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Saturday, August 28, 2010

How many sanitary towels can you fit in a 701?

Submitted by Jonathan Porter
This is a very pertinent question. Those who have seen SALT will know that Angelina Joli also uses sanitary towels for gunshot wounds - but these ones are for the more traditional use.

Having collected 1200 packs of sanitary towels - that is 12000 pads - we are now in the interesting phase of Humanitarian Aviation Logistics - the weight and balance phase.

We are providing two different types of towels - standard 'long' and compact with wings... how appropriate... These personal hygiene items will be taken to a village in order to support and encourage menstruating girls at school. The idea is simple - have good school attendance and get a supply of sanitary towels. Easy and simple idea - but to fly them in on a monthly, or periodic basis, requires a little thought.

First of all, I can reliable inform you all that 12000 sanitary pads fit comfortably in my Toyota Previa mini-van. I can also tell you that the cardboard boxes are heavy and unnecessary to fly with.

Now, we realize that plastic bag repacking is essential - but once they are in plastic bags they tend to be less ordered and more bulky in their arrangements. This is a challenge. I would like to 'band' them - but with what? We could use masking tape - but it may tear the pack packaging on removal... String is possible too - but may damage the product...

Next we need to study the weight and volume quite carefully. The CH701 has a large baggage area - and can carry 18 kgs (about 40lbs) maximum. We then have the questions of size of bundle for potential aerial supply drops (we don't want to have to land each time we deliver - for example during the rainy season the runway may be too wet...

If we package too large the dropper may hit the pilot on the head or knock the centre stick - or worse still get the package stuck in the door! There is a lot of science - and more experimentation needed.

Fortunately, we have some teenage girls starting at the AvTech Academy, an new educational establishment being set up with support from MoM, WAASPS and others, to train young ladies in Aviation and Technology - and giving these girls a large box of sanitary wear and getting them to run the calcs, seems most appropriate!

In the mean time, if anybody out there has experience of aerial supply drops of sanitary towels - or other products - please share your experiences - because this has to be good!

We will be flying around Ghana in the 701 at the beginning of November, demonstrating on National Television that built in Ghana planes, flown by Ghanaian girls are capable of going places and doing things - and it will be just one week before the annual Air Show at Kpong.

We will keep you posted, and also let you know 'how many sanitary pads can fit in a CH701 bush plane for Humanitarian Mission flying!!!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Second visit to the Fulani community.

Submitted by Mathew Porter
On Saturday the 21st of August, we had an appointment at the Fulani community for 6 AM to meet up with the ladies and children to help them with some of their needs, along with Nurse Lydia, Jane and Angela. We had asked them the previous visit to think of issues that they have, that we might be able to help them with - ideally things to do with women and children. We all started by about 6.30, the ladies had been up since 3.30AM, preparing food to be eaten by 4.30AM as this is the Ramadan season, and most of the community are taking part in the fasting. This actually meant that they were very free from 6 going as no food to prepare till evening time!

We had an attendance of about 6 or 7 ladies, mostly mothers, all under 30, and about 8 children hustling around, with a couple of men-folk around but not taking part. Nurse Lydia did very well at getting things underway and is also someone who believes that education works both ways. It's more about sharing information!

We went ahead and asked them what they wanted to talk about - and Ajira, a young, unmarried lady, piped up that she wanted to know how she would take care of her husband! Very forward looking indeed of her! The ladies here don't have much that goes on in their lives apart from husbands, children and cows, but I think the question showed how dedicated they want to be to their spouses. I think Nurse Lydia who is not Fulani, but originates in the south of Ghana, was also quite surprised at this - but very willing to share her experience with them. I understood about 1/3 of what was said, had 1/3 translated for me, and guessed 1/3 from people's reactions.

The advice ranged from not gossiping about other women whilst being idle in the house, keeping busy with jobs and chores, making sure everywhere is very neat and tidy, providing a variety of foods dishes, to taking care of the environment around the house. It turned into a bit of a lifestyle talk really - the Fulani version of an Oprah show.

For those reading this in a society where women have been empowered and jobs in the house are unisex, this may be hard to understand, and would seem chauvinistic - but in a village life, their has to be jobs for the women and jobs for the men. Its not fair for the women to be asked to catch a cow with a lasso (which does go on in the kraals (paddocks)), and the men wouldn't take the time to make sure that the nyiri (maize dough dish) was smooth and not lumpy - and in these societies where there is a division of labour, each sex has to accept, embrace and carry out their tasks for their survival. Some jobs, such as picking up the rubbish around the house, which is an issue, don't seem to have been allocated as yet, and probably have to be classified as jobs for women, children and the men!

