By Clive Huntbach - 5th July 2006 3:06pm
In the Early hours of Wednesday 24th May, having packed our lorry with all the aid collected, we set off for Dover where we had arranged to meet other members for the convoy to Belarus. There were four Lorries taking part on this trip, including people from Cheshire, Derbyshire & Wales.
We caught the ferry and had a rather rough crossing. This did not, however, stop us being tempted to the food on offer in the "Truckers café". Those of us who have been before know that this is a good opportunity for good food before the first long driving stint which takes us across France, Belgium, and Holland and well into Germany. Once on the other side we made good time although the weather was not being very kind to us with heavy rain.
We pulled in for the night after a full day's driving in a lorry park & services. These were first class and had the luxury of showers (something you learn to really appreciate on these trips).
Thursday saw us continue our journey across Germany and into Poland. Once in Poland the travelling becomes much slower, gone are the German autobahns and we are now travelling mostly on ordinary roads. The further we get into Poland the worse the condition of the roads becomes, although I am pleasantly surprised at the amount of work that has been done since last Spring. The roads are badly "tramlined", which makes hard work of driving the lorries as well as the Polish driving etiquette of giving way to traffic coming in the opposite direction. Cars overtaking three abreast are not unknown. We get caught in a major traffic jam and move no more than 2 km in 2 hours so Joan & Ann study the map and off we go on a scenic route having no idea what the jam was about. This was successful and we were soon back on track for the border just running late.
We reach the Polish border in the early evening and there is a particularly long queue of lorries waiting to cross. So, with a deep breath, we set off down the outside of them hoping nothing will come the other way. The queue was nearly 2 miles long. But as humanitarian aid we are allowed to pass and are let in at the front. From this point we start the collection of stamps and paperwork which has to be seen to be believed. We clear the Polish border and then into Customs. As we arrive they close for a shift change so we just park up and try to get some sleep in the lorry. It only took us eleven hours to clear the borders and customs this year!
Once clear and in Belarus we are on our way. The main road network is not too bad and is dual carriageway. We travel on to near Minsk (the capital city) before we pull over for a "comfort break". Mick finds they have a water leak on their lorry, but we're prepared with a radweld and they're away again. We split from the convoy going to our various destinations.
The lorries are going into Minsk, Vitibsk, Locha, Usda and Stalbsey. We travel down to Locha where we are to stay for the weekend. We stayed in the school at Locha where we were well looked after by the head teacher, the local doctor and members of the social services team. We had an opportunity to look round the Hospital and saw equipment previously delivered. We measured up the windows to check the ones we had brought for them fitted. It was arranged that these be fitted during our stay. They were good enough to be made to fit.
The Hospital is very small and dark. The equipment very dated. Through an interpreter the Doctor explains the concerns he has and shows his gratitude for what we have brought. This time, besides the windows we have brought a variety of dental equipment, something much needed.
The schools have now finished for summer and we have the building to ourselves. It is in a poor state of repair with a leaking roof. The toilets are in very poor condition and the classrooms very dated.
It was while in Locha we found that we had a major problem with our lorry. The prop shaft bearing had gone, breakdown cover does not stretch to Belarus and very few spares are in supply. So under the lorry we went and the prop shaft was removed. With much appreciated help from our Belarusian friends, we managed to locate the right part and this only took two days! The prop shaft was re fitted complete with new parts in record time and a suspect tyre was also changed.
On Monday we set off for "Local Customs "where the lorries are again checked and more paperwork completed. This takes up most of the day and it is evening before we are able to deliver goods to the social centre. We cannot give out any goods until we have this clearance. The social centre supports families in need in the area.
Tuesday we move on and stay at another local school. We visit the children's centre near Usda where we deliver, amongst other things, a variety of toys (and of course chocolate & sweets). We spend time at the centre playing with the children and their "new toys" which can only be described as like Christmas. We learn of some of the issues of the children.
Tuesday night is our last night in Belarus and we are treated to a good meal at the school and, of course, are expected to sample the Vodka! The main staple diet consists of Potatoes and meat. Desserts are not the norm and milk not readily available.
Wednesday sees us setting off towards home. We are to call at the "Summer House" on the way to drop off some goods. This is part of the hospice in Minsk and is set up in a non-contaminated area for summer respite care. It has been funded and equipped by ours and other charities. Lunch time sees us on the road back to customs. Steve & Michael roll onto the weighbridge and then — no gears. We end up pushing the lorry across Customs before again crawling underneath. And, yes, it's raining again. The gear linkage has dropped off. With some jiggling, a spanner & good hammer all is well again!
Seven hours to get through this time, taking us late into the night. We drive over into Poland till we find somewhere to "wheels down for what's left of the night". Thursday and Friday, we just keep on going and, apart from Charlie's CB and electrics giving us some fun, we have a relatively good journey other than coming across two accidents and major traffic jams round Antwerp (a common occurrence). At this point we are all very tired and looking forward to getting home. We have a good ferry crossing and again a much looked forward to meal. We can also have a shower! Once on home soil we convoy to Bristol where we hired the lorries. We say our goodbyes and the transport kindly supplied waits to take us home. We arrive back Saturday evening.
Another successful mission completed, all feeling tired, happy and satisfied.
Now to begin planning & fundraising for the next trip!
Many thanks for all your support this year
Clive, Andrew & Alan
The convoy goes out twice a year in spring and autumn and it costs in the region of £3,000 to take a lorry including hire, fuel, ferry and tolls.
If you would like to help in any way from fundraising, packing collecting or even joining a convoy, please contact either myself or Joan Newton for further information. We are also always desperately short of good dry storage if you can help.
Thursday 2nd Jul
Methodist Meeting Rooms