Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Fulani Education Center Meeting
After the completion of the Fulani school building (being called the Education Center) Matthew requested that all of the people meet under the roof one morning at 8 am. We of course arrived around 9:30 knowing that you should always tell people to arrive at least 1 hour before you actually want them to be there. When we arrived several of the men had gathered and the rest of the men, women and children quickly followed.
It was great to see that the men and children had been stripping the bark from the trees that were used as the supports for the building in order to preserve the wood. They also cleared the debris away from below the roof to make a nice floor. This shows that they are taking pride in the building are will hopefully continue to maintain it in the future.
The women were dressed in vibrant colors and sat quietly to one side and the children sat in a group together in the corner. Some of the older boys carried sticks across their shoulders in the same fashion that their fathers do when herding the cattle. The men were also well dressed and one elder in particular caught my eye. He was a good bit older than the others and had the face of a man who has experienced a lot in life and is full of wisdom. When he spoke, everyone listened. The men were the only ones to engage in the conversation as is customary.
Ghana is filled mostly with a Christian population and the Fulani are of Muslim belief. It happened that three ‘holy men’ were present who traveled from the North and came along to our meeting. In the end they approved of the education center and what it would be used for.
Matthew spoke English and Cindy (the school’s teacher employed by WAASPS) translated into Twi, the local language. They spoke about what the building would be used for including lessons for the children, educational materials and seminars for the women and men on health, nutrition and anything else.
One of the men asked if he could take his children out of their regular school to attend our classes and we explained that this was a learning center to be used as a stepping stone to the children who were not yet in school to learn what they need to in order to pass the school entry exams and that it is not a replacement to regular school. They will meet on Monday mornings and try to keep a sort of regular schedule. They will also pay a small fee per family so that they have a sense of contribution towards the classes and will need to have a level of responsibility.
Ghanaian ‘PUP’ License
Erin and I completed the remainder of our 5 hour conversion course and solo’s in the X-Air Falcon only one day before Fly Me Day! Jonathan completed our check rides and that night in the dark out by the picnic table Patricia presented us with our Ghanaian PUP Licenses! Erin’s was number 21 and mine was number 22. The numbers just happened to be the same days as each of our birthdays!
I feel very proud to be a part of the beginning of General Aviation in Ghana and I look forward to watching it grow under the watchful eyes of Jonathan and Patricia in the years to come.
Preparations for Fly Me Day
The girls had a lot of work to do leading up to Fly Me Day including re-fabricing the tail on one of the aircraft and having to use the parts from 2 rudders in order to make one complete one… and they did it!
We had a practice run the night before Fly Me Day where we did 2 rotations in the pattern. Jonathan briefed all of us on what our roles and responsibilities would be. We started with a girl in each plane with me, Patricia, Erin and Jonathan. On my first round I flew with Juliet! We landed in sequence, parked, shut down the engines and then went through the same procedure for switching passengers as we would the next day. On the second rotation me and Cindy flew together. It was a nice treat for everyone to get a flight in after all of their hard work.
Other Tasks around the Airfield
In addition to preparing the airplanes Matthew and Rex worked together with the girls to put together the new wind turbine. It is not completed yet but they did the wiring and were able to complete the main structure. The girls were able to learn about how the wind will generate power through the turbine to charge batteries.
They had an extra special treat when we all went for a tour of the Akosombo Dam with some of the students who came down for Fly Me Day and were able to stand above the massive turbine powered by the water.
The masons and Matthew also worked hard to clean up and place along with placing fencing and tents where the students would be between flights on the airfield and mowing the runway and surrounding areas.
They have also been working on the student and teacher accommodation and the mud hut where the wind turbine will be used in the M.O.M. garden. I am looking forward to seeing how the M.O.M. garden project will look when everything is completed! I will continue to post photos as things progress.
Fly Me Day
The big event that we have all been preparing for was finally here! The weather was looking a bit iffy but it held out for all of the childrens’ flights. We arrived and prepared the airplanes then went to meet the first group of children. We took a bit of time to introduce ourselves and talk to them about what we would be doing. Then we numbered each of them for their flights!
We started our engines and 5 hours later after 112 flights later we parked the 4 airplanes back in the hangar. The children ranged in ages from elementary school age to their last year of high school. We only had a few that kept their eyes closed and/or clung to the pilots arms where the majority of the children did very well on their first ever airplane rides!
Most of the kids would be quiet at first and as the flight progressed they would ask more and more questions about what they saw on the ground, how the plane was constructed and how the plane flew. I think that everyone had at least one child ask if they could come home with them and a few tell them that they were their new best friend!
