Saturday, 27 October 2012

A day in the life of Red Cross housing project staff.

Yesterday was the final day of a five day monitoring trip I did to the north of Sri Lanka to measure progress on the role IFRC/SLRCS is playing as implementing with the Indian housing project. (IHP) and to identify ways we can accelerate the recovery operation. I have recorded a typical day on a trip like this.
On Thursday 26 October we visited the Project Office located at the G N Office, at Thananthaiselvapuram, Tellippai DS in Jaffna district where we met the IFRC Project Engineer and the Technical Officers and had a discussion with them.

I visited more than 20 sites in the village nearby where the 1st installment payment had been  sent to beneficiary bank accounts some days earlier by the Indian High Commission in Colombo and had discussion with the beneficiaries. 

I was accompanied Ms. Dushiyanthi David, Mr. Wahala  Bandara, DPO SLRCS  and K. Thiruthanigasalam, (Thiru)  Monitoring Officer, IFRC. Dushy is head of support services for IFRC is Colombo and I wanted her to become more familiar with the methodology as she has a liaison function with the IHP payment office in Colombo.

At the offce Thiru (centre) and I met Mrs. Shanmugam Pakkiyaledcumy (left),  a  very poor widow,  living alone at Market road. She had not met the beneficiary criteria but was hoping she would qualify in the second round. We took her name and explained what options are open to her.

Next we drove to the village close by at Thananthaiselvapuram and the first beneficiary we visited was Mr. Balasubramanium Mahendran, a person suffering from arthritis and struggling to walk. He had completed the foundation laying ceremony and the workers were very busy on excavation work for the construction of foundations. After the discussion Mr. Balasubramanium (right in the photo) told us that he will complete the construction works within 4 to 5 months. The necessary building materials for the foundation work has been transported to the site.

With the wind rustling the leaves on a Mahogany tree, we walked down a lane to the next housing site, visiting Mr. Nagendran Lagunathan's  place. Like many other beneficiaries, the heavy rocks had been dropped 40 metres or so from the house due to muddy roads, so we helped the family to transport some of the rocks from the heap to the site  Every little bit helps in these situations. Excavation for foundation has commenced in this site. Below Thiru and I talk to the family.

Here Thiru explains the finer points of the IHP to Mr and Mrs.Nagendran Lagunathan.

Closeby we met another  beneficiary  Mr. Kanagasabai Murugaiyah, a 76 year old man in poor health living with his wife alone and had a discussion with him about his situation and the construction works of his house. After the discussion he said they felt they could finish it is 5 - 6 months.
We called on Mr. Balasuntharam Sivakumar site  and found workers, including the the owner, very busy removing the stump of a big tree from the site enable construction work to start. The beneficiary has told us that due to the heavy rain experienced in the area, he could not start the foundation work. We visited many other sites and were heartened to see such industrious and committed people.
Also visited to Mr.and Mrs. Ponnuthurai Sriskandarajahs (photo above) place and had a chat with them about the problems they face and advised on  the construction of his house. He was reasonably confident he would finish the houses in 5 months.

As we were walking back to the road we met two elderly  women who were returning from putting their case across to grievance committee meeting. We stopped and talked about the situation and why they had not been  selected them for the housing project. As with all people we met on our two hour walk through this village, whether they had been selected or not, there was a quiet dignity and acceptance in their manner. 

What is depressing is the remnants of houses, places of worship and factories destroyed in the 30 year long conflict. Such wanton destruction casts a pall over reconstruction efforts.

During this visit I called Anurag Srivastava at the Indian High Commission to give him feedback on progress and discussed a few issues that I needed advice on. As  Vasanta Kumar Government Agent in Jaffna told us later in the day, we have to work continuously to improce coordination and cooperation.

Some of the pathways between houses are pleasant under the mid-day sun and you see many trees providing shade, fruits and timber. In a year these villages will be back to normal.

As we passed through Jaffna about 1.30 pm, we couldn't resist a stop at Rio icecream parlour and here Thiru (l) and Wahala enjoy a well deserved ice cream.

At 2.30pm we participated in an IHP meeting chaired by the Government Agent with all Jaffna DS in attendance, the UN Habitat, IFRC and SLRCS to discuss progress and methodology.

On the way back to Vavuniya we stopped at the A9 junction with Thenmarachchi to pick up new files from one of our Red Cross Engineers. I say each file is like a "Ratnapura Sapphire' as it brings a jewel to every selected family, that gift called 'a house.' At the junction is a sign giving detail of the Indian housing project. Below.

