoulders with very repetitive stretching, reaching, and painting motions, and switching off into autopilot, which is always good for getting new ideas and for recharging and reflecting on the past, present, and future. All good training for rowing an ocean.
Needless to say, there are just so many exciting things going on right now, and I am in a very good place. First of all, we are preparing for our first OPG graduation ceremony which will be held at Europe House on 19th September, and for which I need to dress up, and give a speech in both Georgian and English, and to the media. Which is a huge personal challenge for me, and a large, but necessary step out of my comfort zone. This year OPG needs to become more business minded and do a lot more networking and PR and things, and I have new levels of strength in the team, and am a lot more confident in myself than I was this time last year, so that is great to reflect back on. The pilot year of OPG yielded a lot of lessons and this year my challenge is to step up as Director and to be more, well ‘direct’. We are also applying for some really serious grants now (around €2million!!), and with that comes a responsibility, so its all about getting our communications, tax, etc, etc more formalised and putting proper, more robust systems in place, so the computers will help massively with that. We also have some fantastic collaborations going on, which is really what we are about, and being able to work with others for the good, is a great feeling, especially when you can pool knowledge or resources to achieve the same task and improve the lives of some great kids. We have some 12 or more guys from our Pilot group, who are coming back in September as Assistant Leaders, mentoring and leading sessions with our new intake of students, and we plan to assist them in getting GSCEs, other qualifications, and experiences to help them in applying to university and getting into the careers they have been dreaming of, and hopefully we can help them with a reference, with life skills for surviving university abroad, or with applying for scholarships or grants. Ultimately, we want those who are interested, to become our main Project Leaders and to run OPG under the supervision of adults, purely because they are under 18. We hope to get them trained up as International Award Leaders (in March we trained up two of our older guys, and lots of them are keen to do training when they reach 18) and to become real advocates and leaders for their peers. I’m also super excited about them meeting the British Royal family here in Georgia in September next year, as they receive the very first International Awards in Georgia. And in a weird way, it feels like this is my legacy to Georgia.
Hello and Goodbye
Sadly, three of our leaders will be leaving Georgia, having arrived in the same group as myself with TLG, but whilst it is sad to lose them, I know all of them have been talking about running OPG sessions in Russia, Australia, and Korea, so it still feels good, and they plan to stay involved no matter what. We are also losing a couple of our Georgian leaders as they are off to do courses abroad, and I’m pleased that we were able to help them with references and applications and things for that, its also great to become more streamlined and to start anew, with the support of the previous guys, but with our younger guys stepping up and filling the shoes of our 8 Project Leaders. It actually works out well, as it means that we welcome Brigid to the team, a TLG volunteer from South Africa, and it will basically now be the two of us as the main Project Leaders, with input from the remaining three Georgians from time to time to fit around their other commitments, but with a big input from our super keen Assistant Leaders. We have also scaled down project this year, from one big group, to several small groups, which makes life a lot easier. We have introduced a group especially for those who have intellectual or physical disabilities, and we will be working with a fantastic organisation called First Step Georgia: http://www.firststepgeorgia.org/eng/?. running the International Award and swimming pool based snorkel sessions for them, as well as having our OPG Ambassadors doing outreach, mentoring, and befriending work with them, and hopefully breaking down some of the taboos and fears of people with disabilities. So that is very exciting. Plus we will have visiting guests from abroad, including Ulrica, a Maritime Archaeologist from Sweden. And in Autumn will be running an exchange programme with maritime archaeology students from Sweden coming to teach on project, and then some our guys going to Sweden to learn scuba diving and to spend time at the university, an amazing opportunity, especially for our 12 year olds who have only been learning English for the last year of OPG and have never travelled before.
