As many of you know Medicine on the Move changes lives one flight at a time... but we also do road trips! Medicine on the Move has never had its own vehicle per se. WAASPS, Paul J, Martin H and others have kindly loaned their vehicles for trips. WAASPS is, of course, intrinsically linked to MoM as it operates the aircraft and provides the 'home' for MoM as well as covering all costs that cannot be found elsewhere in order to meet the needs of the day. (For example Cindy is actually employed by WAASPS, but works on NGO activities the majority of her time). This symbiotic relationship is great, but it needs to move on from there towards a more independent MoM.
Since the last road trip to the North with Erin, when the WAASPS Previa broke down about ten times, the 'road trip' concept has been 'reduced to locally recoverable by tow-home' movements only. This has resulted in some 'contracted' operations.
A crunch point came about two weeks ago, when all of WAASPS vehicles went into 'no-go' mode. The Astra was withdrawn from availability with the departure of Kojo to start his own company (Jesmine Engineering, for which we wish him well), the Buggy throttle cable snapped, carb needed work on, brakes went wonky and fuel tank had so much rust the fuel started finding its own way out of the tank, and the Previa which was in a minor accident, ended up with major surgery, went into light duty service and then experienced 'vehicular-cardiac arrest' with a complete failure of the electrical system.
WAASPS, AvTEch and MoM went to the 'bush taxi' system. All personnel movements went by taxi... at times the taxi conditions were 'not within acceptable standards', yet there was literally no choice. For the weekely fuel run, a friend lent us a truck to carry the drums to Accra for clean fuel, and on the way the cabin filled with black smoke as the water pump went at the same time as the cylinder head gasket. Matthew and I (feeling like Jonah's) resorted to using a tro-tro to Accra... an experience not to be repeated - whilst a relief truck brought the drums to Accra.
Whether you believe in a God, or a coincidence, it matters not, but what happened during this troubling time has changed the way MoM can work and also created the first next towards the activities of Project ETCHE (Encouragement Training for Community Health Empowerment - which you will learn more about in the coming months...).
A benefactor and supporter of MoM made an anonymous donation of 85% of the purchase price of a small double cab truck, a KIA K2700. Another benefactor and supporter of MoM made a short term loan for the balance, and so, on Friday of last week, MoM, for the first time, became a vehicle owner.
The K2700 has a range of 500km on one tank of diesel, can seat 6 inside the cabin and has a 1.5tonne flat load bed potential behind. It rides like Land Rover (a bit bumpy but solid) and has an excellent record of service in West Africa - and is economical. The insurance of just under $900 per year is under consideration by SIC for 'sponsorship' and WAASPS has agreed to cover it should SIC not come through.
One thing we learnt as well is that three AvTech Girls can sleep in the back of the truck!
Havign just done one thousand kilomoters in three days in the vehicle, I would best describe it as 'safe, comfortable and more of a small truck than a big pick-up. With double wheels on the rear axle and two spares as standard, as well as its demonstrated 'mud and corrugated road' capabilities, even in the 2x4 version we have (we decided not to go for the 4x4 as costs were higher - both purchase and maintenance) and the ability to haul load, this is the ideal vehicle for the MoM activities in Ghana.
So, where did we rack up 1000 klicks in three days?
We set off on a trip that was, as is our usual custom, funded through the needs of another organisation! We combined some safety training for a 'common interest in the lake people' company and the final push to get Kete Krachi airstrip opened.
Leaving at 4am we headed by road to Dambai, covering tarmac, dirt and more-hole-than-surface roads, crossed on the ferry (a 20minute crossing for less than 1nm of water), and then drove corrugated latterite to Kete Krachi. It took us twelve hours travel to arrive at a point less than 110nm (200km) from our home base.
On the way we saw a lazy sheep hitching a ride from a motorbike, that lightened the bumpy trip a bit!
After the heavy heavy rains we wanted to see the state of the disused runway we had inspected in February during Erin's visit, which funded the last visit there. It was in good shape! So, we headed to the community leaders and made them a clear proposal.
"If you undertake as a community to maintain this airfield for the benefit of the whole community, we will undertake to do the paperwork and pay the fees for the reactivation of this resource." Of course, in Africa these decisions take a long time. So, we drafted the necessary letters for the authorities and arranged to meet the leaders at the airfield at 07:30 the next morning.
07:30 we got to the airfield, myself, Patricia and the AvTech girls; ready and eager to clear the site and get it ready for a glamour shot for the application. We stood alone. Fearing the worst, at 08:15 I left the girls on the field and set off to the leaderships offices... but I did not get far. I was met on the way by the community leaders and then trucks of school children and farmers arrived to assist in bringing back to life the facility once used actively.