                                                              A close up of our sign boards.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Indian Housing project Sri Lanka

It was so good yesterday to see the foundation outlines of the first Indian Government funded houses being implemented by the Red Cross in Eluthmuddval GN, Thenmarachchi Jaffna, and rocks, sand, gravel and cement on site. I even spied a stack of timber weathering. Below a young girl plays on the site that will be her new home in 8 months or so.The first payment for the Subramanyam family arrived in their bank account 10 days ago, and they started on the 18th of October, an auspicious day, and 6 days later this is the progress. Today I am visiting Thanthaiselvapuram and Karampaham GN divisions where families are working on houses foundations. through IHP

Having worked in post conflict recovery operations for 40 years or so, this one is unique. in the way the IFRC was selected as one of four Implementing Agencies (IAs) for the Indian Housing Project. (IHP) and the way all IAs have worked so cooperatively with the Indian High Commission and Presidential Task Force. Together we have come up with a very functional operations manual and beneficiary selection process. On  13 July 2012 the IFRC/SLRCS  entered a new partnership with the Government of India receiving funding for the repair of 2,800 and construction 14,000 new houses. This funding enables us to add to the 3000 houses Red Cross has built in the north in the past two years, which have livelihoods and water and sanitation as an integrated package.

Four Implementing Agencies (IAs), viz., UN-HABITAT, International Federation of Red Cross & Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in partnership with Sri Lanka Red Cross, National Housing Development Agency (NHDA) of the Government of Sri Lanka and Habitat for Humanity, Sri Lanka, were selected for the next phase of the Indian Housing Project for 43,000 housing units in Northern and Eastern Provinces.

This phase of the IHP, which is being implemented under the owner-driven model, beneficiaries have been  selected through a transparent and norm-based process on the basis of clearly defined and objective criteria. These beneficiaries have just started undertaking the construction/repair of their houses with necessary technical assistance and support provided by the IAs. Funds will be released directly by the High Commission of India into bank accounts of beneficiaries based on certification of progress of work. An owner-driven approach has been followed on the basis of preferences of the Government of Sri Lanka, people on the ground as well as project objectives of contributing to livelihood activities.

Look to the upper centre of the photograph to the shack this family is currently living in. Within 8 months or so the house should look like this one below.

Mrs. Subramanyam and daughter Meneka were delighted about their house being underway Eluthumuddval GN. Her husband, a struggling day laborer, has to juggle work which is crucial to keep the family alive, and building the house.

The Red Cross engineers with technical officers and community mobilisers have specific roles in training, supervising and monitoring. Using hand drawn charts on techniques required to construct each stage of a house are carefully explained and followed up on. Progress is recorder in the family housing book and each stage signed off.

Communicating with the IHP beneficiaries is crucial, and also plays a key role in the on going reconcilliation process where communities are further empowered, appreciated and provided skills which can lead to employment in the future.

The High Commission of India signed agreements on 13 July 2012 to award work to four Implementing Agencies (IAs), viz., UN-HABITAT, International Federation of Red Cross & Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in partnership with Sri Lanka Red Cross, National Housing Development Agency (NHDA) of the Government of Sri Lanka and Habitat for Humanity, Sri Lanka signaling the launch of the next phase of the Indian Housing Project for 43,000 housing units in Northern and Eastern Provinces. The signing ceremony was witnessed by Hon. Basil Rajapaksa, Minister of Economic Development and H.E. Ashok K. Kantha, High Commissioner of India.

Anurag Srivastava (r) and Bob McKerrow IFRC (l) signing the Indian Housing Project agreement with Hon. Basil Rajapaksa, Minister of Economic Development and H.E. Ashok K. Kantha, High Commissioner of India and Shri P. Kumaran Deputy High Commissioner, witnessing the signing.(photo courtesy Min. of Economic Development)

The four IAs were selected on the basis of their experience and expertise in implementing similar projects in Sri Lanka, through a competitive process following the Expression of Interest route. The signing of these agreements paves the way to commence immediate implementation of this Project on the ground.
This phase is expected to meet bulk of the housing needs in these areas. In the last phase of the project, which is also expected to commence soon, about 6,000 houses will be directly built by construction agencies for people from most vulnerable sections of IDPs in the Northern and Eastern provinces and for estate sector in the Central and Uva Provinces

Had an excellent one hour Red Cross radio programme with last night in Jaffna on YARL FM Jaffna with Thiru who works for the IFRC on the IHP  programme based in Vavuniya, and two volunteers from the Sri Lanka Red Cross branch in Vavuniya who volunteers their time on IHP too. The programme is a weekly one in Tamil for 6 months getting across messages about housing, both the IHP and our other parallel SLRCS one, water and sanitation, livelihoods, NCDs and other important information that empowers communities. We had half an hour of explaining our work then a further half hour where listeners can call in for discussion.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Red Cross beneficiary or community communication.

Ever since I first worked for Red Cross internationally in 1971, I always felt we were there to serve people and listen to people, and shape programme to their needs. Thirty five years down the track we now call it beneficiary communication (BC) and it is so exciting that it is now an integral part of all our work.