Nurse Lydia introduced some new ideas as well - such as exercising regularly. I don't know how many calories walking to fetch and carrying back water on one's head burns, and in an environment where everyday is an active one with no days off, separating work and exercise can be challenging. The concept is new, but important. Poor ventilation in accommodation, and cooking over wood fires everyday can lead to health problems later in life - a bit of cardio-vascular exercise would certainly help to keep lungs in prime condition.

The talk also led to children, and their disciplining. In general, I have noticed that the children are, similarly to livestock, left to roam a fair deal, but are generally well behaved. All the same, a word from Nurse Lydia against corporal punishment, and in favour of reasoning went down well. The ladies were really very receptive to everything. They respect Nurse Lydia - they know her professional position and she is also elder to them - it is as if they have a thirst for more information. Their worlds really are very confined. Most Fulani ladies rarely leave the household - especially once they are married and given birth with a herd of cows outside - so their knowledge is mostly what one would call indigenous knowledge - culturally based, and handed down orally.

It is good that the general question on how to look after one's husband came to children. It is an area Nurse Lydia specialises in, and an area of need as we found out two weeks ago in our last visit. Nurse Lydia talked a lot about increasing the protein in their diet - despite having lots of livestock around, most belongs to other people, and meat is rarely eaten. Traditionally the Fulani take a lot of milk - but this is not always available. During the dry season, sometimes all the milk is saved for calves and some wagashi to bring in income. We suggested that they give their children "weivi" fish - a small fish found in the river that is high in protein - this is a change to their regular diet, so we will see if they take it up. It was also advised to buy milk for children if there is none around - and, similarly, when there is no milk, alternative sources of calcium - shellfish is one option, but it goes against their religious belief. They have a lot of green leaves as part of their diet though - "ayoyo", a leaf found in the bush I have not identified scienfically yet, but am told is good for your health, and also baobab leaves - the nearest baobab tree to them being just inside my farm fence, I can usually tell when this is being eaten for dinner, it is a very nutritious leaf. This is a good aspect of their lifestyle, and shows how it is about sharing information - and it makes their stews very tasty too!

Finally, as the last topic in Nurse Lydia's lifestyle talk, the issue of education came up. Basically, there are a few mothers and children who have some basic education - but none past knowing the alphabet. One boy, Ilias who is 13 is able to read very small, and knows his alphabet inside out (in English!). For some it is due to a nomadic lifestyle they have not been educated - although in Ilias' case, it is thanks to a nomadic lifestyle he has received some small education! For the most part though, the children's mothers have not been to school, and the mothers have not been to school because their mothers have not been to school - although they do understand that is important. We want them to understand though that it is IMPERATIVE!!!
The local school is quite far (5-6km - who would take them, transport costs), and most can barely afford it. I have had discussions about these issues with Alai (Amina's husband, whose house we are having these sessions at), and although there are many possible solutions, right now nothing is being done about it. So I put down there a few months ago a whiteboard and a marker, with the alphabet on it, and had been helping them to learn it a bit - for a while there was an interest - they knew it was important. But at this meeting, we got the board out and discovered that a few mothers knew their alphabet (hurray!), and I think we have got them now to understand that it is VERY VERY IMPORTANT to learn how to read. Ilias is willing to show them, and a another one or two people are willing to teach a bit as well. I had said that once the whole community knew their alphabet we would progress onto 2 and 3 letter words - and I think that thanks to our meetings, Jane, Angela and Nurse Lydia, it will happen a bit faster! The day after this meeting, I went back, and learnt they had had the whiteboard out that evening till 10 PM under a tree, learning by torchlight. That next morning, I spent an hour there, then went again that evening, and the evening after that too, and each time the board was out. So while there is no school there, at least some education is going on, but it is definitely an issue that has still not been solved. But the will is there, and the thirst for knowledge is far from being quenched.

SO! It really was a mammoth session, and we were there until about 11AM on Saturday morning. The ladies where very happy, and we covered a lot. We still have a lot to, and a lot to learn. Nurse Lydia and probably myself will be making a trip there on Friday to find out what herbs they use locally for treatment of their diseases - so another update then from me.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Meet the Fulani ladies...and introducing nurse Lydia.