Ocean Rowing and New Computers
Especially exciting is that, having decided to leave the Coxless Rowers, I was surprisingly overwhelmed with support, and things just fell into place, with some amazing opportunities presenting themselves. I was given the chance to join several other ocean row teams, and was approached by two big sponsors who would have funded the entire row. However, I decided that if I was going to do a row, then it would be for OPG and that we would try to avoid approaching big sponsors as much as possible, as with sponsorship, often comes association with a particular brand, and having to compromise the integrity of what you are doing in order to keep the sponsor happy. I hope I don’t regret that later on when we are struggling for funds, and maybe I just like the challenge of doing things myself, why take the easy road, when you can take the hard one!!! That doesn’t mean that we are anti sponsors, far from it. But, we have found that people who really get and understand what we do and what we stand for, tend to seek us out and generally those guys fit our motives and ethos far better, and its a much happier relationship. So the plan is to try and cover the costs of any adventures through OPG and my PhD, with in kind support from other sponsors, such as Ultrasun (for our sun lotion) and Fuizion (for our freeze dried food). This is a massive deal, as the cost of dried food for the row alone, amounts to some £6000 and sun lotion for four naked rowers, for 6 months will also be pretty hefty! And it looks like a number of things could potentially be covered through our OPG work, for example, we all need to do a first aid course and to have a first aid kit, not just for the row, but also for our adventurous journey components of the International Award, and for day to day sessions, field trips, snorkel lessons, and we want to teach the young people on our course first aid, as it isn’t something that is commonly done here. So we can likely cover this through our grant applications, which seems a better use of our time and energy than approaching and trying to sell ourselves to sponsors who get a zillion such letters everyday from wannabes like us.
Challenge is Good
Its also a very nice challenge as it means being more creative with funds, and perhaps brings out the tight fisted Yorkshire in me! For example, when ordering the laptops with our grant from Lush, it was cheaper to order from the USA, with our educational status, and they also had a promotion on, so we should be receiving $200 worth of vouchers that can be used in itunes and for applications, and the money saved also allowed us to purchase two ipads which will help our team to be networked together, and that we can use for all of our own office work, as well as by the kids in sessions.
Iclouds and Geeky Things
I’ve turned into a massive geek this week, but basically, the beauty of us all having mac products at some point, is that we can use the icloud and network all of our apple products together. This means that if I update any OPG documents, or my calendar, all of us on the network will automatically have those updates, on the laptops, ipads, iphones, and iplayer. That should make grant applications and other work much easier as all of us will have the updated files at hand, without needing to send emails, and if we are in a staff meeting together we can all have access to the same file. The vouchers will also allow us to purchase the BBC Oceans series, as we got through two sets of the DVDs this year, with both ending up scratched to death from being used and transported so much. Having them as e-versions means that any of the leaders can show them to groups of students, wherever we are in the world, and that saves money in us having to buy the new DVD as we can download it with the itunes voucher. It also means my calendar can be accessed by everyone on that network, and they can see when would be the best time to contact me or to book in meetings for me, and likewise with me for them, without us having to negotiate our separate diaries.
So, I should probably fill you in at this point, before I go any further in my ramble. We basically now have an OPG Team who will row the South Pacific Ocean, and beyond. That team consists of 4 females who have all have connections with Georgia, three of us have worked for the Ministry of Education, and all of us have OPG in our hearts (cheesy I know!). That team consists of myself, originally from the UK but living in Georgia, Brigid from South Africa, currently in Georgia working for TLG and as Project Leader for OPG, Ulrica, a Maritime Archaeologist from Sweden, also involved in the OPG exchange programme, book writing, and will be helping me with my PhD if I get the place, and finally, Michelle, from the UK and a previous TLG volunteer in Brigid’s orientation group. Michelle is now based permanently in the UK, where she is from Yorkshire, but will be back in Georgia for a holiday over August. That means we have a lovely mix of ladies, including a Sports Psychologist, Sports Manager, Maritime Archaeologist, and Neuropsychologist/Medic/Maritime Archaeologist. It feels brilliant, and we really have a great team spirit already, especially as all of us have experienced some adversity at some point in the recent past, and that all of us know what its like to live in Georgia where things like electricity, water, and food tend to come and go so we are all good at dealing with spontaneity and making do as needs must. The very nice thing is the dynamic, and we will basically be undertaking our training in Georgia (yoga with Sun Yoga), in Sweden (rowing coaches), UK (whatever we fancy), and Latvia (on the beach mainly, swimming, running, pulling tyres). If I get the scholarship, then I will be travelling to Sweden via Latvia most weeks, but also be sharing a house and working on project with Brigid. Michelle and Brigid are best friends, and we will hang out with her when we are in the UK and whenever she comes here or to Sweden, and Ulrica will be spending her time between Georgia and Sweden, as well as the four of us running the Earthwatch expeditions for our OPG participants over the year (working with rhinos in Kenya, shark conservation in Belize, Australia’s vanishing frogs, Peruvian Amazon expedition, and two archaeology digs in UK and Italy).