I have a great Red Cross communication team here in Colombo; Navindra, Mahieash and Zafran. With Tissa, Keti and I supporting  them, they have some up with an innovative radio programme for people in the north, many without electricity, so they rely on the old battery operated radios. One of our supporters is Will Rogers, our BC man in KL who I worked with in setting up BC programmes in Indonesia during Tsunami and West Sumatra earthquake. Taru supported us from the regional office in Delhi.  Here is more information about what we are doing. I will be in Jaffna on 24 October for the launch.

Consulting with communities in Vivekanadanagar in Kilinochchi. Discussing with people about the best type of livelihoods we can support them with. Photo: Bob McKerrow

The beneficiary communication programme in Sri Lanka is taking off with the launch a new radio programme targeting communities living in the north of Sri Lanka. As part of the Red Cross post-conflict recovery programme, the show aims to inform, discuss and understand the needs of vulnerable communities in this area. Information and feedback gathered from the discussions will not only give people a voice, but also be used to help us provide relevant services and make change by advocating on the communities behalf to the relevant authorities.  It will also disseminate the values of the Red Cross throughout the region.   

The radio show titled "Manidaneyathikkana Manithyalam" which translates to "Hour for Humanity" will be broadcasted in Tamil on Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation's (SLBC) Yarl FM on 92.2 and 102 FM, every Wednesday starting 24 October 2012 from 06.30pm – 07.40pm (GMT+5.5). You may not be able to tune in to the programme, but Sri Lanka Red Cross will be uploading audio and video recordings of the show on the SLRCS website ( soon after the programme is aired. 

Please take some time to listen in to the programme. Feedback and suggestions are much welcome to help take the programme to the next level. Please send your inputs to Mahieash Johnney, senior manager communications and humanitarian diplomacy, IFRC Sri Lanka at:

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Park brothers New Zealand Canoeists and adventurers

Dying wish fulfilled 

One of the last things Ron Searle's mother asked him to do before she died was to make sure her father's legendary adventures were made into a book. 
Back in 1889 George Park and his brothers were the first to canoe solo across Cook Strait and they were also the first to take canoes from the west to east coast. 
At 91 years of age, Ron left his run quite late but this week (October 2012) in Hokitika he fulfilled his dying mother's wish. He published a book on the Park brothers and  TV New Zealand did a small documentary. Here is the link.

Interest has been expressed in the Park brothers since Graham Egarr mentioned them in an article in 'Sea Spray'. The following is an extract from 'The Press' (Christchurch newspaper), Saturday' August 26, 1978. It was written by Ken Coates from details collected by Mr Peter Lucas, of Harihari. Other exploits of the Park brothers are briefly mentioned in M.E. Fyfe's book 'A History of the Sport of Canoeing in N.Z.' The Hurunui is considered a Grade 3 river, and further details of it are available in the Canterbury Canoeist's River Guide.

These articles inspired me to to repeat some of their journeys for in 1989, I did a double crossing of Cook Strait and a 10 hour crossing from Raumati Beach to Cape Jackson on the South Island Coast. I also repeated a number of George's coastal trips on the West Coast when I lived in Hokitika and Franz Josef, and when living at Anakiwa, retraced many of his trips in the Malborough sounds. So the Park brothers I men a respect immensely.

Here is the article published by The Press' (Christchurch newspaper), Saturday' August 26, 1978. 

Preparing for a solo crossing of the Cook Strait in 1987. I had to abandon this trip due to weather but later did 3 crossings. Photo: Bob McKerrow 
"George Park was mad keen on canoeing in the latter part of the last century. Among his exploits were a crossing of Cook Strait, an exploration down the coastline and rivers of the West Coast, a trip down the Manawatu River, and a paddle among the Marlborough Sounds.

In the middle of Cook Strait with Adrian Kingi on a double crossing. We left Makara, landed at entrance to Tory Channel, then returned  to Mana Island and got out at Plimmerton. Photo: Bob McKerrow

He once took a line out to a coastal ship in trouble on the West Coast in rough Seas. But the most heart-warming story about this persistent paddler concerned his courtship. He was sweet on a girl who lived at remote Okarito, which at that time could be reached only along rough, boggy bush tracks. So George Park, who lived at Hokitika, regularly took to the water in his canoe, paddled out to sea, and then into the long estuary to pay his sweetheart visits. They were eventually married.
The most hazardous expedition he undertook was a coast-to-coast crossing of the South Island over Christmas holiday of 1889-1890."
Compared with the way in which today's speeding jet boat drivers skim the South Island rivers the early canoeists of the last century had to battle against tremendous odds. Little is remembered about these hardy paddlers. Their craft were fragile but well built.

