At last it Came!
Its been another busy old week here, and today I was very happy to see that OPG got the tax exemption through from the government of Georgia. This is a really big deal, as it means that anything we order for humanitarian/charitable work from now on is exempt from customs tax on arrival into Georgia. This is huge, especially as a new NGO, with limited funds and having to watch every penny with a very beady eye.
It also feels better for other reasons too. As you’ll already know, we recently received funding from Lush in the UK, our first grant application, and which we are immensely grateful for, even though they don’t like to shout about their charitable deeds because that isn’t what they are about. We applied to them for specific items and for specific uses, and it might surprise you to hear, that I found the process of spending that money to be quite stressful and a massive responsibility, from a legal and a moral point of view. Lush accumulates charitable money through it’s ‘Lush Charity pots‘, that means that a customer on reaching the shop, purchases that particular item because they want to give money to the causes that Lush supports. The accumulated donations then get granted after an application process, and they support some really amazing causes. I’m also one of those customers, and so I felt like I had to represent each and every customer who invested in us, and that our cause has to be equally as worthy as another. That involved a lot of research and decisions on exactly what we really did or did not need for our work, and how to make that budget stretch in the best way possible, whilst also making OPG sustainable, environmentally friendly, and thinking about short and long term needs.
With that in mind, we decided on the computers we would need, and the camera equipment. We decided on Apple, because we can network the computers together and they will be used for our everyday project sessions, office work, grant making, OPG International web site building, book publishing, educational outreach work prior to the ocean row, and the ipads will also join us on the ocean row itself (in special aquapac water tight bags). They needed to be tough and durable, with different users in mind, including the intellectually and physically disabled children we work with, street kids, orphans, refugees, and more affluent children. We need to be able to make high quality video footage, including 3D and 360 degree educational videos, and we need good storage for all our photos, video footage, and documents. The benefit of Mac products is that they are all compatible with each other, and that means that the four main project leaders and ocean rowers based in the UK, Georgia, Sweden, and Latvia can automatically update anything on any of our networked iphones, ipads, or laptops. As we grow and get more staff, we can add to that, even to the point where we can add our diaries and share audiobooks, music, movies, and educational apps. That means that we can each be working with a different group of young people on different things, at the same time, and have access to all the course materials. I’m no technical whizz and I’ve a lot of things to figure out, particularly in relation to spreadsheets and setting up financial packages, so its a huge learning curve now. And also a step up for OPG in becoming a more serious charity.
Serious Money, Little Steps
Over the next twelve months, we’ll be applying for around 4 million euros, to acquire premises, and to pay salaries to our volunteers and so on so that means we need to get everything right and simple to use in terms of packages, apps, and documentation before we grow and get more zeros to stress over. We’ll also be setting up scholarships for our first group of Oceans Ambassadors, coming back to us this year as Assistant Leaders, so that they can take GCSEs in subjects that interest them, and to get funds for their university education. In another year’s time, they will hopefully be Project Leaders and we want to support them with references and applying for exchange visits, internships and other opportunities. Right now I live off around 2gel per day, investing everything I have in project, because I love what I do and I see a great future for us, and its always good to aim high. The next few years are really exciting, especially to think that we started just over a year ago as a little club at my school with a few 12 year olds who lead us and tell us what things they want us from us. We may or may not get the funding we apply for, but that isn’t the point. Its all about the attitude and the dream and stepping up to another level in what we do. Last year we were a baby, now we are crawling, and taking our first steps towards walking. Its an exciting time for sure.
