Believed to be the oldest ship still afloat in Africa, the 124.6 ft long motor ship Chauncy Maples is to be renovated as a floating clinic to bring primary health care to half a million of the world’s poorest people living around Lake Malawi. The necessary funds are now being raised by the Oxford-based Chauncy Maples Malawi Trust with considerable support from Thomas Miller, a London-based specialist insurance company, which has chosen to make the renovation of Chauncy Maples the focal point of its 125th anniversary celebrations.
The Trust needs to raise up to $3m in order for the planned refit to be completed within a 12 month time frame. Thomas Miller is contributing $375,000 from its own resources and has already raised a similar amount from its friends, employees and business associates even before the official launch of its appeal on 17 June. The Government of Malawi is also expected to make a substantial contribution towards the local labor costs.
Half a million people living along the coastline of Lake Malawi, which is 560km long and 75km at its widest point, have neither access to health care nor medical protection from malaria, tuberculosis, dysentery and HIV-Aids. Malawians seeking medical attention currently paddle dugout canoes up to 80km to reach medical aid, risking fatal attacks by hippos and crocodiles.
Chauncy Maples was built in Glasgow in 1898 for British missionaries working in Central Africa and was named after the Bishop of Nyasaland who drowned in a storm on Lake Malawi. Shipped to Mozambique in 3,481 small parts plus an 11 ton boiler mounted on wheels, the vessel components were subsequently moved by river and then overland, local tribesmen carrying and dragging them the final 100 miles to the lakeside for assembly.
The two year rebuild was well documented and photographed. Since then, Chauncy Maples has served as a gunboat, a trawler and even a refuge from Arab slave traders. Until recently, she has been administering to the needs of the local population as a bar, a far cry from what is now envisaged for her future.
According to Thomas Miller director, Mark Holford, the trust is not only seeking financial contributions:
“Several potential donors have already come forward to ask whether they can offer more practical support by way of equipment or services. We are already in detailed discussions with a major manufacturer of diesel engines who we hope will offer us a new main engine on favourable terms.”
Currently Chauncy Maples is fitted with a Crossley diesel engine that itself replaced the former steam plant in1967. The original steam machinery is now in a museum in Malawi while the last boiler languishes in shallow water at the side of the lake. Originally Chauncy Maples was fired using local timber.
Thomas Miller’s Chairman, Hugo Wynn-Williams, explained the background to the company’s decision to support the Chauncy Maples project:
“In former days, organizations would celebrate major anniversaries with lavish parties and dinners but even before we all felt the full impact of the current global recession, there was a growing feeling amongst the more forward-thinking companies that it would be more appropriate to devote time and resources to projects that benefit the community.
“In Thomas Miller’s case, we were looking for a project that reflected not only our global reach and our maritime heritage but one that would appeal too to our UK clients such as members of the legal profession, patent agents, housing associations and pension fund trustees. The Chauncy Maples project ticked both boxes – and a host more.”
Chauncy Maples is owned by the Government of Malawi and Malawi State and President Ngwasi Dr Bingu Wa Mutharika has announced his full support for this unique undertaking in the fifth poorest country in the world.
Patrick Zimpita, Director of Planning, Ministry of Health, Malawi, believes that the Chauncy Maples project is important because it fits into the Government’s key objective to ensure access and availability of health services to all Malawians, regardless of income, status or geographical position:
“The people who live on the lake shores have many socio-economic problems. Cholera is common in the wet season because the shallow wells become contaminated with sewage. These communities along the lake have no infrastructure and large numbers of people are still severely challenged for health care.
“Chauncy Maples will go a long way in improving the lives of these people. Rainy season is October to March during which there is a high prevalence of malaria. Immunization coverage is very low because it is expensive, or even impossible, for a mother to take her children to the nearest clinic. It might be only a mile away but with a mountain on one side, and the deep and stormy lake on the other, it’s not a simple journey.
“This is a Golden project. The demand for this service is huge - it will be several decades before roads will reach these sea-locked villages.”
Qualified local marine engineers, supported by a number of apprentices, will renovate Chauncy Maples. With support from international donors, the floating clinic should be fully operational in one year.
Janie Hampton, the Director of the Chauncy Maples Malawi Trust, is confident of success:
“Sailing between the small village communities scattered around the lake, Chauncy Maples will bring free treatment for common diseases, dentistry, maternity care, immunisation for babies, family planning and information on safe sex. Presently, Malawi citizens have a life expectancy of just 36 years; with only one doctor for every 52,000 people, the infant death rate is 111 per 1,000 births - 20 times worse than Europe. We are certain that the team of nurses that will be living and working aboard Chauncy Maples will reduce mortality rates of both adults and children.”
Despite their country’s acute poverty, Malawians are slowly improving economic conditions by good management of minimal resources. Poor health is still a millstone to progress. The Chauncy Maples project on Lake Malawi combines health service delivery; preservation of Africa’s marine heritage and training for local apprentices and will be a catalyst for both national pride and tourism.