Expedition logistics – our “logs” volunteers explain all

16th November 2014

tins of food

On the driveway, a red-headed young man can be seen counting out hessian sacks, tents, bowls, tools and jerry cans, whilst a female voice with a French accent rings out across the courtyard, “Give me 32 porridge and 6 tin cheese!”

This is the world of “logs” (logistics) and in this blog, our two volunteer logistics co-ordinators – Steph and Arthur – give us an insight into what this vital field-base position entails. It's a massive undertaking. They are responsible, alongside our Tanzanian staff, for ensuring that all 168 volunteers have sufficient food, shelter, the means to obtain safe water and the equipment to communicate with field base and carry out their projects.

Let’s hear from Steph and Arthur about what it’s like…

(All photos taken by Clare)

Steph

There are three main parts to logs - food, communications kits and equipment. We split this up so Arthur looks after the equipment side and I cover the food and communications.

For the food, first of all I check what stock we have already. Using excel spreadsheets, I work out what each of the teams will need for the next expedition phase and prepare a food order. This covers everything – porridge and puritabs; sugar, sweetcorn, sardines and scourers; crackers, chickpeas and many other items. Just to give you an idea of the scale, during this expedition I ordered 1915 packets of biscuits, 1377 tins of porridge and 5400 puritabs.

tins of food

We use local suppliers and I meet with them to discuss any requirements or to resolve issues, for example if there is a shortage of supply of porridge. I’m always looking for the best price as we want to make sure that we keep within the tight budget. When the food is delivered, it’s my responsibility to check it against our order before putting it away in the food store.

Steph checks a food delivery

I then divide the stock into sections, for the different groups, ready to give out at the start of each phase. Most of the groups receive basic, initial supplies as they can buy fresh food at their local village markets.

I’m also responsible for the communications kits. The most important part of this is checking through each box against the lists of requirements, to make sure everyone has what they need, and making sure it is all working. The kits include mobile phones, satellite phones, GPS devices, solar power chargers, power gorilla batteries, “flash cards” (which are prompts for the group to use in different situations), and the right wires and tips to connect everything.

Steph sorting comms kit

Part of my work is at a computer in the office, working on the excel spreadsheets for group numbers and food orders.  I have been reviewing some of these spreadsheets and I am enjoying making improvements which will help the logs teams in the future.

In the logs team, sometimes it is extremely busy and other times much less so. During the quiet times, I have really enjoyed going out to meet the project teams. I took a food drop out to the trekking group half way through their journey, and it was brilliant spending the night at the Maasai camp and experiencing some of their unique culture. I’m just heading out to spend just over a week with our team in Gongoni and I’ll be sleeping in a homestay which I am looking forward to very much.

Steph in the food store with porridge

What I love about my role is that it is so varied. I enjoy the parts of my role where I am working autonomously, as well as when I work with the Tanzanian members of staff who are very efficient and friendly. Every day is different, but nearly always includes a good workout moving tins and boxes and getting dirty! At first I found the role challenging as I’d never done anything like this before. I have really developed my planning and organising skills. I get a lot of satisfaction when I hand over the correct food to the groups, knowing that I have done my part to make the expedition a success.”

Arthur

"My role is equipping everyone with enough working kit to be able to carry out their various projects, whether that be tents for camping, tools for digging and plastering or domestic kit such as cooking equipment and utensils.

At the beginning of the expedition, we use templates showing the equipment needs of the various types of projects, prepared by previous "logs" teams. I've been developing these lists during the expedition, using feedback from our project managers on site.

Arthur working at computer

Using the templates, I collect together all the equipment and lay it out for the teams to take and transport to their sites.

Arthur with the prepared logs kit

One of the parts of my role is to test the kit - checking water filters are working and tents are undamaged. When the groups come back for change-over, it's my job to fix, get fixed or replace any damaged equipment. It's a brilliant feeling when change-over goes smoothly, and within one or two days, any problems with kit has been sorted and everyone is ready to go out again on their next phase.

Arthur mending water filter

New kit is bought here in Morogoro. Jovin and Lazaro, the Tanzanian Logs Interns, help me in many ways. They know the town's hardware shops and "fundi" (skilled workers) such as the "canvas man", and so help to ensure we always get the best price possible. Without Jovin and Lazaro it would be a far more difficult job.

During this expedition, I also went out as volunteer manager for two weeks with one of the trek groups. It's one of the coolest ways to see a country - to see places you wouldn't see as a tourist. But equally as inspiring is the venturers' personal development which is incredible in such a short time.

I really enjoy my job. I'm constantly busy, and although I've had some experience of logistics before, I relish the huge amount of responsibility I have here with the Raleigh expedition. I enjoy the problem-solving aspects the most - coming up with solutions if kit on site is lost, breaks or seems unusable.

Fixing tents

The fact I'm working in Tanzania, behind the scenes of a great charity, is really cool. I get a massive sense of achievement knowing that I've successfully kitted everyone out and we can say,"We did it!" 

Interested in volunteering as a logistics co-ordinator?

Find out more