A sea of challenge

Preparations are underway for a fund-raising expedition that will hike Mount kilimanjaro to support the Flying Angel, a ship that provides basic services for seafarers.

The Flying Angel has seen 33,904 seafarers make use of its amenities since it launched three years ago.
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A diverse group of artists converged on the Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre (Ductac) on Tuesday night for Bring Your Own Art, an interactive art event that saw local artists creating one-off pieces for sale. Chrissie Jenkins, Danesh Mohiuddin, Carrie Wareham and The Brown Monkeys doodled at a line of tables, while Tiffany Schultz transformed a crude bundle of wire into a sleek preying mantis. Over in the corner, a huge clay pot was being smoothed into recognisable form by Toma Gabor and Kavya Prasad. All are being sold to raise money for the Angel Appeal Kilimanjaro Challenge - a group of 16 people who will be taking part in a six-day ascent of Africa's highest peak, starting on Aug 7.

The Kilimanjaro Challenge is the biggest fundraiser so far for the Angel Appeal, which operates the Flying Angel, a 27-metre support boat that provides the crews of ships anchored off the UAE's east coast with "rest and recreation" under the umbrella of the international charity Mission to Seafarers. The group is made up of 10 different nationalities, aged between 19 to 50. In order to take part, each have had to raise Dh20,000, two thirds of which will go to charity (the remaining money will help cover the cost of the trip).

"Obviously you have to be very physically fit," says Alexi Trenouth, who works for the Angel Appeal and will be taking part in the climb, which starts on Aug 7. "But it's also very draining mentally because of the problem of altitude sickness." Training in the form of twice-weekly beach boot camps and a training trek up Jebel Qihwi in Dibba has meant the group are as prepared as possible. And now their attention has shifted to ensuring they meet their fund-raising target.

At the weekend, they are hosting a charity football tournament at Rashid School in Dubai. Previously, they raised Dh60,000 from Jungle Fever, a ball that was hosted at the Monarch Hotel in May. "The ball targeted the younger generation," says Inga Stevens, a co-organiser who will also be taking part in the climb, "because normally, a lot of charity work here is done by slightly older people." As well as raising money, participating in the Kilimanjaro Challenge will, says Trenouth, help spread word of the work of the Flying Angel. "It's fantastic because you've got 16 people who all go out into their social networks and tell people about it."

That work includes providing ships' crews with access to phones and the internet, an on-board shop from which they can stock up on snacks, trinkets and toiletries, and a book and DVD library. "There's nothing like it anywhere else in the world," says Trenouth, who started working for the charity eight months ago. "Fujairah is the second biggest anchorage in the world and once you're out there, it's so desolate."

Around 10,500 ships carrying around 200,000 seafarers drop anchor there every year. Many of them wait for up to eight weeks before moving on. "These guys are so appreciative of being able to come on board," she says. "What they appreciate is the stuff that you or I wouldn't even think about." Particularly popular, she says, are suitcases and trinkets. "They come to the UAE but they can't come ashore. They still want to buy their families a present, though, to show where they've been. We have these crystal statues of the Burj which sell like hot cakes."

More importantly, it gives them a chance, after many months at sea, to contact their families. "Some of the ships have internet on board," says Trenouth, "but it's so expensive to use because they rely on satellites, that only the captain can really use it." Instead, the Flying Angel sells special sim cards that can be used all over the world at a flat rate of 30 cents a minute. They can also get mental sustenance from the on-board library of books, magazines and DVDs. "We're doing a big drive at the moment to collect these," she says. "Especially ones in Tagalog, Hindi and Urdu because those are the languages of most of the people there and we usually only have ones in English." Anything is welcome, though, she says, because any surplus gets sold to raise money.

The Flying Angel attends to up to five vessels a day. "There are always many requests," says the Indonesian captain, Chris Salindeho, "but sadly I cannot visit them all. My mission trips only operate during daylight hours because otherwise it is dangerous when we transfer people on and off." The charity was created in 2007 by Reverend Stephen Miller, the director of the mission to seafarers in Dubai, who noticed it was becoming increasingly difficult to communicate with freight crews. "Traditionally, seafarers would arrive at a place, stop, come ashore, have a couple of days's shore leave and then get back on board," says Trenouth. "But that's just not the case anymore."

Instead, improved technology has sped up the offloading system, and the prohibitive cost and paperwork involved in getting crews ashore mean that many seafarers spend months at sea without touching land. "Stephen saw that although we had the facilities to help them on land," says Trenouth, "it wasn't working to its full capacity because we couldn't see the majority of seafarers. If they can't get to us, e-mail or call us, how are we going to know what they're doing?" The Flying Angel was launched in February 2007. To date, 33,904 seafarers have been aboard.

"It's an expensive thing to run," says Trenouth. "It costs about $750 (Dh2,764) a day with crew, fuel and port duties." The Angel Appeal receives funding from a number of corporate sponsors, as well as the Al Maktoum Foundation. The rest, however, comes from fund-raising activities. Following their African adventure, the Angel Appeal has a busy schedule stretching into next year. "We have a charity barbecue coming up," says Trenouth, "and we do a charity carol service around Christmas time. Then we've got to start finding teams for the Ras Al Khaimah half marathon." Their biggest event in terms of attendance, however, is the annual high tea, held at the British ambassador's residence in Abu Dhabi in February, where up to 450 guests sip tea in the embassy gardens. This year they raised Dh150,000.

The appeal received an unexpected windfall at the end of last year, when the Queen Elizabeth 2, a retired ocean liner now owned by Nakheel, docked in Dubai. "We were given loads of stuff," says Trenouth, "including old books from the crew library with QE2 stamps, plastic wallets that the waiter puts the bill in, staff uniforms, broken teapots and things." Some of it has already been sold to raise funds, but plenty remains. Trenouth believes that with so much interest in the legacy of the QE2, there is a market for such items, and intends to auction them on eBay.

There are also plans afoot for more challenges like Kilimanjaro, says Trenouth, including Machu Picchu next year. Because of the economic downturn, however, Trenouth has shifted her focus to awareness rather than funds. "We're not going to raise any big money until you get a higher level of awareness throughout the community," she says. But she has noticed an increasing number of people wanting to donate their time and unwanted belongings. "Books, DVDs - we've had an overwhelming response to that. And we've got a lot of people who are unemployed who want to help."

Inga Stevens, who works in PR, got involved with the Kilimanjaro Challenge because of her friendship with Trenouth. She has since been on board the Flying Angel to see where the money they raise will be going. "It was such a great day out to see these guys coming on board and to see how important it was to them," she says. "Even to talk to us and get some different company. It's the first time I've done something like this, but I don't think it will be the last."

Need, she says, is not always manifested in obvious ways. "They're not starving, but sometimes you have to look at people who don't immediately seem in need of help. Often, they're the ones that actually do." Stevens sees her contribution partly as a way of repaying a debt. "Ninety-nine point three per cent of everything we consume in the UAE comes through the ports," she says. "So without the seafarers we wouldn't have much. They sacrifice a lot for us if you think about it."

The Angel Appeal Kilimanjaro Challenge will take place from Aug 7-14. For more information on the Flying Angel or about how to donate, go to www.angelappeal.com.