Submitted by Mathew Porter
Today, 7th of August, Angela, Jane and Matthew (me) went, as arranged last week, to meet with the Fulani ladies. We also took along Nurse Lydia, a nurse from Volta River Authority hospital in Akuse whom we met last week when an outreach team made up of doctors, nurses and health educators who sometimes do outreach trips with VRA on the Volta lake came to visit the airfield and see what we were doing with MOM.
Nurse Lydia saw and heard what we have been doing and wanted to come and volunteer, and turns out was trained as a mid-wife and has nearly 30 years of experience in nursing.

The purpose of the visit was to meet the ladies of the Fulani camp, and introduce Angela, Jane and Nurse Lydia to the ladies. And also me, since some of the ladies who came out from parts of the community I had not seen before! We had talked about what end goals we thought should be achieved in the Fulani community eventually beforehand, so that we could decide where to go with things, and the two most important ones we came up with were that the community would be able to learn how to deal with minor injuries themselves, and some education - especially on personal health and hygiene, and general health education.
So we got the ladies together, Angela, Jane and Nurse Lydia started chatting to them to find out a little bit how they were doing, and tell them a bit about what they wanted to achieve with them, and within 15 min or so, they were getting on quite nicely, and they were beginning to find out a bit more about what their needs where. The Fulani women do not really get out very much as they are very busy around the home with the house, children and cows, and were very happy to all get the chance to talk to three ladies who were there for them.
The MoM team very quickly had the group worked out - and I was surprised when they pointed out to me that there were signs of malnutrition amongst the children. A few of them were a bit stunted and has signs of "redness" in their hair, an early sign of malnutrition, called kwashiorkor. It's not that these children are not getting any food, but not enough of the right foods for their growth and development. The children are breast fed from birth, but beyond 6 months, they are not being weaned enough and getting enough additional foods - in fact, some of the children are still being breast-fed at the ages of 1 1/2 and 2. Also there was not enough spacing between the children - women having children too close together - so some family planning would be on their timetable. A lot of the time, nutrition can be added from food already available used in the right ways.

We had been asked to come today by Alai, Amina's husband at around 1 or 2 pm today after milking, but when we asked the ladies, they told us that not all were there as they were still preparing wagashi from the milk collected this afternoon. So they told us that a better time to come and meet ALL the ladies and ALL the children would be....6 AM!!! So we told them to go and talk together about what problems they were having, physical, emotional, and the next time, Angela, Jane and Lydia would try and talk and help them with it.
As we were winding up, a few of the older ladies came along after finishing their own chores to see what was going on, and were happy to hear about it as well - so the word has spread, and next time, ALL the women and children will be there, and we can really start helping the Fulani community to help themselves.
It was really nice to see that Amina's thumb was fully healed and she is back to making wagashi to feed and fund her family. The MoM team all purchased some wagashi to take home - which added interst and benfits to all parites... The ground MoMmers are changing lives one visit at a time!

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Femcare Drop - Introduction

Submitted by Jonathan Porter
Working in aviation in the more rural parts of West Africa we often come across interesting issues that are generally not thought about. One of those challenges is how young women handle the challenges of menstruation and schooling in not so easy to reach communities.

The BBC has over the past few years highlighted issues related to girls in education and their menstruation challenges.( http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/4816558.stm and http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/8488375.stm ) I think that most of those reading this article, no longer think twice about the availability, usage and disposal of sanitary towels. Yet, many parts of Africa are still to discover – and/or afford - this ‘freedom giving’ invention. In different cases, in parts of the developing world, there have been reported attempts to increase school attendance of girls during their natural monthly menses by issuing sanitary towels, assuming that they knew when and how to use them as well as suitable disposal methods. In some cases there were anecdotal reports that the girls tried to wash them for a second use, on other occasions they were rolled or folded-up and inserted like a tampon, without achieving the desired result. I am sure that many were sold, used by mothers, sisters or aunties, and the challenges go on. The sanitary towel should be as readily available as other ‘modern essentials’ such as iodated salt, condoms, medical care, malaria treatments, academic/vocational education and HIV/AIDS awareness, in my opinion. But they are not, mainly due to limited resources. However, the lack of these things is what, together with other factors, brings about the ‘poverty-pit-of-despair’ – if only we can break the poverty cycle we can climb out of the pit! All we need to do is break ONE link in the chain for the whole chain to give up and release its captives!
So where is this going? I am glad you have read this far and asked the pertinent question!

