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World Sikh Fire Officer Helps Train Tanzania’s Firefighters


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
By Aghia Pal Singh Ghuman

For the last four years, members from the West Midlands Fire Service International Search and Rescue team (ISAR) have visited Tanzania on the east coast of Africa to train firefighters in vital life-saving techniques on behalf of “Knight Support”, the primary medical, fire and rescue service provider in the city of Dar es Salaam.

During this time, links were also forged with Joy Paxton of the Salvation Army and over the last two years the team have identified 3 buildings at the Matumaini orphanage that needed to be refurbished\repaired and brought back into use.

Matumaini orphanage is primarily a boarding school for 195 children with physically disabilities, situated on a 12-acre site off Kilwa road in Dar-es-Salaam. One of the aims of the school, opened in 1967 is to educate, encourage and mobilise the children to a better way of living without viewing their disability as a hindrance and to experiencing a normal life. The orphanage also accepts and provides a safe haven for albino children who otherwise are killed by witch doctors who propagate the myth that killing and keeping albino body parts bring luck and prosperity to any household in which it is kept.

After an initial meeting to discuss the feasibility of undertaking such a project, every single member of the team declared their eagerness to be involved in making the dreams of Joy Paxton of the Salvation Army in Tanzania a reality. It was agreed that the teams focus for the 2010 deployment was to continue to gather wheelchairs and prosthetic limbs but also to raise money and equipment to refurbish one of the classrooms and convert this into an IT training room.

Chief Fire Officer, Vij Randeniya has always supported the efforts of the UK-ISAR team and is proud to support the West Midlands Fire Service on the International stage and as such took the lead by donating 12 computers from a recent IT refresh for this worthwhile project.

Over the coming months fundraising commenced and team members began to plan the different aspects of the work required and in May 2010, an ISO container was sent out to Tanzania containing wheelchairs, prosthetic limbs, Breathing Apparatus sets, Electrical equipment and other building material and tools in readiness for the arrival of the ISAR team in September 2010.

Once in Tanzania, over a 2 week period, the team worked exceptionally hard, getting up at 6am, rotating between training the Tanzanian Firefighters and refurbishment work at the orphanage.

The refurbishment commenced with completely stripping, dusting, cleaning the building to see the true extent of the work required. The roof was repaired after overhead branches were removed to stop them causing further damage. All of the mosquito netting around the building was replaced after the grills on the window and doors were repainted.

After plants were trimmed around the building, a new concrete path was laid to the building along with a ramp to facilitate wheelchair access.

Initially, electrical sockets were going to be added to accommodate the computers but on discovering that there was no earthing to the building, burnt wiring, live sockets, bare wires it was quickly decided to completely rewire and install new electrical sockets along with a new distribution board.

Then on Monday of the second week, we received the sad news that after we had left for the evening, the finance office was set on fire using kerosene. It was only due to the excellent work of the responding Knight Support fire crews who used their training to contain the fire and prevented it from spreading to the kitchen and dining area which would have had a disastrous affect for the orphanage’s children.

Unfortunately the computers in the offices were beyond repair and no data was recoverable. Two of the West Midland Fire Service computers were quickly set-up and made available. We continued our work and after several coats of paint and the completion of a new computer network, the computers were laid out on donated desks so that they were also accessible by wheel chair users.

On the day of the handover, the children were carrying on with their day-to-day work and the compound was pretty quiet. After lunch, Fire crews from Knight Support arrived at the orphanage with their sirens on and as they slowly traversed the route from the gate to the refurbished building, children came out of the woodwork, some hobbling, some on wheelchairs, others having their wheelchairs pushed by other disabled children and like the Pied Piper of Hamelin followed the Fire Engine.

Once the opening ceremony was over, the children were allowed into the new computer classroom, after dodging the stampede of kids we had great fun in showing them how to listen to music, playing funny video’s and typing their names on the computer. As Eddie Allsop said “watching a child with no legs, in a wheelchair and with no hands typing her name on the computer unaided and then seeing her smile said it all”. That was all the thanks that we needed and all the work and effort we had put in became a distant memory, was it worth it to see that smile, Yes!

Outside, it was like an open air party, children irrespective of their disability were laughing and enjoying themselves playing with the UK ISAR team, staff from Knight Support (medical and Fire) and the orphanage. Watching children with no legs on wheelchairs dancing, children with disfigured faces laughing was amazing and more importantly, we only saw them as normal children, not children with disabilities.

It was an emotional trip, team members who went over, consisting of Sean Moore (Team Leader), Eddie Allsop, Dave Burns, Dean Yates, Jim Mcparland, John Lindford, Pete Sheppard & Aghia Pal would like to thank everybody at Knight Support, Knight support staff and Fire Crews, local people, businesses in Tanzania and the U.K. who supported us with the work we are doing to improve the facilities at the orphanage, the adopted charity of the UK ISAR team.

We would also like to thank The Emirates Airline Foundation who sponsored the trip by providing 8 return flights to Dar es Salaam. The foundation’s aim is to help disadvantaged children realise their full potential by providing them with the basics, which most of us take for granted such as food, medicine, housing and education.

This fits well into the name of the orphanage, Matumaini, Matumaini is translated into ‘The Place of Hope’ and we hope that we have all done our bit in helping Joy Paxton and everybody at the orphanage in making this dream a reality for the children.



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