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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Just a day on the Africa Mercy and lives changed as we serve!

Thanks to Moody Radio for this short story from Prime Time America. Just click on this link to listen to the short story that they recorded while on the ship. A look at a day on the Africa Mercy. Three patients and three lives changed incredibly. Because God loves us first...we serve and love these special people!

A few months ago, some folks came from Moody Radio to the M/V Africa Mercy. They came to see what we do and how we do it here in Monrovia, Liberia. We enjoyed their visit and hope their experiences here were good. Today our interim CEO, Sam Smith, shared a radio broadcast with us that they made while they were here visiting the ship. They tried to capture in sound the experience of being here, what you see, what you hear, and what you feel. This is very difficult to do using sound or even video.

There is no experience like actually being here and interacting with the various patients, crew and people that you meet every single day here on the ship and in Liberia. We appreciate that they took the time, effort and expense to come and see for themselves what God is doing with this incredible tool, the M/V Africa Mercy and it's crew. We also commend them for trying to capture it through sound in this radio program, Prime Time America. Click on this to hear: Prime Time America aired June 25, 2008. Then click on Listen Now.

We are very privileged to be here and serving on the M/V Africa Mercy and hope that by listening to the radio show, you too will experience a little of life here in Liberia. Thank you to all who support us with prayers, encouragement, by email and snail mail and by generous financial donations. You are a blessing to us!


Saturday, July 19, 2008

Good News in Liberia!

Today as we were catching up on emails and news.... the following three articles were written and published yesterday. Three articles showing how things are changing here in Liberia for the better! We are so encouraged as we are here and able to witness changes that are making an improvement for life here in Liberia! So...we wanted to share them with you...

Tour of U.S. Judicial System Leads Liberian Chief Justice to New York

July 18, 2008 4:37 PM
Posted by Jonathan Thrope

"One thing I recognized over the past few years is that there are great opportunities for international pro bono. We don't think of that when we first think of pro bono," said Judge George Daniels of the Federal District Court in Manhattan last night at the New York Bar Association. "The problems are so serious; you recognize it doesn't take a lot to make a difference."

Example number one for Daniels would likely be Liberia, which was the topic of discussion last night at a New York Bar reception, as the national "study tour" of Johnnie Lewis, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia, neared its finale.
Photo to right: Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia, His Honor Johnnie N. Lewis

Lewis spent the previous two weeks traversing the country's judicial system, soaking in whatever lessons he can bring back home. Among other places, he, and four others from Liberia, visited the Supreme Court, the World Bank, and the Federal Judicial Center in Washington D.C..
They sat in on oral arguments in the 7th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals in Chicago; observed proceedings in New York’s Criminal Court, and today they visited New York's Supreme Court.
Lewis faces a daunting task back home. "I took over a judiciary in my country which, as a result of Civil War, was not what you would call a judiciary," the soft-spoken judge said. "The entire system was broken down."

The top priority for Lewis--appointed Liberia's top judge in 2006 following 14 years of civil war--has been to rebuild whatever judicial infrastructure remains in his country. At times, Lewis sounded like a part-time contractor, as he described the many renovations planned for or completed on courthouses throughout the country. The biggest lesson he will take back home from this trip is case management, he said. For example, the United States docket system, and how it's organized by number, which doesn't exist back in Liberia.

Lack of legal training is another major problem in Liberia, and it is the reason why a contingent of judges, lawyers and professors, sponsored by Shearman & Sterling and White & Case, and under the auspices of Lawyers Without Borders, visited Liberia last July. They ran a trial advocacy training program for close to 40 Liberian prosecutors, public defenders, and magistrate judges, and soon formed a relationship with Lewis. The relationship in turn led to Lewis' U.S. visit.

The event was as much a call for international pro bono work as it was chance to meet and greet with the Liberian contingent. Even before Lewis had arrived, Daniels had captivated a group of Davis Polk summer associates, extolling the virtues and importance of doing pro bono work outside of the U.S. In addition to teaching judges in Liberia on that July Lawyers without Borders trip, Daniels has also participated in a trial advocacy program in Rwanda.

