With your help the people of West Africa have "a chance, not only to change their own lives and their own destinies, but to change the future of an entire generation".

Friday, November 30, 2012

Your bags can't hold what you'll take away....

The airfield represents a great deal of effort, just keeping it operational is a challenge that goes beyond our original expectations. Mowing, fencing, approvals, repairs and more - just to ensure that we have a safe place to operate from. The airfield is also the engineering base and test site for drop solutions and other aspects of our many-faceted outreach.

Just seven years ago this airfield opened.... today, it is the Headquarters of Medicine on the Move and the AvTech Academy, and is beginning to take shape. Our future plans include much more expansion... Our basis is 'if we got this far in the past seven years, how much more can we achieve in the coming seven!' But it takes a bigger team than just those of us permanently on the field...

Tony has just completed a seven week stay with us (third time in Ghana), and he has made a real difference, moving us forwards positively, in that time. Tony also completed his conversion training to a Ghanaian National Licence and is already planning his return visit, where he plans to participate actively in drop missions!

We received word this week that Donna (USA) is coming over in February (her second visit to Ghana, but first as a volunteer) to spend a month with us, training on sewing and upholstery skills - this will improve our aircraft upholstery capabilities as well as add a new skill to the team - and making of some uniforms! (Donna also hopes to demonstrate her building skills, as an active Habitat for Humanity volunteer in the USA)

Rex and Melissa hope to come over, from California, for their third visit to work on documentary filming and EMT training skills.

Franz, from Switzerland, is planning a first visit to help with 'anything I can' and team building skills.

Ute (third visit), Onni and Angelika (second visit), from Germany will return to help with aviation related and pastoral care skills during their two to three weeks stays.

Marcel, California, will come over for his second visit. He will run an EMT training session for us and a local hospital, and teach 'how to ride and maintain a bicycle' (none of the local team have those skills) as well as welding and general engineering (pus a variety of projects) over his three month stay.

Francis Norman, Germany, will return for the fourth year, and will lead a musical session - a skill that is as essential as any other - appreciation and self-creation, as well as fly some hours in our aircraft, thus supporting the operations.

Jake, UK, is thinking about spending some time between school and university, to open his horizons, to share some of his skills learned in school, and to start flying lessons.

Pablo, again from California, may well get to pop by for a couple of days again, on his next business trip to Ghana - he hopes to sit and chat with the girls about their training and to make a couple of flights to see the real challenges from the air!

David, UK, would like to come out and help with, and to teach: all aspects of construction, interior design and we hope he brings his guitar with him!

Clay, Iowa, had better get out here next year - he works EVERY day on some aspect of our activities from his home in the USA - and we hope that once he gets to Ghana he will be in the workshop, learning more about the final assembly of his own aircraft in build, as well as sharing recipes with Mavis and the team.

above all, these folks are interested in changing lives...

As more and more volunteers step up to the plate and put their energies into the training and development of the young people that make operations happen, it will grow and make more of a difference in the villages. Our focus remains on training the local people to help the local people - it is more sustainable than 'just doing' - but it takes longer, more energy and a lot more commitment in the short term

What skill do you have that you would like to share - or gain?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A long list..... not for Santa...

The Harmattan is in the air, light, but clearly on its way... with it, we will be restricted in our airborne operations until March. The wind is coming from the North, the day time temperatures are rising and the night time temperatures are dropping... Furthermore, with ten days to the Presidential Elections, and with Tony heading back to the states this week, plus the end of term for the AvTech girls, we have a long list of challenges to shake our collective sticks at.

1. Work on a new drop system (more details in the new year)
2. Preparations for a major drop schedule in March 2013
3. Ongoing work on the fuel system for our CH701 to ensure the long range capability that will be needed for the planned drop schedule in 2013.
4. Constant work towards our funding needs, and seeking alternative revenue streams.
5. Many meetings about collaboration around the Volta Lake for the coming year
6. Planning the training programme for the Clinic and air operations.

PLUS the ongoing, seemingly endless paperwork challenges that seem to be a growing burden in this part of the world.