Rob Roy canoes could also be fitted with sails.
One of the most daring of the country's canoeists in the 1890's was a Scot with pioneering blood in his veins, George Park, born 1863. He was a rugby player of renown in Westland, but the excitement of canoeing drew him to the unexplored inland waterways and lakes of the West Coast. In December, 1889, George and his brother, Jim, a solicitor, decided to make an attempt to canoe across the South Island - one of the most daring canoeing expeditions attempted in New Zealand.
The brothers set out from Hokitika for the Taramakau River with their two canoes, Sun beam and One One, loaded on a wagon. It took a full day to get to the river and on Christmas Day, soaked by teeming West Coast rain, they battled up the swirling Taramakau. At rapids they had to haul the canoes upstream by tow-lines. It was laborious and slow. Just before nightfall they came upon a disused hut near the Otira River and camped for the night.
It took another full day to get within sight of the saddle of the Main Divides. The year before, a severe earthquake had turned the mountain area into a chaotic jumble of jagged rocks and yawning chasm. Slips had crashed down on the few poor tracks. The tortured mountain-sides made the already difficult task of carrying swags and canoes to the summit of the 3141ft pass a trial of strength and endurance.
It took two days of back-breaking toil, with many stops and detours, to reach the summit. The two men spent the fifth day resting in a comfortable camp on the bed of the Hurunui River. The area up to this point was known to George Park because he had worked there with survey parties erecting trig stations. But from the Hurunui on, the country was unknown to both canoeists.
On the sixth day of their daring journey, the men noted that the scenery had changed from rain forest and moss-covered rocks to tussock-covered hills and bare rocks, with beech forest in the valleys. Long slides of shingle and rocks at crazy angles also showed the effects of the earthquake on the eastern side of the Alps. Huge angular rocks jutted out from the river banks and protruded from the water. Dozens of sheer waterfalls made progress difficult, painstaking, and dangerous.
There was little navigable water in the upper reaches of the Hurunui so the brothers decided to lower their canoes down the boiling creeks on long lines. They were not lacking in courage but they had no intention of drowning. While threading their way beside the twisting water that wound its way through the distorted terrain, George Park's canoe was sucked down under a huge log by the force of the water. It popped up like a cork on the other side, still buoyant from the water-tight compartments. The canoe was undamaged, but it was lucky for George that he was holding the end of the line at the time and was not in the craft.
The brothers were able to climb aboard further down the river and made it safely almost to Lake Sumner. But just as he was entering the lake, Jim Park's canoe was ripped along the bottom by a rock. Water gushed in and it looked as though the canoe would founder. George hauled his brother and the half-submerged craft to the shore. The canoe was taken out and the two men went to work with their repair kit - brass screws, copper nails, timber and red lead.
By the following morning One One was repaired and ready for the water again. But Lake Sumner was lashed by a strong south-west gale and waves hid the two canoeists from each other. George Park became exhausted and only just battled his way to the shore.
The brothers bailed out their canoes and waited until the wind died down. They paddled across the lake to the outflow of the Hurunui River. The first half mile was easy going, the swirling current rocking the canoes gently. Hordes of blue ducks were sent winging skywards from the rocks along the banks.
Swifter and swifter the river flowed until the canoes hurtled down the throat of Boulder Fall. The two men frantically plied paddles amid the roar of water and flying spray. Cliffs and gigantic boulders flashed by until they were vomited Into calmer water. It was an exhilarating, exciting [section], but [possibly] the dangerous section of the trip, and in spite of aprons on the canoes, the two men were drenched both with sweat and water.
They had been told that the river narrowed at the gorge to a distance they could jump. but neither had been willing to try to stop once caught in the fast-moving flume. In any case the sides of the gorge were rocky and 200ft high. Instead they pushed on down more seething water and rapids covering 20 miles in a very short time.
They turned a bend in the river and noticed a hut. In response [to] a shout from George Park, a shepherd rubbed his eyes as if in doubt [about] what he saw. He and two mates helped the Parks haul their canoes on to the bank. They spent the night in the hut opposite Mount Noble. The sheep men briefed the canoeists on two dangerous rapids further downstream - at Maori Gully and the Shoot. They were hardly named to inspire the canoeists with confidence.
The Parks pushed off on New Year's Day, and at Maori Gully they eased the canoes down the rapids by rope. It was nine miles to the Glenmore River. The canoeists were glad of the warning they had received of the wild water of the Shoot. Here, fence posts thrown into the fast-moving water to be floated to properties adjacent to the river further down-stream, remained submerged for more than 30 chains before surfacing from deep water.