We gave a ‘thumbs up’ to the kids who expressed an outstanding performance in questions, observations and overall enjoyment. These children were put through a series of fun trust tests and questions after the flying was completed and awarded prizes of t-shirts applause. The most exciting part was when Jonathan chose 7 girls who would return to the AvTech Academy to do 1 week in the workshop learning along side Patricia and the other girls. Hopefully a few of them will show enough potential and interest to be come AvTech students themselves.
Jonathan gave a speech to the students and teachers about maintaining the runways in their towns, ways to avoid Bilhartzia (LINK TO BILHARTIZIA INFO HERE) and aviation in general. Then he invited the students one group at a time to come and stand next to the pilot that they flew with. Our students told us ‘God bless you’ and ‘Thank you’ and we were given the opportunity to speak a few words of motivation to them.
I will never forget the looks on the students’ faces and the incredible experience of taking 23 children for their first flights in one day. I hope that they will be inspired to chase their dreams and encouraged to study hard in school so that one day they might sit at the controls to the same aircraft in which they took their first flight.
I am learning quickly that there is something called ‘African time.’ Rex put it in a great way in his last blog.. it is like a slow moving train, not in a hurry but steadily chugging along. A building that might take 2 days to build with your own crew may take 2 months using the local people in a village; but in long term it will make it last longer because they will take pride in what they have made. Interviews that we had hoped to get done in one day a week ago have turned into 1 interview every few days.. so we are learning to take things in stride and manage the time that we have as best we can to accomplish what we need to in order to make our documentary a success.
Rex and I have worked on laying out our story line and so far have excellent footage of the Avtech Academy and the airfield and have gotten a good chunk of the interviews completed. Our next step is to film Medicine on the Move operations, the heart of the WAASPS organization.
We are 2 weeks in with 2 weeks to go and have used much of our storage space already and to say that we are excited/anxious/etc. to get things completed would be an understatement. The girls are meant to prepare the float plane today so that we can take it into a village on the lake. Now that Fly me Day is over, Jonathan told us that his time will be more freed up to complete the things that we need for the film.
After 2 weeks I am counting every second to get into a village and see M.O.M. in action and to understand the reason for all that is going on here at Kpong Airfield. I know that it will have been worth the wait!
P.S. Kpong is pronounced Pong… I was corrected several times by the customs man at the airport ☺
Friday, March 4, 2011
March 3, 2011
As they opened the door to the airliner at Accra Airport in Ghana on Friday, February 25th Rex and I stepped into what felt like a wall of heat and humidity. We were in Africa! We quickly took off our extra layers of clothing from the trip over and made it through customs with all of our baggage to find Matthew waiting for us in the reception area. He loaded us into the van, rolled down the windows and we were off for the 1.5 hr drive to Kpong Airport. Along the way we got a glimpse of where we were. Expensive buildings and cars next to shacks and huts, a group of kids cooking a rat over a fire in the city next to an electronics shop, cars without headlights and even some without brakes driving on the roads and public transportation vans packed to overflowing with sweaty passengers. The clothes are anything from dirty rags to beautiful vibrant colors to business suits. There are billboards for the power companies and the dam (Ghana has the largest man made lake in the world and several dams for providing electricity) yet we drive through villages of mud huts and small homes with no electricity or running water and high tension power lines running 50 feet over their heads. How ironic.
When we arrived at the Medicine on the Move airfield we quickly realized that it is a sort of oasis from the surrounding areas. The green grass runways are kept beautifully trimmed and the buildings and hangars are well organized and clean. The children are in uniform and the men working on the M.O.M. housing are all wearing safety hats and boots (Not a common thing I gather). The people here have a lot of pride in their work and it shows.
Jonathan was at the airfield to greet us between his running around from thing to thing… another common occurrence here. There are so many things to do and not enough time or hands to do them. The girls were inside working on a writing assignment from Erin on helicopters. From day to day we see the ‘normal’ operations at Kpong field at the school, which range from the girls working on schoolwork, workshop (which is of course working on the airplanes) and flying lessons. Matthew works with the garden and the upkeep of the airfield as well as manages the men who are building the rooms across the field that will serve as housing for the students and teachers in the near future.
That afternoon we dropped the girls in downtown Kpong where people crowded the car trying to hawk anything from dried mango to trinkets through the windows and door and then proceeded to Jonathan and Matthew’s home where we would be staying for the duration of our trip. The meals have all been delicious and not short of spicy pepper in anyway!