It was apparent that Lewis, who will return home Saturday, serves as a model for Daniels and others who contribute their legal services abroad. "I think the most important thing that impressed me [about Lewis], and continues to impress me, is the fact that he did not waiver...He became chief justice recognizing realistically what problems there were and how serious the task was," said Daniels in his introduction, "but also approaching that task with a degree of optimism and a degree of confidence."

Embracing the Challenge of Good Data Collection in Post-Conflict Liberia


—Reported from New York by Shannon Egan
18 July 2008

LOFA, Liberia — Dr. Geetor Saydee’s legs were tired, his brow drenched in sweat. He’d been walking for several hours through the dusty streets of Lofa, a county in Liberia’s northern region, to assess the status of the public healthcare system in the wake of the country’s 14-year civil war. But he trudged on, knowing how much was at stake.
Picture above: Survey team member Priya Marwah mapping out logistics with Dr. Geetor Saydee and Dr. Basia Tomczyk Photo: UNFPA

Lofa was a focal point during the war, a place where ritual murder, systematic rape and torture were commonplace. Though the war ended in 2003, clean water and sanitation are still scarce and nearly all basic services, including health facilities, were destroyed and remain in shambles.

The country’s Human Development Report recently concluded that as a result of the conflict, only 5 per cent of the country’s health facilities are still standing. In 2003, fewer than 20 government doctors (out of 400 who were trained before the war) remained in the country.

“It was important to evaluate the reproductive health situations of the women here. What we found was that they have a very low social and economic status, which makes them vulnerable to a variety of things,” said Dr. Saydee, a national consultant for UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. Early pregnancy, sexual violence and HIV transmission are among the issues he cited.

In fact, the data he and others collected suggested that “the single most important intervention needed is improved access to and availability of reproductive health services.”

A community effort
The survey was initiated in early 2007, when UNFPA collaborated with the government of Liberia, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), John Snow, Inc. and USAID to assess post-war reproductive health and recommend improvements. One result was the Women’s Reproductive Health in Liberia; the Lofa County Reproductive Health Survey.

Local NGOs know the culture, which helps them address sensitive reproductive health issues. --Meriwether Beatty

At the beginning of the survey process, the 14-member survey team travelled across rutted roads and thick forests to reach the Lofa districts of Voinjama, Foya, Zorzor and Salayea to explain to village leaders the purpose and procedures of the survey, and to obtain their permission to conduct it. Making sure the communities knew what was going on and trusted the process was critical to the survey’s success.

“The local population was very helpful and cooperative throughout the entire process. They provided accommodation for the survey team and directions to the next selected towns and villages. The local population also assisted in the education and sensitization of the survey,” said Basia Tomczyk, a CDC epidemiologist.

Difficult conditions
However, even with the support from the communities, the team faced many obstacles while attempting to collect the data during January and February. Specific communities were identified to make sure that the data were statistically sound, but many of the vicinities proved too difficult to reach; the CDC had to recalculate sample frames in order to ensure data reliability.

“The biggest challenges were bad roads and inaccessible areas. We spent a lot of time walking. If the villages were too far to reach by foot, we’d have to turn around and find another option. After this survey was conducted, I realized that in order to gather good and genuine data, one has to surpass many challenges,” Priya Marwah of UNFPA’s Humanitarian Response Unit recalls.

Photo to the right: Driving on rugged roads into Lofa County. Photo: UNFPA

It had been nearly ten years since a population-based survey had been produced in Liberia. The lack of information meant that calculating sample frames was difficult since some of the villages and roads listed no longer existed. These obstacles are not uncommon when collecting important data in countries transitioning from the emergency phase of a conflict.

The participants of the survey included some 907 women of reproductive age living in 36 locales, which included both urban and rural areas. They were interviewed by women, many of them locally recruited, who had been trained by the CDC on the survey methodologies and who also spoke the local dialect. Survey team members filled out a questionnaire form for each participant, since many of them did not know how to write. Participants were asked about maternal health practices, knowledge and use of contraception, experiences with sexual violence during and after the recent conflict, and knowledge, attitudes and behaviours related to HIV.

Shocking results
The results of the survey were shocking: 96 per cent had lost shelter due to the war, 90.8 per cent had lost their livelihoods, and 72.8 per cent had lost a family member. More than half of all women in Lofa County were victims of at least one incident of sexual violence during the 1999-2003 conflict.