The Parks had no wish to see their canoes damaged so they carefully lowered them through the rapids by rope. Even so, one canoe was flipped over by the rip and shot into an eddy. Both canoes were undamaged and bailed out. Skilful use of paddles prevented the two men from coming to grief as they negotiated a long, tortuous gorge with succession of rapids and eddies.
Dog tired, the two men reached the Mandamas River near Tekoa Station and were pleased to reach open country. A surveyor from a camp nearby went down to the river to get water. He was astounded when he learned that the two canoeists, busy bailing out their craft, had travelled from the West Coast. The Park brothers were guests at the surveyors' camp that night.
The next day dawned in biting, ice-cold hail, but the brothers pushed along in the southerly storm on the ninth day of their journey. They passed under the northern railway bridge and were soon in a quiet eddy at the Waitohi and Hurunui Rivers' junction. This caused a stir in the bar of the Hurunui Hotel. A patron entered saying he had sighted debris floating in the river. He thought it could be 'a horse and cart in difficulties'.
A rescue party was hastily formed, but its members were astonished to sight two canoeists making for the river bank near the hotel. They took a lot of convincing that the two men had paddled most of the way from the Coast through the hazardous waterways of the Taramakau and Hurunui Rivers.
The brothers inspected their canoes and found One One had a leak which would take several hours to repair. Jim Park reluctantly decided to abandon the trip. His canoe was transported to Waikari and Jim caught a train to Christchurch. George Park, however, decided to complete the last 40 miles of river travelling. He passed under the Cheviot bridge and out into open country again.
The scene had now changed to a wide, shingle riverbed. Large numbers of swans, ducks, gulls and other birds rose in noisy confusion as the canoe approached. After another four miles the canoe was in the Hurunui lagoon. George had covered the 40 miles from [the] Hurunui Hotel in about four hours and, not a man to do things by halves, he decided to finish the trip by negotiating the river mouth, sailing out to sea, and heading for Lyttelton.
First, he found a suitable piece of driftwood to use as a mast, then he paddled to the bar. But the breaking seas sweeping in were too high to risk a crossing. So the resourceful George Park took the course he had often resorted to on the West Coast - he carried his canoe to the open beach, waded out through the breakers, clambered aboard. and glided into calmer waters beyond. He stepped the mast, rigged a small sail, and headed south. A fresh wind from the north sent him towards Motunau Island.
The wind was being so helpful that George decided to keep on until dark. But when he wanted to go ashore there were only jagged rocks in sight . At one stage the bow of the canoe became jammed between two rocks. After an anxious wait, a wave broke over the canoe and lifted the craft free.
It took several probes along the shore before a safe landing was made on a small sandy strip, - later found to be the only sandy beach for miles. George found a small stream of fresh water and boiled his billy. He cut tussock for a bed and pitched his tent. Next morning, the wind was too strong to paddle against so he went in search of the local homestead. He knocked on the door of the house, of a Mr Reece, of Monserrat, and he was warmly welcomed with a huge breakfast.
Back on the beach, the wind had dropped significantly, and after striding through the surf George again launched his canoe. He slogged against the head wind for about an hour, making slow progress. Then came spell of calm weather, followed by a wind from behind, and he made good time to opposite the mouth of the Waipara River.
On to the Ashley River, and seas were breaking around the craft, sometimes curling over the canoe . A specially designed apron kept too much water from getting into the well (cockpit). The buffeting from the waves opened a gash in the canoe's hull which had been repaired, flooding the aft compartment. This made the craft much less buoyant, and heavy and sluggish to handle in the head wind.
A tired George Park decided to chance it across the Waimakariri Bar. He paddled to a swingbridge at Kaiapoi and spent the night at Burnip's Hotel. The canoeist rose at 5a.m. to finish his trip. Four hours later he had crossed the Waimakariri Bar and was heading into a slight head wind bound for Lyttelton. But again, fate was against him.
The wind veered to the east and the sea became choppy. He struggled for some time, but eventually had to beach the canoe and hide it in tussocks in the sandhills north of New Brighton.
Next morning, a friend helped him to launch the canoe once more and with a favourable wind, he set sail for Sumner. Hundreds of people watched him from the beach.
But the battle was not yet over. As he rounded the point beyond Sumner, and before reaching Taylor's Mistake, a rough and choppy sea pitched the small canoe around like a cork. George was drenched in spite of his protective clothing. But the canoe remained buoyant. He paddled doggedly on past Godley Head and finally up Lyttelton Harbour where he slipped into the inner harbour at 6p.m. on January 5, 1890. He had covered 230 miles in 13 days by a method few would try today."