In the next few weeks we will be sending out our newsletter, so if you are not yet registered - do so now

Thank you all for your support and reading about us, we value you all!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Weather

We have the most incredible weather at Kpong Airfield, and our view of Mt. Krobo keeps changing………

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Learning English

News-based English language activities from the global newspaper, The Guardian

Would you like to share the joy of learning English with others - and at the same time have the opportunity to share a little of what we do in Ghana?

This downloadable comprehension and discovery exercise is intended for school children/EFL learners, but may be a useful resource for others too.

We all feel highly complimented that the work we do can be used beyond our scope in changing lives and learning around the world!

Ghanaian girls take off with flight training opportunities

Monday, November 19, 2012

Getting a load….

We urgently needed to get some stones from the local quarry to make some concrete. So, Jonathan and I went off for a few miles down the road in the Trusty Truck. As we came to the quarry, which lies at the end of a horribly rutted dirt road, it seemed like an almost surrealistic place with monstrous conveyor belts clanking away all day. They were joined in their cacophonous symphony by a pair of (rather nice-looking) hammer mills banging away on some poor rocks, which they turned into stones for our concrete.

We were told to park the Trusty Truck for loading, and it looked dreadfully puny when a huge bulldozer approached. The vast shovel was full of stones which threatened to (a) pulverize the truck and then (b) to bury it. We stood with bated breath, but fortunately the skilled operator was pretty careful, and didn’t give the truck that almighty whack that we were expecting, but we could see the truck bed groaning under the weight of the stones.

Off we went, at a slow crawl, hoping that the tiny tires would not burst in the heat on that rutted road, but they held out bravely, and we arrived back home on the airfield with the Trusty Truck more or less unscathed.

You’ll find out more about the concrete in a future blog – coming soon!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

So what on earth do I do at Kpong Airfield?

Your humble scribe is working as a volunteer for seven weeks with Medicine on the Move and the Avtech Academy. Fundamentally, I’m a general dogsbody and will do whatever is needed.

I spend a good chunk of time in the classroom with the AvTech students, and we use Computer-based Training (CBT) courses as a basis for teaching. Currently, we’re going through the CBT sessions on Meteorology (for pilots), and so we have endless opportunities to delve into critical topics like fractions, graphs, metrics, and physics. When we were discussing the physics of pressure, we talked about the effect of carrying a bottle up to 10,000’ sealing it and seeing what happened after coming back to sea level. It so happens that we have a few airplanes close by, so it was easy to do a real live test (at least to see the effect of 2,500’ pressure difference)! It’s so wonderful to be able to bring the academic and the practical side of things into such close proximity.

The AvTech students are great fun to work with! A few days ago, we were discussing metrics and talked about estimating distances. The girls guessed the distance to the picnic tables when walking over for lunch, and then they paced off the distance marching forward silently as a very determined group! The estimates were amazingly close and you can imagine the loud whoops of delight when the estimates and the measurements came within a few metres of each other!

At an active and fast-paced operation like WAASPS / MoM / AvTech Academy, junk easily accumulates, and it’s tough to keep the place clean and tidy and de-junked. AvTech students are (almost!) always willing, enthusiastic and smiling when we call on them to help out!

There is much work to do around the airfield and things break a lot in the harsh conditions of strong sunlight, humidity, rainstorms, insects, plus general wear and tear. When the tractor used for mowing the runway recently ran out of fuel, I had to spend an hour bleeding the air out of the system before it ran properly. Plumbing is a constant problem, and I’ve blogged previously about the fun and games we have with imported fittings! The current bane of my life is getting some cellular modems to work in the data centre. Our internet access is reasonable reliable but somewhat slow, and so everything takes that much longer. Other related tasks include getting computers with odd operating systems to work on the network, and getting that wireless printer to work with all the student computers.
Keeping up with e-mail, writing blogs and doing administrative work means that I spend a surprising amount of time on my computer. We’re building a bit more structure around the AvTech Academy programme with additional documentation of the academic and practical training – that means more typing!

Every night I do a quick check of the hangars and workshops when I turn off our trusty generator soon after 20:00. Since it’s located in the complex of buildings on the far side of the field, this entails a short walk across the runway in the dark, and I have a fond hope that I’ll spot the snakes with my flashlight before they decide that they don’t like me. If it’s been pouring rain (we’ve had a lot recently), I get a bit more exercise plus muddy shoes, and walk the long way around the end of the runway to avoid spoiling the soft runway surface..