First Flights & the Airfield
Erin and I each have had 2 lessons in the school planes since Rex and I have been here. I did one with Jonathan and the real treat was my second one with Patricia! She is calm and collected and very knowledgeable about everything flying. She is a great instructor and flying with her gave me great confidence in the future of their school. We did pattern work, stalls and a bit of orientation of the area. I was able to see the expanse of the lake, the town and the surrounding mountains. The weather here changes very drastically and I believe that the wind direction changed about 5 times in the course of our 1 hour lesson with clouds building from nothing to CB’s waiting to release their thunder and Jonathan is the only person around who is giving out any sort of weather observations or forecasts for the area. Having day VFR flights only, maps that aren’t quite accurate and minimal navigation facilities in the country you can see how they really are forging the start to General Aviation in Ghana. When you go on a cross country you cannot underestimate the importance of winds, navigation, weather and proper planning to get to where you want to go safely. Medicine on the Move are their own search and rescue.
Equipment is another hassle. We take for granted how simple it is to get parts and tools for aircraft maintenance in the ‘Western world’. After multiple trips over 5 months back and forth to customs and hundreds of dollars worth of fees, Matthew was finally able to pick up a shipment of parts for the tail section of ‘KT’, one of the school aircraft. Of course… all of the parts were not there and the girls and Jonathan have been improvising over the past few days to make it work. Hopefully by the end of today after months of waiting KT will be back in the air. Just to be sure that all of the resource are used; the girls are carefully removing the screws from the shipping box so that they do not go to waste.
At the beginning of each month there is a staff meeting at the airfield. At this particular meeting Rex, Erin and I were given the opportunity to give little presentations on who we are and what we do. Rex gave a wonderful motivational talk to the staff and we each emphasized on safety and teamwork. He also showed his Everest Summit video.
I was also given the opportunity to present the gifts of t-shirts, hats and other items, which were donated, from various people and organizations for our trip. The remaining items will be given out as prizes to the children on fly-me day this Saturday (when we give 100 village children rides in the airplanes), which we are all busy preparing for this Saturday.
I have seen the aerial photographs of the lakeshore that Jonathan and Patricia are taking from their plane and the shorelines are filled with little villages that have no roads or any way of accessing the outside world. The floatplanes will open up a sort of air highway to provide medical attention to millions of people who wouldn’t otherwise have it. The gravity of this problem really hit me through our next experience in the Fulani Camp.
We drive through the Fulani camp on the way to and from Jonathan’s house. We went there with Matthew to help to finish the building of their school. I quickly learned that when we go to ‘help’ we are really just observers because they are getting the men to do the work themselves so that they will feel the ownership and pride of what they are constructing. This gave me the opportunity to play with the children and for Rex to play with his cameras.
While the men completed the roof, Erin, Cindy and me worked on the ABC’s, 1,2,3’s and sang ‘our heads, our shoulders, our knees, our toes’ with the children under the shade of a nearby tree.
The thirst for knowledge is very apparent in the kids and they are like little sponges, soaking up everything that we have to teach. They speak their own Fulani language so it is important for them to learn English, the national language of Ghana.
The school building will double as a meeting area for the family and for educational materials on anything from how to administer medicine to nutrition.
One of the little girls in the camp has been battling a cut in her hand. It has become increasingly infected and after several trips to the hospital and several courses of antibiotics it was still in very bad condition. Matthew has been trying to explain to her parents that the wound needs to be kept clean and treated or else it could end up in permanent damage in the child’s hand.
We spent all of yesterday in the hospital having her hand x-rayed and treated. It turns out that the infection was so bad and the swelling so great that it broke the bones in the growth plate of her index finger. Asamau is only 4. Luckily, the doctors think it will heal because she is so young.
Because the parents don’t yet know how to do dosage we are stopping by the camp 3 times a day to check her wound and to administer her antibiotics. This is taking a lot of our time and causes a great deal of stress on the operation but it is important that it is done right so that the parents can see the results will save them money and heartache. You can see that they care a great deal for their children and it is only a lack of education that allows something as simple as a cut to turn into permanent damage and even loss of limbs… and this is for a tribe that lives only 10 minutes away from a hospital… I can only imagine what sorts of things are going on in the villages on the lake shore with no access to medical care.
Till next time!
Special thanks to Oregon Aero, Tempest, Women Fly and all of those who donated towards the gifts that we were able to bring to Medicine on the Move. They have brought and will continue to bring many smiles!