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Anakiwa - 50th Anniversary of NZ Outward Bound School

Anakiwa looking down on the red roofed school in 1986. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Students change immeasurably on Outward Bound courses, and so do staff and families living and working there. We must strive to tred more lightly on the lands surrounding Anakiwa, as it provides a sense of place or Turangawaewae to many New Zealanders and overseas students who did an Outward Bound course there, or were employed as staff. John Lawrence one of the first instructors at Outward Bound, and a climbing partner with me in the Peruvian Andes in 1968, still refers to Anakiwa with reverence and a sense of belonging that was engendered in him. As a mountaineer attached to a NZ Antarctic survey, he named a remote peak Mt. Anakiwa, and has sent photos and written articles for the 50th celebrations.

My daughter Aroha was born there and we buried her afterbirth there and planted three trees, Rimu and Totara I recall. It is her Turangawaewae and for many others because of their attachment to the place. A place to stand tall.

Students about to put up sail on one of the 32 foot naval cutters. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Anakiwa is all about nudging, changing, growing inspiring, empowering, risk management and discovering.

As Ann Esler wrote (nurse 1982-84):
“The place shapes the people and the people shape the place.”

Many others will be writing about their courses, their time there as instructors, so I decided to write about the early anniversaries and about the people who shaped the Outward Bound philosophy and schools world-wide.

Outward Bound is 50 years young. I vividly remember the 21st anniversary in 1983 and the 25th anniversary in 1987 and I went to the second International OB conference in Malaysia in 1986.In Malaysia I met one of the then four living disciples of Kurt Hahn, the founder of Outward Bound, Josh Miner. The others then were the Duke of Edinburgh, Tom Price and Lester Davies whom I all met. 

I was very fortunate to have Gaike Knottenbelt (right) as my deputy when I started as Director at Anakiwa as he had many years as an instructor and knew outdoor education inside out. Here he is playing a flute with Ray Waters, a former deputy at Outward Bound Anakiwa.  Gaike came back with his wife Ruth, as Director from 1996-2000 and they strongly  re-positioned the NZ Outward Bound School catering for a wider range of courses.

The 21st anniversary which doubled up as the first ever International Outward Bound conference and brought together world leaders in outdoor education with luminaries such as the legendary Tom Price, C.K. Cheng from Malaysia, Ian Fothergill, Roger Putnam, Roger Binns, Lester Davie, Bill Phillips, David Miller, the famous mountaineer Vic Walsh and John Huie. Our Trans-Tasman outward bounders were there; Gary Richards and Alan Riches. Paul and Sue Schurke was also there, Paul having set up a remarkable outdoor centre in the USA called ‘Wilderness Inquiry.’ ( I later went on two Arctic dog sled trips with Paul including one to the North Pole) So leading OB mentors came from Asia, Africa, Europe, North America and Australasia to celebrate our 21st anniversary. This was a turning point in the history of the global Outward Bound movement as it brought a sense of unity through sharing each country's approach, and out of this gathering, I believe a more standardized approached began to emerge. I say this because the following year I visited Outward Bound Schools in Singapore, Malaysia, Wales, England, Scotland and the USA and had long philosophical and problematical discussions with school directors and staff and this was followed up in the years to follow. 

From L to Right: Ken Ross, Roger Putnam, Ian Fothergill, C.K. Cheng, Hamish Thomas, Alan Riches, Lester Davies, Front from L to R. Tom Price, Roger Binns, Vic Walsh and Bob McKerrow

What stood out for me as an incoming Director of the NZ Outward Bound School, were the discussions we all had at the 21st anniversary on risk management and student safety. Directors and wardens from all over the world had backgrounds as mountaineers, sailors, kayakers and adventurers, with some form of  training in education or social services. Only one had a military background. But the overall commonality I remember was humour and passion for the development of young people, and not to rob them of self discovery by cosseting. But underlying this approach, was a strong sense of devotion to risk management.

Tom Price left, with Bob McKerrow on one of the high ridges behind Anakiwa, having a tea break and discussing Outward Bound in 1983.

Tom Price, who took over from the great mountaineer Eric Shipton as Warden of the Eskdale Mountain Outward Bound School, the guru of outdoor education then,  told me this:

"Anyone can make adventure training safe by taking all the adventure out of it. The best safety lies not so much in the avoidance of danger but in learning how to deal with it."

In the 50's and 60's Tom Price wrote many articles on outdoor education, character building and referred frequently to managing risks.

When I look back at my time as school director, I believe students learnt how to deal with danger, but also how to overcome their own self-imposed limitations. I remember Don Grady quoting me in his book Outward Bound at Anakiwa. “The physical journeys are the outward journeys, which lead to the most important journey – the journey inwards, the journey of self discovery.”

In discussions we had at Anakiwa in 1983, Don McKay, warden from 67-74, was a keen supporter of Tom Price, Vic Walsh, Roger Putnam and myself in not wrapping students in cotton-wool, but giving them adequate training to make their own decisions in potentially dangerous situations, under the watchful eye of sound instructors.

In the 80's, we gave students opportunities to push themselves beyond their own self imposed limitations. Going over the Rai falls.

But our over cautious, over regulated society today is bubble wrapping our youth and limiting the physical journeys by the ‘belt and braces’ approach to safety and insurance threats.

