Submitted by Melissa Pemberton
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. 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 lakeshore 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!