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Monday, November 22, 2010

Aid to Battorkope

Submitted by Jonathan Porter
For the past few weeks we have been desperately trying to fly into Battorkope. Sadly, the rising water had covered our airstrip and made a water landing more dangerous than ever - to the point of being impossible.

It is a challenging observation that flooded lands are not suitable for amphibian aircraft operations - due to the unknown hidden dangers below the surface and the massive increase in debris floating upon the surface. Add to that the fact that you cannot beach - for there is no beach - the water has moved half a kilometre up the bank, and now the trees are mid trunk in water - so you cannot get anywhere safe to moor up the aircraft.

The only option is to land at large and then to canoe ashore, but that means that the aircraft cannot be left out there. So, the pressure for a 4 seat Amphibian grows. In recent days a 4 seat would have been fantastic. We could even have landed, launched an inflatable dingy and then the aircraft take off leaving the dingy crew to row ashore with aid. Sadly, two seat aircraft do not have that lifting capacity, happily, our four seat aircraft (CH801) is nearing completion... slowly (funds constrained).

Under the circumstances, Paul offered his land-cruiser for the short trip. Of course, it is only 20minutes in a plane each way... so, with the land-cruiser we left the airfield at 09:00, arrived in Battorkope after 13:00 and after a brief aid visit and talks to the kids, got back to the airfield after dark, at nearly 19:00.... clearly, air is better than ground. Add to that the sheer exhaustion from the road trip, and it really was a massive effort - but one that has made a big difference in a lot of lives.

Audrey and Patricia took the rear seat, after the girls had loaded T shirts, books, seeds, etc. into the back of the Toyota Tank. Paul at the helm and Capt. Yaw riding shotgun, it was a beautiful ride, bumpy, dangerous in parts, but beautiful. This really is a magnificent country - and the route we took is one never taken by visitors - all their loss! Ingrid had decided that our expedition needed sustenance. We all love Ingrid - for she packed boiled eggs, German bread style sandwiches with precious sausage meat hand carried from Switzerland - and a tube of magnificent mustard. Much as we enjoyed this feast, the village we were headed to has lost all of its crops and is down to living on fish, fish and fish. A sharp contrast from our breakfast, eaten in the wonderful relief of an air-conditioned vehicle - we really have nothing to complain about, do we..

We were greeted by the outpouring of the masses from the school. Little faces beaming, slim little legs wriggling and jumping as the children's expectations maximised at the sight of the white supply vehicle parking in the school yard.

Before we provided any materials or talks, we asked to see the damage from the floods. All of us had our breath taken away by the magnitude of the devastation. Over 100 people are homeless, living under the skies at night, thankful that the rainy season is over. No lives have been lost, but livelihoods are in, for us at least, shatters. ALL of their hand cleared, hand ploughed and hand managed farmland is gone, under water, wasted. All of the Moringa trees planted after our recent visit, drowned and destroyed, all of the groundnut crop rotten, all of the cassava soaking under several feet of water, all of the rice fields, fortunately harvested, soaked and not available to plant for the next season. Homes, beautifully crafted from mud blocks, dissolving in the murky swirls of the Lake. Thatched roofs floating by signals of another lost home. Stick structures that once made the basis of a homestead, stand isolated far away in the water. Borehole pumps, sources of clear water - are now inaccessible, under water of a non-potable nature. At least some are still above the water line, but how polluted the water coming out is, well, we assume it is contaminated with the way the water is, and so advise them to boil all water. Sadly, the words are lost on the ears of those whom hear, it will need to be repeated - and soon. (Audrey is trying to get a typhoid and Hep A vaccine for all of the village, and of course the risk of Cholera is high... so many challenges for such a group, most of which they are blissfully unaware of)

If that scene shocks you, the next one should shock you more - and make you smile.
Children, smiling, happy and glad to be alive, playing on the boats now moored next to their homes instead of fifteen minutes walk away. Women cooking what they have, offering you a little as you walk past, their smiles as wide open as their hearts. Goats drinking from the edge of the water, whilst a young child taps them on their backs. The child is wearing used clothing, but is loved and cared for as best as possible by parents who know no different than the daily struggle that just got a bit harder. Struggling to survive is a practical motto for many in West Africa. This village is not as badly affected as others, but it is 'our' village, and we need to make this 'alpha village' a success for others to follow. Thankfully, we have support from the chief. We walk to meet the elderly chief, always dressed in what looks to some like ' fancy pyjamas' , but are really hand made clothes of great quality, and he welcomes us, as usual, as if we are royalty; he opens his village to us and then accompanies us to the school rooms, where today's events will take place.