“To taste success, you must also taste dirt,” multisport adventurer Steve Gurney says.
It is the nine-times Speight's Coast to Coast winner's gritty philosophy on life was what he talked about when he was in Central Otago last month to promote his new book, Eating Dirt. 
"Eating dirt is a metaphor and the over-arching message of the book is that you learn from your mistakes. 
"To do this, you have to eat dirt a few times, take a few risks and crash off your bike." 
In Gurney's view, life has become too antiseptic, especially for children. 
"At schools and in sport, we're bubble-wrapping kids and they're missing out on getting the experience of how to judge risk, so that they'll know how to find their limits later in life." 
Not that kids should be reckless, he stresses. 

Rivers are dangerous and instructors would make sure students were thoroughly trained in river crossing.

At the 21st Anniversary of Outward Bound at Anakiwa, a lot of discussions centred round risk management and guiding students how to deal with the dangers of life, accidents and deaths to students were thoroughly discussed. 

Turi Elkington 2nd from left and his wife next to him, leads us in a Powhiri in the 1987 25th anniversary. I am to the left of Turi and my daughters on the far right.

A lot of healing took place in 1983 with Turoa Royal leading the visitors the 21st celebrations at the Anakiwa marae and the Elkington family from Ngati Kuia iwi, welcoming all visitors. A memorial service and cleansing ceremony was conducted by Turi Elkington, for Richard Anthony Ropiha, 18 years,  who fell on the rock face at Anakiwa a few months earlier, a week before I arrived at Anakiwa. A small memorial stone suitable inscribed with a Maori proverb was blessed. Its translation reads,  “The cliff-climber dies on the cliff.” The paths in this little sanctuary are flanked with stones carefully placed by students and a seat made by students for those who wish to meditate or seek quiet. In various karakia, (prayers), speeches and discussion the healing took place over Richard’s death at the 21st anniversary at Anakiwa. Danger, death, risk, place, maturing, accidents and extreme joy and satisfaction are all facts of life when you journey in the outdoors.

The indefatigable Bill Hathorne at 'Bill Kayak Shack' on the banks of the Rai River.

When I took over as Director at Anakiwa I greeted and fare-welled students in Maori and felt Anakiwa was a Taonga (a national treasure) and we needed to introduce more Maoritanga. Having Turi and Jim Elkington from the Ngati Kuia Iwi in Picton enabled staff to visit maraes, learn waiata and karakia, and marae protocol. Eru Emery coming aboard as an instructor of Maori origin helped me considerably in bringing about a bi-cultural approach. I have always noticed in my travels that you have to be bi-cultural before you can talk about multiculturalism.

Left, the legendary 'Soundsman' Len Baxter as strong as an Ox and a skillful  master boatman and carpenter. Ah, many a drink I had with Len and Bill in the workshop or boatshed discussing the school and the sea.

At the 21st celebrations, our two veterans Bill Hathorne and Len Baxter, handyman and boatman,  both rugged independent individuals, joined in and were living examples of continuity and commitment for their uninterrupted employment throughout first 21 years of the school at Anakiwa. In fact, they were my Kaumatua, advisers, and had so much wisdom to offer, and even more laughs.

In reaching its 50 year anniversary, I greet old friends, staff, students and those volunteers who gave 50 years of dedicated service to the youth of New Zealand. I am sorry I cannot be with you from 26-28 October  for the celebrations in Anakiwa and Blenheim as I am working with people displaced by 30 years of war in Sri Lanka where we are providing houses water, sanitation and livelihoods to 20,000 families. I am currently short of staff and I have to have my hand on the tiller.

As we raise a glass let's remember the founder Kurt Hahn and all those who made Outward Bound possible.

The Matakana a former Wahine lifeboat and the Dauntless, two our our main work boat taken from a low-flying plane. I am in the red jacket.

                                                 A few mementos 

A first-day cover was put together by Ron from the OB committee in Dunedin for the 21st anniversary above, and 25th below.

Various invitations for the 25th anniversary below.

Monday, 15 October 2012

We must set up more programmes to assist migrants.

► Migration - IFRC

Finding zen amidst human lows

UN worker details human rights abuses committed by warlords and tribal leaders in Afghanistan

Living overseas, it is often hard to gets books when they are first published so I was delighted to read this review of  Marianne Elliott's,  'Zen Under Fire' by Margaret Hayman. Elliot  supports what I and many others have been saying for  yers, when she seriously questions the international involvement in Afghanistan. It is my strong view that foreign i ntervention only delays the inevitable outcome, a Government of the people.