While 90 per cent of these women were physically abused at least once, almost half of the women reported more than four instances in which they were required to have sex for favours. The data also revealed that 61.5 per cent of women experienced violence at the hands of an intimate partner at some point in their lives.

The women fared slightly better in terms of getting obstetric care, mainly because some were able to obtain services from health facilities and doctors in neighbouring countries. But the survey showed huge gaps in care: more than 75 per cent women of women who had recently given birth had experienced complications during pregnancy, and approximately one fifth of them did not seek medical help. Almost half of all recent births (47.5 per cent) occurred at home, without the assistance of a skilled medical attendant. Other reproductive health indicators showed lack of contraceptive use and lack of skilled medical professionals to assist during delivery.

Forgotten and vulnerable
Ironically, access to reproductive health care often declines after a ceasefire because, once peace is forged, humanitarian agencies often stop providing emergency assistance. Yet in post-conflict settings, broken-down infrastructures and a lack of resources often mean that displaced populations are left to try to reconstruct their communities without the necessary supplies and equipment.

“The survey goal,” according the report, “is to highlight the critical need to continue funding and building programmes during a time when traditional humanitarian aid has ceased and development has not yet begun, leaving the population without essential public health services.”

Photo to the right: Members of the survey team from Liberia being trained on how to interview survey participants. Photo: UNFPA

Because this was the first population-based survey conducted in Liberia since 1999, its findings are critical to moving forward. “The data collected will provide adequate information that can be used in planning and implementing the unmet reproductive health needs, and in assisting the vulnerable population toward viability and sustainability,” Ms. Marwah explained.

This is very important in Lofa, where only 14.5 per cent of respondents showed comprehensive knowledge of prevention and transmission of HIV/AIDS. Safe patterns of sexual behaviour are even less common, according to the survey.

Sharing data to support NGOs
In many crisis-affected regions, local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) provide the only reproductive health services in a community. It is NGOs which are likely to remain long after international relief organizations have left. Therefore, building the capacity of local partners is a crucial step in ensuring sustainable and quality reproductive health services to vulnerable populations.

“Local NGOs are well-suited to provide reproductive health services because they are intimately aware of the needs and priorities of the communities. They also know the culture, which helps them address sensitive reproductive health issues in a way that more effectively engages community members.
Local organizations are often at a disadvantage in their ability to solicit funding. Yet it is these organizations which have the most promise of enduring sustainability,” said Meriwether Beatty of John Snow, Inc., a public health research and consulting firm.

The Lofa County initiative linked population-based data directly to JSI’s Reproductive Health Response in Conflict Capacity Building Programme, which supports and encourages national and local NGOs offering reproductive health services to — or planning to offer reproductive health interventions for — populations affected by conflict.

“For JSI's Capacity Building Program, this was a unique opportunity for our Liberian NGO partners to interact with the research team and to enhance the use of quality data to inform and guide their programmes. The research and implementation teams exchanged perspectives and shared information throughout each stage of the research,” said Molly Fitzgerald, JSI’s Capacity Building Advisor.

For example, even at the data collection stage, JSI met with interviewers to discuss reproductive health from a programmatic standpoint. The research team met later with NGO implementers to “translate” survey findings. Gaps identified through the survey were addressed by ensuring that small grants were available for implementation activities.

Good data can save lives
Three of the four NGOs to receive grants, MERCI, PARACOM and ChildrenSmile, are currently working to address the unmet family planning needs identified in the survey. About a third of married women expressed a need for services, although the contraceptive prevalence rate was reported as 6.8 per cent. The fourth NGO, PMU, is working with the community on obstetric care, so that fewer women die from childbirth-related causes.

“In addition to filling gaps in eproductive health services in a particular area, these NGOs often fill gaps in geographic coverage. For example, ChildrenSmile operates in a remote region of Liberia. It is one of the only reproductive health service providers in the area, and it works closely with county health officials, women's associations, teachers and hospital administrators. They have taken a leadership role in this community, and they have shared the information and resources we gave them,” Mr. Beatty explained.

Although these NGOs are providing desperately needed reproductive health services to communities in Liberia, there are still large populations of women throughout the world dealing with post-conflict issues and the consequences that result from unmet reproductive health needs. Good data is necessary in order to assess what is needed for planning, funding and implementing community-based programmes for humanitarian response and post-crisis settings.