Well, a pilot recently flew with WAASPS to assess one of his projects from above - which is a really special thing to do. The pilot concerned is a Manager for one of the leading sanitary wear producers in West Africa, based in Accra. Universal Royal Paper Ghana Ltd, produce the Femcare range of products. I have got to know their products and they are a very professional, well presented and functional product which apparently works exceptionally well. (Remember I work with a lot of young ladies, who cannot miss a day’s work because of their natural cycles!). What is more, the Femcare range has a sanitary pad with wings – which also gives it an aviation twist… or am I stretching things too far?

‘Mr Femcare’ was chatting about his product lines after his flight, then we told him about the Medicine on the Move Humanitarian flights to villages using LSA class aircraft. The atmosphere at the airfield developed an instant buzz, as the talk went to rural communities challenges with school attendance of menstruating girls and the like. ‘Mr Femcare’ pointed out that the issue here is distribution – you cannot just deliver school-girls a years supply of hygienic pads in a single community without a negative impact. No, no, no – it has to be more carefully thought out.

Discussion went around and around and finally came out with, what we hope, is a practical and efficient solution.
The village in question already has a monthly humanitarian flight, taking in eye specialists, doctors, nurses, nutritionists, educators, etc. So, when the flight goes in, school records can be checked and all girls with periods who have excellent attendance records can be issued one months supply of pads (with or without wings). That is the easy part!

The challenging part now, is to fly in to the village an education team at the beginning of the school term next month, and to explain, effectively and memorably, to the pubescent girls and young ladies in school the concept, the appropriate usage, disposal, and requirements to be supplied with these products.
Year one will be covered by the Universal Royal Paper company for this particular village as a trial village. If it works (more likely when the proof is available), funding will be needed and sought to take the ‘Femcare Drop’, as we have named it, to other communities. Long term sustainability of this is bound to be a question you are asking right now…. Yup, I thought so!

Well, this is how I see it: I was a beneficiary of British Government subsidised flight training in the UK, but before I could complete my licence they stopped the subsidy. Stopping the subsidy did not stop me continuing and achieving – nor did it stop others after me. What it did do was to kick start a generation into aviation.

Likewise with the ‘Femcare Drop’ I consider initial free issue, and then perhaps subsidy, is a part of creating the awareness, introducing the concept and encouraging the introduction to the communities. I am sure that a few years ago, nobody thought that rural communities in Africa would ever use mobile phones. But it has caught on, the benefits, advantages – and disadvantages are all there. The key thing is that if there is a product or concept that can help to improve quality of life, education and future prospects it should be made available – even to the most rural communities.

We are already looking at many ways of expanding the project after phase-one – including aerial drops to communities without an airstrip or suitable water front for amphibian aircraft to land. Such ideas are great, but they need safety considerations, development and approvals – as well be suitably supplied with product - and funded.

One thing that I never expected with the ‘Femcare Drop’ project, was the enthusiasm of pilots to be involved. Already one pilot has added funds to help it to kick start, and others are offering to pay the aircraft-hire and fly some of the ‘Femcare Drop’ runs.

Patricia and Lydia met with Mr Femcare (also known as Jimmy) and received the first batch of product.

and then passed them on to James from Battorkope and Rosina, our community relations officer, under the wing of Alpha Echo in our maintenance hangar/workshop.

The first community concerned, Battorkope, have just nearly completed the construction of a suitable landing area for regular Humanitarian Aviation Logistics runs, to avoid using the more erratic amphibian solution (weather constraints are a bit more when you are landing between tree stumps sticking out of the water) – and will soon have a party on the strip that they have cleared magnificently by hand. The efforts this particular community is making gives us great hope that, with a small push in the right direction, enough energy can be released to boost each individual to achieve more, do more and be more independent, as they seek to improve their lot today, and that of their children for tomorrow.

Next time you go the supermarket, remember the millions of West Africans who have probably never been into a shop bigger than your lounge, and then look around at all we take for granted. I may be a pilot, but I am a humbled pilot from being involved in projects like this – and I look forward to sharing with you the results as the flights take place...The 'Femcare Drop' should make for some interesting flights, and more importantly,Change Lives, One Flight at a Time!