This week I’ve been working on our pitch book for sponsors for the ocean row and the arctic expedition, and its clear to me, just how entwined my passions are and how much I love OPG. The aim of the two expeditions is to promote OPG and its work, to raise funds to continue what we do, and to reach as many young people worldwide as we can, especially those who don’t have access to the outside world or the chance to travel. This is vital for promoting good environmental behaviour, as you need to think and understand your impacts globally to understand why changes need to be made. This is a potentially massive campaign we are running here, a very serious one, but also fun and stimulating. Looking at and analysing the best way to do things, just like choosing those first computers. We chose them from Apple for lots of reasons, but also because we were able to secure educational discount from them, and vouchers that we can use to purchase applications, ebooks, tunes, and documentaries that we can use with our groups and to make life easier on every level. Yes, we had to ship them from the USA, but it does mean that we will run as a pretty much paper free organisation and will be able to modify everything online, which will also save time and money and make us more efficient so that we can focus on what matters the most. We went through a lot of hurdles to get that, figured out the best shipping, and the most cost effective and best value items, researching every option available to us. So, to go through all of that, only to end up spending the money we saved on customs would have been incredibly frustrating, especially after all the agony of getting every single document and charity application translated into Georgian, notarised and included in our inland revenue application, spending money on extra services, and for converting currencies, etc, etc. As a Lush customer, I would want every penny I invest, to go to that cause, that child, that project, not to be sucked up in tax and such things, though that does also have an important place in the economy and infrastructure. It isn’t such a big deal for us as OPG, but for some charities, that is the difference in being able to feed a or provide medicines to a child for a year for every £1 not spent on tax at each stage of the journey. Tax to convert the currency at the bank, transfer fee, to purchase an item, and then for postage and shipping. That all really adds up, and I know I would feel like I did a diservice to the people I serve if I’d taken the easy option and just done things the quickest and most easy way. That is the difference in being able to purchase two ipads receiving $300 worth of donated itunes vouchers and not having enough to purchase them – its huge!
The Next Step
Now we finally received our document, its just a case of getting everything to the customs department and collecting our items from USA2 Georgia where they have been sat waiting for us for several weeks. Hugely annoying for me on a personal level, as its hot here and lots to do, and I was supposed to be in Latvia with my family from the 12th July, but instead have been waiting here and growing more and more impatient. I’ve not been able to do any of the work I needed to do, since my laptop died a death, and just doesn’t have the strength to handle anything other than the most simple task, and even with that it crashes, and will only work with the battery removed. The cursor picks up anything it wants, at random, deletes them and moves them, and my number 3 key, which also happens to be the ‘£’ symbol is also broken and doesn’t work. Not great when you are putting together financial budgets, risk assessments, and sat in 40degree heat, being eaten by mosquitos. Having a new computer, with memory and speed will be heaven, but is equally going to be time consuming for a while, like anything new. The technology will be different, I’ll need to tidy up and transfer files, organise them, and set it up to a way that I like to work with, figuring out how the ‘Time Capsule’ thing works and networking everything together. Those are the kinds of things that irritate me and which I have little time for, and just drive me nuts, but are essential for our everyday functioning.
Thankfully, once the computer arrives, it means that I can finally book my flight to Latvia, though unfortunately the prices have doubled now and I don’t have enough airmiles to cover the whole cost now. That’s a personal cost, but was in the interest of OPG, and being able to visit family is a huge luxury. So begins, a crazy week, as I need to get my dog to the vet for her blood test for the flight, book my flight, have my first haircut in well over a year and need to buy some clothes, things that I can’t afford, but which I’m beyond needing now. I have one pair of shorts, have been living in them since about May, but will be going from near 40degree heat to Latvia’s 17degree heat. I need layers, and I’ll be seeing people at the airport, etc, so I can’t really be seen in shorts full of holes and threadbare!!
I’m most excited about being by the sea, eating properly again, and enjoying being with my family and living off the land and having saunas and early morning swims. The pace will be pretty intense still, but with a more relaxed environment, conducive for what needs to be done. Pressure is on me, because the publisher needs my finished book ready for it to be printed in September, though I have been working on it in my head, I now need to get everything on paper, or rather the new computer, as its a special template that I have to upload my work on to, and it won’t run on my current one and there isn’t sufficient memory to run it. That gives me less than a month to get all the artwork and writing done, and uploaded ready for printing by the 12th September and delivered ready for the next intake of students! The book will be my top priority over summer.