Road building in Liberia: One UN, many new jobs

by Ch. Narendra Publication Date 18/7/2008 9:16:32 PM(IST)

On the new road from Mt. Barclay into Monrovia, Momo and others are digging a path to more jobs, better lives and hopefully, decent work. And along the way, the involvement of other UN agencies in the ILO-led project is showing how “working as one” can help marshal the efforts of a host of participants to speed the process of peaceful recovery.

“My job is to cut the bush on the road”, says Momo Diggs, one of the workers on the project. “With the money I am earning from my job on the road project, I want to support my children and put them in school. When the road opens, people will come from other villages to sell goods on the market. And the small market will become a bigger market.”

The expansion of the markets isn’t the only benefit of the new road. Since the ILO re-launched technical support activities in Liberia in 2006, it has developed numerous partnerships with other UN agencies, including joint studies with FAO, UNDP and UNHCR that focus on agriculture and on youth employment; joint projects with UNDP for the reintegration of ex-combatants and ILO support of the UNDP project for County Support Team to enhance the process of decentralization in Liberia; with UNV to provide volunteer services to support local economic development in Liberia; with UNIFEM to develop a common programme for “gender and employment generation”, contributing to lasting peace.

The new road, and the new approach of the U.N. agencies here, couldn’t come at a more crucial time for the country’s recovery. With almost no electricity, scant running water, an unemployment rate of more than 80 per cent and a life expectancy of 42 years, Liberia faces major challenges to recover.

But things are changing. Since President Ellen Sirleaf Johnson addressed the ILO’s International Labour Conference in June 2006 to call for decent jobs for all Liberians, an overall employment strategy for decent work in Liberia has been formulated by the Government with the assistance of the ILO and was launched in July 2006.

The road construction project is just one of the visible results of the new strategy. Not only does it provide work for local people, but it will serve as a lifeline to improvement of lives both during its construction and thereafter.

“For every job that is created on the road, five jobs are created off the road”, explains Peter Hall Armstrong, ILO project coordinator. What’s more, the labour-intensive road construction project does not only help to rebuild the country’s infrastructure, but also its values system.
“That’s what has been missing over the years because of the war. Just those values, and when people begin to feel good about the work they are doing and actually start taking a sense of pride in it”, says Natty Davis, a representative of the Liberian Government.

Towards a “One United Nations” approach

A full array of multilateral agencies has joined the ILO on the scene, helping in a variety of ways to meet this colossal development challenge. In addition to bringing the farm-to-market and employment objectives, the project has also attracted the skills and perspectives of other multilateral agencies, as well, like UNICEF.

“What’s important about the program that the ILO has encouraged us all to participate in is that it is going to be broad enough and all encompassing enough to allow even young people without basic skills and without basic literacy … to acquire the kind of life skills that will make them ready and able to get a job and to be able to stay in a job or to stay in a decent work opportunity”, says Rozanna Choritan from UNICEF.

In August 2007, the ILO, together with UNDP, assisted the National Commission on Disarmament, Demobilisation, Rehabilitation and Reintegration for ex-combatants to design the final stage of their demobilization and reintegration programme, which is linked to parallel programmes on employment creation.

Thus the road and the other projects bring global issues and perspectives into focus. They integrate policy coherence and program convergence in a very practical and coherent way into country-level agendas.

“It’s about bringing out the best in the multilateral system for those who depend on us for a better future and a better life. It’s about weaving together the many strands of our knowledge and expertise, we can deliver as “One United Nations”, concludes Alfredo Lazarte Hoyle, chief of the ILO Programme on Crisis Response and Reconstruction.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Hello from Liberia!

Mercy Watch

July 2008

Hello Family and Friends,

There are several appropriate greetings you may hear onboard, depending on the crewmember you are speaking with. One would be from our crewmembers who hail from Sierra Leone which would be “How da body?” to which the reply would be “Da body fine”. Another greeting from some of our Liberian crewmembers or friends could be “Are you well?” to which the reply would be “Yes, thank God” or just “Thank God.”

