*Due to intermittent internet access and restrictions on logging into my website, I am only posting now.
I am currently in Maseru, Lesotho in southern Africa where I am part of a two man, one woman team of spatial planners from Ireland, more specifically from Fingal in north county Dublin. This is part of a bigger project being run by Action Ireland Trust (AIT), an Irish based Non Government Organisation. AIT has been carrying out development work in Africa for a number of years and has for the last three years worked on construction projects in the ‘Mountain Kingdom’ of Lesotho. This is the first occasion I have had the pleasure of working with an overseas development project and I’ve got to say, these guys are totally on top of their game.
There is a team of approximately 82 people who have travelled from Portmarnock in Fingal as part of the programme. The project is led by AIT in partnership with Portmarnock Community School and there are around 32 Transition Year students travelling this year (with some Mums and Dads in tow). The project initially started out with organising school building projects and has progressed into providing medical support to people in the more marginalised areas of Lesotho. So not only are builders from all disciplines part of the programme, so are dentists, nurses and doctors. In particular I am very impressed to learn that four of the most promising students currently studying with the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland, are part of the medical delegation. Travelling with me are Claire McIntyre who is the Geographical Information Systems (GIS) Officer with Fingal County Council and Colin (Rusty) Broderick who works with Eirgrid. Both are exceptional practitioners in their field.
The AIT team will stay for two weeks but we will stay for an extra week because we are carrying out capacity building in several areas of spatial planning. Claire will specifically look after the GIS element of training while Colin and I will look after updating the Maseru City Development Plan and also work on a Local Area Plan with planners from Maseru City Council, Urban District Councils and the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftainship.
Our journey to Africa commenced on the 1st of February last when we flew from Dublin Airport, on to Heathrow Airport and on further to Johannesburg in the Republic of South Africa where we collected our ‘Bakkie’ and made the six hour drive on to Maseru in Lesotho where we are currently based. After travelling for nearly 15 hours, the drive to Maseru was a challenge to say the least. Thankfully Colin was riding shotgun and shared the driving duties with me. We also had travelling companions in the shape of two RCSI students, Ankit and Yasin. The drive was tough but the banter was mighty! Claire travelled in another Bakkie with Brian, Andy and Andrea and reported a similar level of ‘Craic’ being the order of the day in her vehicle.
What a drive!! There was some spectacular scenery on the journey as we made our way from Johannesburg to Maseru. I even saw an Ostrich in a field along the way (others saw it too so I wasn’t hallucinating due to exhaustion!). I never realised how big those things were until I saw one in the flesh. It was huge!
We drove in convoy to Maseru and I must say when we were on the open road, it looked spectacular. All the vehicles together looked like a giant white snake on the road. We stopped along the way to refuel both ourselves and the Bakkies. That was when Colin took over the driving. I have to say, I was relieved because I was feeling the tiredness of the long flight. A bit further on I started to get a bit of a rumble in my tummy and wondered if it was the salad I had when we stopped for a break. The rumble turned into a cramp and pretty soon I was warning my travel companions of my...eh...difficulties. It was handy to be in the company of two of the RCSI’s top students at that point because they were adept at finding a location on the roadside where I could ‘deal’ with my cramped tummy. Now I’m not a shy individual under normal circumstances but when you have a convoy of people pulling in on the side of the road to see what the reason is behind one of the vehicles coming to a halt, I think anyone can be forgiven for being a touch embarrassed by the whole situation. I just want to take this opportunity to thank Claire, Rusty and the others for shouting some encouragement whilst I squatted behind a tree on the South African roadside, petrified that some grass snake or Cobra would come along to check out what all the fuss was about. Thanks guys, I’d do the same for you!!! Anyway, I survived and it seemed the tummy upset wasn’t anything serious, merely the tiredness catching up with me. Moving on swiftly...
We arrived in Maseru in the evening after coming through an uneventful border crossing from RSA into Lesotho. It was a fantastic welcome. We got an escort from the border to our hotel from the Fire Brigade and the Police. There were people on the streets cheering and waving us through. I’m not even sure they knew what was going on but they were joining in the excitement generated by the emergency service sirens and the horns beeping. That was on Saturday, 2nd of February.
On Sunday morning we were heading to the local shopping centre to get some supplies to bring back to the hotel, water and fruit etc. However, our shopping trip was put on hold when a civil servant arrived at our hotel. The woman was the Senior Physical Planner from the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftainship and she wanted to speak to us about our visit. She was a very nice lady and we spoke to her about our draft programme. When we finished discussing our plans, she informed us that the Deputy Prime Minister of Lesotho, the Honourable Mothetjoa Metsing who is also the Minister for Local Government, Chieftainship and Parliamentary Affairs wanted to see us at his Government office the following morning. We were glad of the opportunity to meet him and also happy with the fact that the senior minister responsible for planning in Lesotho was giving us an audience.