You see, there is no rest for the wicked (or anyone else for that matter). There is always so much to – plus we have those almost weekly and not-so-much-fun trips to Accra which consume a whole day and which I’ll ignore in today’s blog. With all that goes on, I’m always thrilled if I manage to get in the odd bit of time in an airplane!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Fuel an everyday challenge....

Fuel shopping is not cheap. Not only does it take half a day, and at over 100 km of travel, it empties the wallet too!

Without fuel for the aircraft we clearly cannot fly. Getting and storing the fuel is not as easy as we would like, but we manage.

Fuel is then double filtered before going into the aircraft tanks with a special filter and water separator, then in aircraft systems are several layers deep... All for the love of safe operations!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink…..

Well, The Kpong Airfield Hilton is normally blessed with running water – yes real pure drinkable running water! Nevertheless, although we are right next to Lake Volta, the largest (in area) human-made lake in the world, and even though we had lots of rainstorms in the past few weeks, our poor water taps did no more than an occasional embarrassed dribble last week.

According to rumour, the main water pipe broke somewhere near the town of Kpong, and it took four days before it got fixed. The wise people (Jonathan + Patricia) who run Kpong Airfield had planned for this eventuality by installing a 3000 litre tank on our own private water tower. Unfortunately, seven AvTech girls, four facilities staff, two management staff, visitors plus your thirsty scribe mean that the tank lasts for three days of normal use. On the fourth day all taps again dribbled in that embarrassing way.
What next? Well, we’re all supposed to maintain a full bucket of water in our bathrooms and there are oodles of old mineral water or soda bottles with drinking water in the freezer. Those water bottles are kept nice and cold as long as there is diesel and the generator is working. When those bottles became dry, we had to go out and buy sachets of water. Sachets are little plastic bags of water that you can get all over Ghana, and if you buy a particular brand of sachet, you are likely to not get sick!

Fortunately, at the end of Day 4, the mains water got fixed. Having mains water running most of the time is actually rather nice and it allows us to have those deliciously cold showers each morning –brrr!!!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Airdrop of Educational Materials to Communities on Lake Volta (Part 2)

On Friday morning, the day after the AvTech students completed the packages for the airdrops, Jonathan (our intrepid pilot) and I set out to fly over seventeen villages close to the shores of Lake Volta. I squeezed into the cockpit along with the bag of packages, taking care not to let anything fall into the opening in the floor.

The procedure was to fly towards a designated drop zone – usually at a school – and descend as far as needed but consistent with safety. The flight had been announced to the national security authorities as well as to air traffic control, and we were authorized to descend to 200’ feet above ground level. This is easier said than done, as the pilot needs to aim the aircraft very carefully while keeping a watch for emergent trees and other obstacles. On a turbulent day, this can become all the more challenging!
As we got close to the drop zone, I would hold a bag with the rolled up document in the hole in the floor, and release it when Jonathan called out “3, 2, 1, drop”. Some of the drop zones were difficult to identify, and they would come up very rapidly, but the bag had to be dropped in exactly the right location. With practice, the ‘dropmaster’ can identify the edge of a drop zone through the opening in the aircraft and it should fall exactly in the right spot.

When nearby children heard the sound of the aircraft, they would run out into the clearing, knowing that an airdrop was imminent and they would run to catch the bag. Meanwhile, Jonathan, would bring the aircraft into a climbing turn that allowed us to verify that the children were looking for bag, and we could sometimes see that they had actually found it.

We dropped the literature at 17 villages, dropping two bags in one village to serve another nearby community. For this trip, we flew a total of 1.3 hours in a Zenith 701 aircraft with the new Rotax 912iS engine.

This was my first time to participate in an airdrop run to the ‘client’ villages of Medicine on the Move, and I was thrilled not only by the opportunity see the villages, but also by the beautiful landscape and cloud formations. At the same time, I was very conscious of the living conditions of the people living in the villages, and saw many areas (including dwelling houses and fields) that had been flooded. This flooding came about because all the rains had raised the level of Lake Volta, and of course people like to live close to the water so that they can get to their fishing grounds, their drinking water and their washing water.