I find myself often asking new crew “Are you well?” and receiving puzzled looks. I suppose I should be asking “How are you?” and expect the reply of “Fine.” One lady actually was a little offended by my request, saying that so many people ask the question, but don’t really want to receive an answer. She wished people would only ask if they had the time and desire to receive the answer. I became more aware of how and when I asked this question and came to realize that at times it was actually used more as a rhetorical question or casual greeting by me.

Today I would really like to ask “How da body?” and pray that you can actually answer “Da body fine…thank God” and if you’d like to dialogue in greater detail, Denise and I are only a phone call or email away.

We had a picnic on the dock for the 4th of July with our American crewmates…there were just over 100 crew onboard that were American out of about 350 crew members, including the kids. So we took a group picture!

The American Crew on the 4th of July 2008

We have been busy transferring and redesigning, uploading our website and this effort has taken up a great deal of our free time. Please visit www.mercywatch.com or http://mercywatch.blogspot.com to see our progress. Consequently we’ve not sent out our newsletters as we would have liked. So please let us take this opportunity to catch up a little.

In our April Newsletter we told you of the screening at SKD stadium. The screening was very successful and there have been many lives touched as a result of the surgeries performed aboard. We are sometimes asked to write about our experiences and this one was selected to be published…after it is edited. The non-edited story we’d like to share with you is of Philip…

We are able to become most involved in the patients onboard through the Adopt-A-Patient program on the ship. Usually this will involve, selecting a patient for adoption during their stay onboard, from a list provided by Hanneke, a mom onboard, who coordinates this effort for the crew. This particular time, we became involved through the local church we attend.

On Sunday, April 14th, Denise wasn’t feeling well and elected to stay home that morning. This happens infrequently, so I was going to stay home as well. We provide transportation for any crew members who’d like to attend, so I went to check the sign-up sheet. Sure enough one crew member had signed-up to go, so staying home wasn‘t an option. Upon arrival at the church, Sunday school hadn’t finished yet (the adults are taught in the sanctuary) so I was waiting outside. A visiting Pastor arrived and we began a short introduction, she noticed from my name badge I was with Mercy Ships. She wasn‘t from Monrovia and had experienced some difficulty contacting Mercy Ships in regards to her son.

Phillip (April 2008)Background: Pastor Nelly Wright, a United Methodist Pastor, had adopted a young boy named Phillip who had a cleft lip and palette and his nose had been eaten away by a bacteria. Phillip had been abandoned by his father, after his mother died as he didn’t have time to raise a cursed child. Cyrus, another older child Pastor Nelly had adopted previously, found Phillip wandering around the streets of Monrovia. Cyrus brought him home asking if Pastor Nelly would adopt him as well and she did. In 2005-2006., Phillip had surgery aboard the Mercy Ship Anastasis to rebuild his nose and correct his cleft lip and palette.

Leading to Current Surgery: When Pastor Nelly arrived to preach at New Georgia and met Rob prior to the service, she saw this as a divine moment. She had been trying to contact Mercy Ships, but wasn’t sure how. They had lost the follow-up appointment card for Phillip. During the several years since Phillip’s surgery onboard the Anastasis, Phillip’s nose had begun to droop a little and looked a little like a pug nose. Pastor Nelly wanted to have a follow-up done on Phillip. We exchanged contact information and I agreed if she would call me at the ship on Monday I would try and be a liaison for her regarding Phillip. The photo to the left is Phillip's picture showing his drooping nose and scars from the previous surgery.

Today was a wonderful day for Phillip and his brother Cyrus and will soon be a wonderful day for their Mother. Cyrus and Phillip came to the ship today as directed by their mother. I met them at the gangway and was a little confused, as I was not expecting them. I was expecting a call, so we could work out further arrangements. I did not want to embarrass or inconvenience or be impolite to Cyrus and Phillip, but was a little lost for what to do at first.

I signed them in as my guest, and took them to Denise’s office and asked if she would sit with them in the Café area while I went to the patient coordinator’s office to try and coordinate this effort. She gladly agreed and I went to find the patient coordinator.

Initially, the patient coordinator was not available, but the crewmember I spoke with went to locate her. In short order, she was located and I explained to her the situation and apologized for the short notice. She understood and was glad and willing to assist. I went back to Cyrus, Phillip and Denise in the café and took them to the waiting area on deck three as instructed. The patient coordinator came and asked Cyrus and Phillip some questions concerning Phillip’s complete name, so she could locate the records of his previous cleft lip and palate surgery.