Around writing for that, I also need to get training again as I stopped my yoga sessions, thinking I’d be off anytime soon and won’t be back with classes properly until I return to Georgia in September. It should be fairly easy for me to structure my day though, doing yoga in the sand dunes, running on the beach, pulling tyres (if I can find one) and swimming in the sea with my step sister. I’m looking forward to giving Isla some quality time too. She’s such a good dog, loving and patient and uncomplaining. Moving to Georgia has been horrible as a dog lover, as I no longer get to take her out on long country walks or runs, and there is no where to play with her off the lead. We are constantly afraid of stray dogs and people are often scared of her. So living on the beach again will be fantastic. She won’t use her lead the entire time she is there, she can be free to come and go and walk on the beach as she pleases, and she’ll have everyone around to play with. She’ll be sleeping with my sister, cleaning the baking bowl for my step mum, and being given fresh fish when the fishermen return with their daily catch. She’ll get to play with all her other iggy friends, and she’ll spend hours sunbathing on picnic blankets and under her favourite apple tree, or teasing her boyfriend, an old jack russel called ‘Jackie’. It’ll be great to be back in nature again, falling asleep to the sound of the wind, rain, and waves, and being able to see the stars because there are no lights for miles. And I’m especially looking forward to moonlit skinny dipping sessions, honey and salt saunas, and the wind in my hair. I want to be out with my camera, pottering around looking for spiders to practice photography on, and hunting for snakes and lizards, during breaks from book writing.
Time is going to pass so fast over the next two years and its incredible to think how much there is to fit in, and to break everything down into stages. I’ve been putting the book off in my thoughts, because I had to compartmentalise everything and make it into bite size chunks, hence why I couldn’t get a haircut or new clothes until I knew I would be off to Latvia. I like closure on things and I have to mark off events, crazy I know. Getting hair cut and some new clothes at last, marks the start of the next chapter for me, a kind of growing up as Project Director, something I probably developed from loving the start of the new term at school, especially September. It was the one time of year, we we were guaranteed a hair cut and new shoes, and if we were super lucky, a new pencil case or pen. September was the start of my favourite season, Autumn. when its sunny, but the smell is fresh and new and clean. I guess that is why I wanted to end the year here in Georgia, and then move into the next stage, by being in Latvia, moving forward again. I’ve been in limbo here, and I’m eager to move on.
So that means writing the book, and getting fit. Ready for September when I return to Georgia. That will be another chapter, and an equally hectic one. I will have a week to organise our OPG Award ceremony for the Ambassadors and need to take bookings and advertise the course for the new Ambassadors. I will need to write a speech, find something posh to wear, and organise media coverage for the event, and to launch the row and pitch book officially. In October, I need to get a huge funding application done, in November I need to visit London, so will need to find funds for that, and to get my wisdom teeth sorted. Then I need to get the OPG International website finished and launched with a lot of media coverage and interviews in Australia ready for launch on Australia Day, the 26th January.
By February I need to be very fit, as I’m due to visit Norway with Hannah for our first training session for the arctic expedition, a world first attempt to reach a place that no one has ever been before. Its huge and daunting, but equally yummy. If funds or airmiles allow, then hopefully I can be back in Latvia over Christmas break, back on the beach, but this time pulling tyres over ice and frozen beach. We’ll spend two weeks in Norway, crossing a glacier, ice climbing, uses ice axes, pulling pulks, kite skiing, and learning rescue and survival skills. I’m no where near ready yet, mentally or physically, so summer is going to be a good foundation for me, ready to train seriously and eating properly again. In Autumn the film crew and archaeologists arrive to work on project!!
Then, come July, we’ll be busy training, fundraising, and attending conferences and talks for the ocean row and our boat will go on display in the UK and start its outreach campaign. Before we know it it will be June 2014 and we’ll leave California for Honolulu for the race, before continuing on for 6 months to row all the way to Australia. Returning back to Georgia for a few months, before our arctic expedition in Spring 2015. Then it’ll be time for me to settle down a bit and find some new challenges in life, providing that I haven’t been lost at sea or died in the arctic! Though I wouldn’t care too much, because I’d be happy doing what I love, though I would prefer to live to a ripe old age and have hundreds of stories to bore my grandkids with. And I’m quite looking forward to becoming one of those old ladies who can say anything she likes and be rude to people, and get away with it because I’m doddery and old and can’t help it!!