We set a competetition to cut down three tall trees close to the threshold - in less than 9 minutes three trees were felled by schoolboys with their cutlasses! Then, Patricia and the girls stared FOD training and the entire group spread out and walked that runway clearing sticks and stones, cow pats (dried and crispy ones) whilst I went with the supportive DCE (Kwame Moses Ponye) and some schoolboys to take out the shrubs on the runway.
By ten am the runway was definitely useable. Sheepishly, I asked about the necessary letters to be told 'I signed them already, just go and collect them'. Which we did - and they were all correct and in order! This demonstrates that 'Africa Time' is not a foregone conclusion, and that with a little encouragement and the right people in the right places things can happen overnight!
Kete Krachi is a strategic location for looking after the lake - it is half way up the lake length and the confluence of the two big northern river-legs that make it up. Kete Krachi has the potential to become a MoM secondary base. It has a hospital, and a once per week ferry service from VLTC, who have offered to carry fuel to the site for us. Getting Kete Krachi operational opens up a whole new real of possibilities. It is not MoM, nor I, nor the AvTech girls that make it possible. No, it is the people of Kete Krachi - the children we flew on Fly Me Day from there, the support from the Volta Lake Transport Company and, most essentially the decision making and determination of the people of Kete Krachi. Our encouragement is all that we have given, they have made the difference. That is the basis of MoM's approach - we help you to help yourselves - and it works!
From Kete Krachi we took the VLTC ferry, the Yapei Queen, through the afternoon and night to Yeji, in a strong storm. The crew were fantastic and we spent a long time on the bridge with them. These are the folks that will be keeping an eye out for the Health Education Vessel that we expect to operate on the lake next year (equipped with an amphibious aircraft dock behind), and their knowledge of these waters are essential both for boat and float plane operations. Even with the experience of many years sailing on the waters, during the storm we hit a tree. The jolt had me jumping from the bunk, but the steel hull just moved on.
We docked at four small communities along the way, dropping off and picking up people and supplies and seeing the yam piles getting ready to be loaded on the return trip. Where the forklift cannot move these yams will be carried by hand through the water to the vessel and hand loaded into the crates to go to market in the south of the country - about 4 hours at each stop. These very communities are ideal destinations for ETCHE as it moves upstream in the coming months and years - and communities for us to note in case of emergency landings - for a forced landing in these parts should be near a community that you can get a lift out of! Our GPS was busy getting co-ordinates for each of these, and they will be loaded onto each aircrafts equipment for 'emergency and future use'.
Here we are docking at Ehiamankye...
next was Bejamase
and finally at Hawusakorpe
before we appraoched the lights at Yeji...
We spent the night on the boat and disembarked at 04:00 on Wednesday morning to the fly filled sky of Yeji, our shiny new donated K2700 truck covered in bits of hay used in the Yam crates, blown about by the storm. We saw a picture of the crates that fell on a new truck a few weeks ago during a storm, and realised that our storm was not so bad after all - the grass was easily cleared.
As dawn rose over Yeji we saw the most amazing Nimbostratus - the sky was blackened in a horseshoe shape, the effects of the temperature differences from the different rivers, air movements and the micro-climatic influences dominating the panorama. We had hoped to take the ferry across to Salaga (the site of another abandoned airfield) but the weather was not in our favour for the day.
As we approached the ferry an old lady ran out at me shouting 'DANGER DANGER' and pushing me away from the boat. She was concerned that we may try to cross during the storm. Patricia reassured her that we heard her concerns and would not sail if the sky was dark!
We spent some time with the crew of the boat and gained understanding of the water and the sky, and then set off on the eleven hour drive back to Kpong - on good roads for 95% of the journey. That was eleven hours to cover a distance of 400km by road or what would have been just 250km by air - less than two hours in any of the MoM/WAASPS aircraft...
The best part of this journey was, for the first time in my memory, this was a trip without a breakdown, without a puncture, without an unexpected challenge of the vehicular type, with airconditioning that worked and kept the red dust out of our hair, clothes and teeth... in fact, it was really pleasant! So, MoM is on the road again, in a better condition and better able to make the differences to peoples lives that we so dearly want to make.
As I wrote on my FB page this morning.... "God resides in the heavens so that he can see all of humanity, seeing where the needs are and acting appropriately... when we fly we see more than most - and with it comes responsibilities to care for those we see that others cannot."
Thanks to you, we have been able to see the needs from the sky, and thanks to you we are able to undertake road trips to work towards creating the infrastructure necessary to take the much needed Encouragement Health Training for Community Health Empowerment to the people in need.
Please, keep on supporting us, for despite the stomy skies and challenges that flow like a river in our direction, I can assure you that we are working to change lives in a very cost efficient, people-centric, non-invasive and sustainable manner - in ways that are not common in these parts. THANK YOU!