We start by providing supplies. Thanks must go to Liebherr, Expresso, Femare, Matthew and WAASPS for their support in this event, as well as a BIG thank you to Paul for his part in getting us here (and being the photo-man).
I start with the replacement Moringa Seeds, Matthew gave up his stock that he had ready to sell upon hearing of the need. Thanks to Matthew they now have more seeds than before, and he included some literature, thanks to support from Keith at Anamed in Germany.

James, our resident volunteer and teacher in the village, often has problems communicating, so, we handed onto him a solar panel to charge his mobile phone. Thanks go to Yasser, who had kindly given us the kit from his last trip to Europe, but we felt that James's need exceeded ours.

We then provided items for the school, games, books, colouring pencils, paper, pencils and rulers - items that can help to stimulate creativity - a much needed resource for the development of this community - something to take you out of the day-to-day repetition of survival.

Expresso T Shirts, excess from the Air Show, made their way to provide additional clothing for children in the school, James was put in charge of making sure that the supply met the most need - a trust that is necessary in this line of work.

Of course, the trip would not be complete without a ' Femcare Drop' , although scheduled for last month, the floods had kept the supplies in our stores at Kpong.

Today, we brought supplies to see the village through to the new year. Patricia and Audry inspired the menstruating and soon to be menstruating girls in school to take hygiene more seriously, and to use the pads to increase their school attendance. It was sad that the older girls did not attend school as we had hoped, perhaps our reasoning about menstruation being a casue for drop out as the girls age is evidenced here. Certainly, there were plenty of older girls and women who crowded the windows pleading with us ' Give us a pad, please' . But we could not. They would have to continue to use the ' amoise' or rag system, for our support is limited, as are their funds. A months supply of pads is around $2 - a small fortune for many here.

Whilst The Lady-Mommers did their thing, Paul and I did a special event for the boys and younger girls - it was not easy... less than a handful of the children can read - by that I mean ' read and understand what they have read' . I resorted to becoming an aeroplane, dodging my wings above and between the children. Words of encouragement were given to the chiefs, the children and the teachers - who's motivational level lies somewhere low, close to the centre of the earth. We try to encourage them, but it will also need additional visits.

James provided translation, since, although English is the official language of the country, there are still many who cannot speak or read it - hence the national papers and TV programmes are often produced in vain for those in the more rural parts. Those in the cities quickly forget the fates of those in the village... whether intentionally or through pressures of living the accelerated city life, these are still a forgotten people.

The drive back was sombre. Relieved only by the magnificence of the landscapes. So much to see, so many in need. Our fight will be ongoing for many generations to come, but we are at least fighting with the local population to win their battle for survival. Standing by them, visiting them as we can, each time lifitng another person mentaly and physically up that little bit more... for that is true development - we cannot do it for them, we must help them to help themselves.

We will try to supply some thick plastic for makeshift roofing for those without a home, some temporary relief whilst they form the mud-bricks to build new huts, clear bushland, and start again, in the middle of nowhere, a place that they call home.

I guess, having had a German breakfast, if is only right that, at the end of this day, it is really clear here that the German playwright Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) hit the nail on the head when he said ' If you fight you can lose... if you don't fight you have already lost... '

Fight on my friends in Battorkope, for you are wining, and wining our hearts also, and, please, dear reader, help us to fight on... for the battle is hard, and if you are not yet fighting with us, help us now to win the battle - here in Battorkope and in the many other remote villages that are equally in need.

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