The plan is to submit several joint proposals for funds between Sweden, Georgia, and Latvia so that also ties in nicely longer term, and having the laptops thanks to the grant from Lush means that we can eventually all be networked. So we can use the Apple vouchers to download apps for film making for OPG and the row, as well as the RYA Yachtmaster book, so all of us will be able to read it as an ebook, rather than having to buy a copy each for around £30 a pop. Roz Savage has also suggested some apps that she used to train for her ocean rows, so we’ll also be able to download those, and every ocean rower we have spoken to, told us that they had their ipod on their row, and listened to at least 200 audio books, so it will be great to have the ipod and itunes vouchers for that.
The grand plan, is to enter the first ever Pacific Ocean rowing race, being organised by New Wave, leaving Monteray, California in June 2014, and finishing in Hawaii. The race is being organised by ocean rowers Roz Savage and Chris Martin:
We don’t have any plan of racing per se, but it will be a chance to receive a lot more support than going it completely alone. But from Hawaii, we will continue alone and unsupported to Australia, stopping at different locations on the way, to do OPG outreach work, teaching yoga, and linking up kids with our kids in Georgia. Ulrica and myself will also be diving on some maritime archaeology sites and identifying sites for my PhD as well as collecting samples for microplastic analysis. So its all perfect now, and very exciting.
The Longer Term Plan
As it happens, another opportunity has also arisen, and something that has been my ambition for a very long time, to walk to the Northern Pole of Inaccessibility. This is now looking possible, and the plan is to train for both the ocean row and the North Pole expedition over the course of the next two years. We’ll be leaving for the North Pole in Spring 2015. Its a world first, and no one has walked there before, so its a huge undertaking, but the row will provide excellent physical and mental training for this. I’m in a team already, and we are now organising logistics for this. Jim McNeill has made two attempts previously, though he sadly developed necrotising fasceitis on his first attempt, and on his second attempt the ice was already melting too much to be able to walk on. One person has been close to this point in history, but no one has been to this point itself, so it will have a nice archaeology aspect to it. Basically, the ocean row will look at how we know that people were there before us, and the arctic expedition will be about how people in the future will know we were there, and not just sitting on a beach in the Bahamas or something. We also have some ideas for how the boat itself can be used for a tool to promote archaeology, so its all looking very positive.
This week there was an extra element added to the melting pot. I was told that I had the go ahead to potentially adopt a child from Bulgaria, and was matched with a 2 year old who is in an orphanage. If I decide to go ahead with this, it could take anywhere from 3 months to 3 years for the adoption to complete, but is a massive undertaking on its own, let alone with an ocean row, and arctic expedition planned. But its early days, and having just received the medical reports for the child, I have to decide how prepared I am to take on a child who may have sever physical and intellectual disabilities. I have the chance of a perfectly healthy child, but a part of me prefers to adopt a child with a disability who will have minimal chance or ever being adopted. The child I was matched to, was one that I had already chosen as it happened, and is one I’m very interested in, but there is a question of her having cerebral palsy from being resuscitated at birth and its not clear whether her current lack of crying and emotion is a result of brain damage from being starved of oxygen, or that its because she has been left in her cot with little stimulation for the past two years. Its a huge undertaking, and needs a lot of thought, and I may just make the decision once I have spent time with her in Bulgaria as I will then know for myself the realities of her condition and also how she responds to me. In terms of the row, I think it could still work. If adoption takes place quickly, we will have lots of time to bond and to involve another significant other to her life, and by the time of the row she would be almost 5years old and better able to understand what is going on, and to talk everyday on the satellite phone, and to be together at the start and end of the race, which could take around 30days if we are quick. I could then meet with her at each outreach stop on the way, so we wouldn’t be apart for so long, and the significant other would remain with her the whole time. Likewise for the arctic expedition. One factor, which would be the same regardless, is the plan for what happens to her if I die, something I’d prepare for regardless of undertaking any expeditions or adventures. On the other hand, if adoption takes three years, then its a no go for me anyway, as that window of opportunity to overcome her being institutionalised or to work with the cerebral palsy will have passed, and it would be long after the row anyway. I was originally planning to adopt a much older child, but at least I know I am open to a younger one, and one with disabilities, and these days I have pretty much learnt that when things are meant to be they just happen of their own accord, without the need for stressing about them. And there are so many more hurdles to cross before we even get to the point of being able to adopt, especially as three countries have to be involved here. But it was a really lovely surprise.
All Things Considered
There are just too many cool things going on today, that I just can’t write about, and also the computer has started jumping about again. But that’s the gist of things for now, all looking good so far, and I’m very, very excited about so many things right now. Let’s see what the future brings.