These conditions are a key reason why there is a need for education around health and hygiene. Water-borne diseases such as bilharzia (Schistosomiasis) are a key cause of poor health, while diarrhoea resulting from poor hygiene practices is widespread and debilitating.

Medicine on the Move first established contact with this batch of villages in early 2012 by making an initial invitational air drop. Almost all the villages responded positively to participating in the airdrop program by calling a special phone number (this batch of villages do have reasonable cellphone access, even if they have to walk to a location to get a call out! This may not be the case in future drop areas). There were some requirements placed on this group of villages such as participation in a preparatory meeting, but the key is that the community leaders are engaged and that some of these leaders – especially school teachers – are willing to use the airdrop materials to help raise the level of health and hygiene awareness in their communities. We’re certainly making an impact on the children – you can see their excitement from a couple of hundred feet up in the air when they run to pick up the airdrop bag!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Airdrop of Educational Materials to Communities on Lake Volta (Part 1)

We had scheduled Friday morning to do an airdrop of health education materials to some of the communities that we serve on the southern end of Lake Volta (yes, human-made lake with the largest surface area in the world).

The preparations for this drop started a few days before when the AvTech students started putting some text together for the educational materials. We had a session where we jointly composed the text for the health education poster. This is where the digital projector really came in handy as everyone could contribute and yours truly, the humble scribe, could just type out the really great ideas that the girls came up with. The resulting text was designed to appeal to the peers of our AvTech students who live in the remote villages near the lake. This target audience of young people has similar aspirations to those of our AvTech students – they all want to have good jobs when they finish school, and good health maintenance is an important part of this.

After printing out twenty copies of the different documents – a letter to the community leaders, some instructions for use of the materials, a small poster with practical health guidance of health, it was time to assemble the bags for the drop. For each community, the girls collated the documents, rolled them up inside a red marker sheet, and stuffed the roll into a plastic bag which was sealed using an office heat sealer. The plastic bag was sealed in two directions, so as to have one half of the bag flap in the wind as a kind of rudder so that the paper roll would drop on its side and not on one end and get creased.

Once we had the twenty packages prepared, all was ready for the bag drop flight the next morning

Friday, November 2, 2012

Cooperative Driving – Risk Minimization

When Hella and I are driving somewhere, the person not driving also keeps an eye on the road and makes the odd comment like ‘check speed’, ‘slow traffic ahead’, or ‘dog on the right’. This becomes particularly important when driving on a narrow mountain road on a rainy night in California, when the extra pair of eyes pointing out ‘road veering left in 100 yards’ can be really helpful. Patricia and Jonathan have perfected this kind of cooperative driving to a fine art on the highly dangerous roads that we have in Ghana.

Cooperative driving is an example of CRM (Crew Resource Management), a practice which comes from the world of aviation and which has been developed in the past few decades to help minimize the risk of aircraft accidents. Part of the idea is to make use of all available crew resources to help gather data, and bring critical information to the attention of the pilot flying. Communication among crew members is vital, and crew comments are seen as being helpful to the pilot / driver - as opposed to being critical and undermining the sensitive ego of the driver!

Driving on Ghanaian roads at night is a high-risk activity, and the driving ‘crew’ has to factor in deep potholes, ragged road edges, unlit vehicles, obstacles in the driving lane, and oncoming and overtaking vehicles where it’s not clear that they will move back into their lane on time. Other hazards include pedestrians wearing dark clothes crossing the road without warning, unlit bicyclists riding in the wrong direction, and animals on the road. When Patricia and Jonathan form the driving crew, the person not driving keeps up an almost running commentary in congested areas about the upcoming hazards. This is particularly helpful at night, when it can take the driver’s brain a few seconds to analyse the vague shadows coming up ahead, and so the help of the co-driver in digesting the complex array of sensory inputs is highly appreciated.

As the passenger in the back seat on a couple of the 2-3 hour drives back to Kpong from Accra after a long day in the city, I feel a lot safer with Patricia and Jonathan’s CRM - especially when I think of Jonathan’s son who was hit by an oncoming vehicle while driving in his lane on this very road. It was a miracle that he survived, and I hope that with CRM, the likelihood of getting into this kind of accident is a lot lower.