 Marianne Elliott, author of 'Zen Under Fire', was assigned to Afghanistan as a UN human rights officer in 2006.
In the book she gives a professional and personal account of the war-ravaged country where her job was to record human rights abuses, collect good evidence of the crimes and provide appropriate training and support to police and prosecutors in laying charges and bringing the perpetrators to court.
This work was in a societal context where people are in considerable danger, warlords and tribal leaders conspire to control land, drug-trade profits, and gain access to foreign money while spreading fear among ordinary people. It is a well-written and gripping read.
Marianne has an almost overwhelming sense of guilt about the tragic consequences for particular victims of rights abuses which she couldn't prevent.
She also seriously questions the international involvement in Afghanistan.
This is the story of her search for personal resilience which she needs to carry on her work, and the ability to accept what she can't achieve.
She learns to value what is possible in the circumstances, even if it is simply listening to, and recording, women's stories of abuse at the hands of their families.
At the personal level, she discovers painfully, that a partner cannot meet all of our needs all of the time.
Our strength is drawn by the sum of our bonds with good friends, colleagues, partners, family and other intimate relationships. By working together, empowering each other, and listening to others, we can resolve difficult issues.
Hers is a story of hope. Marianne is immensely impressed with integrity and commitment to fairness and to the peaceful future of their country that she found among her Afghan colleagues.
They treat one another, and the victims of abuse with respect, listen to their view of the situation and work together to resolve very difficult issues.
This was a timely read for me, as like many others I feel helpless in the face of the diminishing democracy, bank power, and citizen disempowerment that is being served on us.
This author gives us an insight into how, in the personal, the local and the international arenas we can tackle the huge issues we face - diminishing natural resources, climate change, soaring carbon emissions, over-population - by pulling together, listening to each other, and accepting what we can't do just yet.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Cook Strait crossing kayakers rescued

After kayaking across Cook Strait, that notorious stretch of water separating the North and South Islands, three times in two months in 1988, a double crossing and a solo crossing. Some months later I teamed up with the el supremo of world kayaking, Paul Caffyn, and went to Australia to attempt to be the first people to kayak from Australia to New Zealand. Sadly we were arrested by Australian Maritime Police for not having a radar reflector. So it was with some deep interest I read this story earlier today about a group of sea kayakers having to be rescued.
Two of a group of kayakers Tpreparing for a Cook Strait crossing who had to be rescued by police after they fell out of their craft in Wellington Harbour today.
A group of kayakers sent out a mayday call after a member of their group capsized setting off a chain of events that saw three more fall out and all swept to the middle of Lambton Harbour.
The group of eight had been practicing for a November 10 Cook Strait crossing, but some may be left on dry land following this morning’s incident.
Former National MP Aaron Gilmore, a kayaker of 20 years, was among the group that got into trouble as their party hit strong winds and big waves in Wellington Harbour about 8.30am today.
Gilmore said, following today’s incident, questions would be asked as to whether some of the group were in good enough condition to cross the Strait.
One kayaker hit a wave and gusts of wind up to 45 knots and tipped out.
He was helped back in his boat by others but tipped out soon after. His un-manned boat got tangled with another kayaker, who also tipped out.
The third and fourth kayakers tipped out in the waves and strong winds and a mayday call was sent out from an on-board marine radio.
Two other less-experienced kayakers, who had held back, returned to Fergs Kayaks, where the group had set out from. Gilmore and another kayaker, still upright, paddled to Freyberg Beach.
He applauded the response of police, who rapidly plucked the four kayakers out of the water.
The group was well prepared and had intentionally been training in rough conditions, he said.
‘‘We had a marine radio, we had all the gear. It shows you the importance of having the right gear.’’
Fergs Kayaks general manager Dave Annear, one of the four to tip out, said the group had been training in a sheltered area near the overseas container terminal.
After the first kayaker tipped out the group was swept about 400m deeper into the harbour.
Those who remained upright waited by capsized kayakers to help police locate them, he said.
Of the 30 people in training for the Cook Strait crossing – arranged by Adventure Wellington but trained by Fergs – only between four and eight would be able to make the November 10 crossing, he said.
He was not concerned about a similar situation happening during the crossing.
‘‘If the conditions look like this they will not be going ahead.’’
It was not yet decided if a support boat would be used but full safety gear, including flares and emergency locator beacons, would be carried.

Bob McKerrow preparing for a solo crossing of Cook Strait. Note radio, compass and maps on fore deck. Bob did three crossings of Cook Strait in two months in 1988, a double crossing with Adrian Kingi and a solo crossing from Raumati Beach to Cape Jackson, a 10 hour trip. I did a huge amount of training for these trips.

Senior Sergeant Dave Houston, from the Police Maritime Unit, said conditions were gusty this morning and, while gale warnings were out, the kayakers had been in the confines of Wellington Harbour.
They were well-prepared with a radio, and wearing gear to ensure they were not too cold when they were picked up.
They were also wearing life jackets.
Fergs Kayaks co-owner, Olympic athlete Ian Ferguson, said the the group had been ‘‘pushing themselves to the limit’’ in the harbour confines to get used to rough conditions ahead of their Cook Strait attempt.
‘‘So it was probably quite good they had an issue with safety.’ Kayaks often tipped, he said.
‘‘Part of what we are doing is trying to prepare them for it.’