But all this expedition stuff has a very serious cause underlying it – marine debris. That is what OPG is about, and encouraging young people to think globally, building peace between cultures, and empowering young people. This week, we launched our PADI Aware campaign, and if we get the grant, then we’ll be creating ‘Foldedsheet’ educational material about marine debris, to be given to International Award participants living around the Black Sea basin. This will also go online and be available for download too, and the sheet itself will be on recycled paper with special ink. Its a project that I am really excited about and a great platform for us in promoting our work and beliefs and reaching more young people. Here are a few of the pictures so far:
Blog and Doodle Crew
Its so great to have my friend Helen involved, helping with the doodles, working with us for the book, and row, and everything, and I really hope it promotes her work too. What I’m very excited about (I know I’m excited about lots of things right now!) is that Helen will be turning our expedition related blogs into illustrations, and she has already started. I’m pretty amazed actually, as the ocean row website has had no less that 200 hits per day every day since we launched it, and we haven’t really been doing much as yet. But its so important to have for getting the kids involved and having something for potential sponsors to see, and to show that we are really serious about what we do.
This past week has been pretty full on expedition wise too. Seeking advice, trying to put together the route, and figuring out boats things, and costs. It looked like we were set to go with Charlie, but then another boat builder came on the scene with an equally enticing option. So now we have to figure out preferred materials, costs of each, and environmental impact of each, and which we can justify the most in terms of the footprint we leave. Which will appeal to sponsors most of all, which will be most interesting technically, and how does everything fit together. Right now, we are off the idea of carbon, and are looking at options for wood, something that may be more expensive, and though it is more traditional, is less popular these days. We have to way up each material and design in relation to capsize and self righting, comfort, strength if we run aground on coral reefs (which is quite likely with our outreach work), weight in terms of safety, but also in terms of us powering it through our rowing actions and in being in a race and not wanting to be too slow at sea. we’re not interested in competing race wise, but equally want to be efficient in our energy use and don’t want to be still at sea having eaten all our provisions! And the cost of food alone, will be about £20,000 so it all has a huge impact and bearing on the decisions being made.
We have found a boat designer in Amsterdam, and a boat builder, and a material that potentially looks good, so now we have to research, research, research, get costings and add it to the pitch book for sponsors, and to our grant applications. All of which needs to be done quickly, because until we secure £300, we can’t enter the race, which means we can’t access all the resources available online for participants, and until we get the money, we can’t build our boat, which will take about 20weeks to build, and a few more to design. So time is tight, even with the race not starting until June 2014.
Its important to get everything packaged together nicely as well, another reason why I’m so desperate for a functioning computer. I need to overhaul our website, and plan our media campaign, and our funding applications. That all takes time. We need a PR company to help us, we have found one, and now we need funds to use her services for OPG, expeditions, and to handle our media enquiries, line up interviews fo us and so forth. Things are going to get pretty crazy! We need it for sponsorship and support and investment in OPG and the expeditions, but its also one of those really scary things to do. Putting yourself out there, in the limelight, making yourself vulnerable and open to haters and folk who want to give you a hard time for the hell of it. So many things can go wrong, and we are learning as we go, putting our hearts on our sleeves, and doing what we think is best at each given moment. Its daunting and scary, but comes with doing new things and needing to get coverage. We have to build people’s trust in us, in order to reach young people to promote the International Award and OPG as a tool for teachers, and to bring the world to the guys we work with here. They are the most important thing, and what we do from here on, has an effect on them, and also what we are able to do for them in the future. Its time to focus on getting tasks done, rather than worrying about what ifs, or worrying about what comes next. That is why we need an PR person, who can take over that side of things for us, look over our documents and website, and advise us on how to promote ourselves in a way that is honest to who we are and what we are about. Helping us to manage our time as effectively as we can. Once momentum gets going, we have to stay on a clear path and not lose our way, and time is going to speed up from here on.
And so, I am preparing myself for the next chapter, I’m looking forward to being back in nature and with family, and preparing myself for the journey ahead, taking each step at a time. And being back in Latvia, always reminds me and brings a great reality check, as I remember studying for y TEFL, and talking about my plans to teach in Georgia back in 2010, asking my step mum what it was like for her, to be teaching in Georgia back in the 60s, what were the people like, what was the country like. I’m looking forward to having some grounding time, reflection time, and thinking about what the future might have in store for me. Where do I want to be in ten years from now? Its nice to be going into a new space and culture, out of the everyday routine that I’ve developed, shaking things up, and creating a new routine for a new phase.