Phillip (April 2008)

She was unable to locate the records, but asked Dr. Gary if he could come and speak with Cyrus and Phillip. He agreed, came out and saw Phillip and remembered him from surgery, he thought in 2005 – 2006 timeframe. He briefly examined Phillip and then went with the patient coordinator and checked the surgery schedule and Phillip is scheduled for surgery next week on Tuesday, April 22nd. He will have to come to the ship with Cyrus on Monday for admission and preparations for the surgery on Tuesday. The hospital stay should be five days.

So all in all, God be praised as all of the necessary people were seen, all of the schedules were in order. Obviously Cyrus, Phillip and Pastor Nelly were following the leading of the Lord and were at just the right place at just the right time and everything worked out. The photo to the right show's Phillip two days after this surgery. He is a very happy boy! As a follow up to this story…Phillip had his surgery and he is doing very well, he was able to leave the ship only 2 days after surgery! He is now back in school and doing well.

We are glad to have been used by the Lord, in this instance and see it as an answer to prayer. My younger brother is suffering with terminal cancer. Without the Lord performing a miracle and healing him, my brother will go home soon. We’ve struggled with the decisions as to, are we to go home, or stay. God has shown us very powerfully that He is using us right here, right now. So we are blessed to be used to bring a blessing.

We also like to update you on Rob’s brother, Ken, and his diagnosis of Pancreatic Cancer. Many of you have continued to keep Ken and Kaye constantly covered in prayer since you first heard of his diagnosis. Your prayers are effective and have greatly helped Ken and his wife, Kaye and our entire family during this time. Thank you so much!

Rob, Connie and Ken

Rob was able to fly to Texas June 7th to spend a week with Ken and Kaye. They prayed together, cried together and laughed together. A heavy burden was lifted from Rob’s heart as he and Ken were able to spend many hours together early in the morning, talking and praying together. Rob came away with a new understanding of the love and dedication Kaye has for her husband and to a small degree the effort it takes each day to live with this illness. Ken and Kaye place their trust firmly in the Lord and are confident He is in control. Ken is doing remarkably well considering his diagnosis. We thank God for His hand working in many ways during this time! We continue to pray for complete healing for Ken. In the photo above is Rob, Connie and Ken (the three siblings) celebrating Ken's 53rd birthday!

Twin Cotton Trees

The photo above is of twin Cotton Trees we passed on the way to Buchanan, Liberia! These trees were HUGE as you can see by focusing on the people and cars at the base of the trees! Incredible!

Thank you for your prayers and support, receiving your letters is a real blessing. One of the most recent ones from Stewart Hall, Jarrow, England was most uplifting for us. We met and became friends with Stewart while attending Park Methodist Church in Jarrow. We hope to possibly stop over to Jarrow and visit in January 2009 on our return from Christmas vacation in the USA. The plans are still being made so no promises yet, but just a little something we’d love to do. We were most fortunate to worship at Park Methodist Church during our 18 months in England and they made us feel a part of their family.

We thank each of you for touching our lives by sharing yours with us. May you be blessed today and share these blessings with someone else.

God bless you,

Rob and Denise

Monday, July 07, 2008

Denise, Malcolm and Rob


Denise, Malcolm and Rob
Originally uploaded by MercyWatch.
Malcolm Kelly (#12) is a rookie Wide Receiver for the Washington Redskins! He is visiting the M/V Africa Mercy for a few days before his NFL Training Camp begins.

Malcolm decided before he was drafted in the NFL that he wanted to give back and to a charity....so he picked Mercy Ships! He is a great guy and we were able to spend a bit of time with him and his Dad today. His Dad, Moses, came with Malcolm.

Malcolm also brought his trainer, Chip Smith, with him. They will continue to do Malcolm's workouts as he is here. And they will work out with the Liberian Olympic Team athletes. Chip wil also hold some training sessions for the Team's trainers! This is an incredible blessing to them as the trainers really desire to be trained to better prepare the athletes!

It is a joy to have these guys onboard. Thanks... Malcolm Kelly, Chip Smith and Moses Kelly! Watch for Malcolm making some BIG plays for the Redskins! Go SKINS!