We were collected the following morning by the Town Clerk who was going to bring us to the Ministerial building first and then on to see our counterparts in the Maseru City Council building. I should say at this point that the Town Clerk in Maseru is more like the CEO of the council and is a woman who deals with all the important matters associated with running a busy city like Maseru. We went to the government buildings and headed to the office of the Minister. There was also a delegation from the Malawi Government visiting at the same time so we had to wait a short while to get in to see the Minister. When we got into the Minister’s office there was a film crew from the local news channel waiting to cover our visit, which was unexpected but very positive nonetheless. The minister was a very welcoming man and made us feel right at home. We started off with a light-hearted joke about one of our colleague’s sunglasses, which broke the ice. He apologised that he could not spend much time with us as he had been informed at short notice that he was required to travel to the Republic of South Africa. However, he instructed his staff to look after us and ensure that we got any support we required to carry out our work in Maseru. He also mentioned that he would arrange for us to have dinner with him next week. I thought that was a nice gesture. We left and headed to the Maseru City Council office. We met with the Director of Planning, an extremely helpful woman who introduced us to her staff, some of whom will be attending out training workshops.
We then travelled to the College of Education where we met with the Assistant Rector of Administration who happens to be from Cork!!! Anne has been an invaluable connection for us. She has helped us with obtaining training facilities on the college campus and arranged for us to feed the participants in the college canteen, not to mention saving our skin with DHL who wanted 2,500 Maloti (local currency) for the training manuals we sent down. Thankfully as the manuals were training/educational materials, we got an exemption from the import duty. Anne did all of the form filling and submission to the local customs office for us, which was a great help.
The College of Education is a teacher training college and Anne is trying to bring forward initiatives that the student teachers will hopefully implement in their schools when they receive placement following graduation. One of those initiatives is based on the An Taisce Green Schools programme. I had brought some manuals with me for Anne to use when putting the committee together. Claire, Colin and I were invited to the college to meet with representatives from the EU who will hopefully fund a ‘Green Week’ in the college during March. It will be kicked off on St Patrick’s Day, which I think is a very appropriate date to start the programme! There will be drama, poetry and all participants will be required to wear a green item of clothing on the day. The themes of the week will be on recycling and energy conservation. Best of luck with it guys.
We spent most of the week setting up the computers in the lab on the college campus. The college could do with upgrading the computers and software but money is so tight that it may be a long time before they get any upgrade at all. Nevertheless, we are very thankful that the college is allowing us to carry out our workshops there. Also it was very helpful that Esri Ireland supported us in setting up the labs for the GIS training by sending us the required licences we needed for the training. In fairness, we couldn’t have carried out any training workshops without Esri’s input so a huge thanks to all involved there.
Yesterday we took time out to visit a school building project in Hlalle just outside Maseru in the mountains. It was scorching hot and I have to say, the guys working on that site are heroes. There were chippies and block layers working away and not a bother on them. Meanwhile a group of women from AIT were painting some of the classrooms that had been finished. Wow folks, these people are just phenomenal, that’s all I can say. The hard work they put in is exceptional and we were very impressed with what they were doing. There were a few sensitive necks and shoulders later that evening I’d say, judging by the amount of pink Irish skin on some of the folks there. The heat from the Sun was intense and I just don’t know how they were still ploughing ahead full throttle on the building works. We take our hats off to you folks.
Finally, we had a draft programme initially but didn’t want to set anything in stone until we met with our planning counter parts in Maseru. Following a meeting with the representatives from the ministry and the council on Thursday last, we have it pretty much finalised and agreed now. We are now working to prepare all of the training material we need for the coming week. We’ve spent most of the week setting up our programme and putting the necessary teaching material in place. As I write this Claire is pulling together her presentation for her classes which start tomorrow, Monday 11th of February. Colin has his ‘Guide to making Local Area Plans’ ready (so he gets to see the Rugby in a local hotel!) and I am continuing with my ‘Planning Enforcement’ and ‘Public Consultation Process’ presentations. I have another three to finalise in the coming week which shouldn’t be a problem. Next week should be interesting to say the least!!!
Maseru Border Crossing got a little bit busier than normal when we arrived
The Fingal Team meeting with the Deputy Prime Minister of Lesotho
Claire 'The Bear' McIntyre preparing for her GIS training workshops
Myself and Colin 'Rusty' Broderick ponder the Maseru City Development Plan
Maseru City Council Offices...pretty obvious really...
Roisin, Brian, Damo, Anne, Andy & Karen from Action Ireland taking a break
Action Ireland crew working on the school in intense heat - Heroes all!
Not a bad working environment ;0)