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, February 25, 2011

How many challenges can you fit into one day?

Submitted by Jonathan Porter
Reality TV is for sissies. Honestly, I have seen these programmes of 'challenges' in remote areas - they are really not reality at all... IF you want reality, you have to spend some time amongst the real life challenges that West Africa has on offer - in abundance, raw and ready to make you question the 'necessities' that we all take for granted - after all, YOU have power and a computer in front of you - and they work, as does your internet connection.... so that is a start....

I have to say that taking challenges in your stride is all part and parcel of doing the field work that we do out here - but it does get beyond a joke from time to time.  There are times when you just want to shout 'GET ME OUT OF HERE'... but you do not!
To give you an idea, In the past few weeks we have had :
  • broken push rods in our main genset (on order, should be here in six weeks)
  • con-rod break in a small gen set (probably beyond economic repair)
  • AVR/Governor up the spout on another one (limping along on limited tasks)
  • Six or more punctures including one in thick mud, care abandoned until mud gets dry!
  • No less than ten other motor vehicle challenges - from electrical failure, starter housing cracks, carb issues, key/column issues, smoking batteries, and general 'I hate car days'
  • Fuel supply issues (Effimax is in short supply)
  • Water pumping issues (you need working gen sets to pump water)
  • Inverter and storage battery issues
  • Staffing issues (it seems not everybody wants to go to work EVERY day they are paid for)
  • A big ol' rain storm (minor damage, but very wet)
  • A 'broken' fence and cow incursion (minor damage, but cow poop on the runway early one morning)
  • Delays in building programme (resulting in accommodation and transport challenges)
  • Customs/clearing challenges and associated additional costs and delays
  • Weather preventing missions taking place that should have completed last year (resulting in knock on effects like a domino game
  • Internet access issues
  • ran out of chocolate (a very serious condition)
  • to name but a few...
BUT we are still smiling. Of course, we do not always... and in the past two weeks smiling days have not really been in big supply. So, when we are not smiling, I avoid blog-ing!! Fortunately, we have a fantastic team - a really fantastic team. It is made up of some great individuals, with amazing skills, focus and determination. Without a team there is no success, and without that team learning from the challenges, one-by-one, day-by-day, there is point in being here. Right now we are privilaged to have a volunteer out to take some of the burdens off, Erin Nolan, who steps up to the mark when it comes to ensuring that the girls from AvTech are given a range of new exposures (yesterday she did some instrument work using the software donated from Iowa, now that there is power again in the classroom).

The night before last, I went to my room, had a brief meeting with Matthew and Patricia about the load of challenges, we checked the finances and what we could and could not do this week, and then I explained that 'I was not coming out'. Not a childish 'not coming out' but a planned, calculated 'not coming out'. I really needed some time to get my head around it all.

When the load of poop on the fan reaches critical mass you have to choose how to react. It is always written in our foreign passports that we have a 'get me out of here' clause.  It is all too easy to consider 'packing it all in'. BUT for our local team members 'this is it'. This really is their lot, challenges and all - and we are not in this to let them down, no Sir! Our 'outside' exposure allows us to understand that 'five punctures a day' is not 'God's special way', no, it is a result of poor roads, debris, conditions and the lack of availability of decent tyres at reasonable prices. But we have to cope with it, or sit by the side of the road and weep (which is an option we would like to take once in a while), or shout and scream (which we take as an option more often than we should).

So, I sat in my room, cogitating on the pile of challenges which were growing and providing a near total eclipse of the vision. I prayed, I thought, I considered, I postulated and then, after a moment of watching a bit of a Movie (Aliens v Monsters) sent over by Clay, I slept - well I fell asleep before the first ten minutes had run on my laptop.  Normally I get between four and six hours sleep per night, due to the challenge load! That night, I got over eight hours sleep - a real treat.  

I got up and Matthew, Patricia, Erin and I went out to the car - to find a puncture and a flat battery.... only to later find that the starter housing was cracked when Kojo arrived with the second car (which now belongs to him) to jump start the charabanc. Kojo simply slid out of the Astra lay down on the muddy ground under the Previa and called out 'Boss, take my car' , and so we did.

By the end of the day most things get fixed, and we learn that not all that we want or think that we need is necessary, but simply 'convenient'. Whilst Kojo, Matthew and the teams were working on the fixes and stuff, Erin and Cindy took the classes and Patricia took the pilot seat whist I sat in the camera-operators seat, and we set off on a long photo video mission over hostile terrain in 9G-ZAF (after a delay on starting... but that is a story in itself).

Where we were flying over there are often no roads, no telephone cover and no airband radio cover either. Operations are all between 1000 and 3000 feet and we were airborne just under seven hours in our CH701.What a privliage it is to be documenting the remote villages around the lake. How much more of a privlage to see neat little communities in the middle of nowhere - without ANY of the 'luxuries' that we have, nestled on the edge of the lake, having lost ALL of their farm land, all of their food stores, and yet still out there, smiling and waving at the plane as it sneaks a snapshot of their homes and lives.

One village had a neat little school building - and the children were out in the yard, all lined up and marching as if on parade for the President himself - deep in the remotest area of Ghana. The lake is magnificent, the communities around it so, so many. The access to power a pipe-dream for the majority. Access to clean drinking water not even considered an option by most. Access to anything but subsistence farming and some fishing not considered a likelihood - and yet, so proud, so brave, so magnificently persevering in all that they have to do in order to simply get from birth to death with a few smiles along the way.

The vast majority of these people will never visit a doctor or dentist, probably have contracted Bilharzia a number of times, or simply live with the disease, and are unlikely to taste a carbonated mineral - let alone a cold one! Yet, these people have so much to offer this planet - they are intelligent, albeit lacking in educational opportunities at times, determined and hard-working - and in this day and age, deserve a 'better day' now and again.

Despite all of our little challenges - that seem so enormous - we have it easy - comparatively speaking. I respect and admire 'the lake people' they are so, so brave - and soon, with your help, we will be in a position to reach more of them, more often. 

As we gear up for our 'MoM Lake Outreach Programme' which will include extensive Bilharzia education and treatment (we are ready to work towards eradication over ten years, if the donors will buy in), basic health education, first aid, general lake safety and, hopefully, 'teacher support motivation' in the remote, often 'under a tree' schools, I can only look at our daily challenges and be thankful that I can complain knowingly about not having some of the things for a day or two, that most of these people will never have or understand what it may even be like to have.

We are truly blessed, and I want to thank all of your for your support - since without you we could not do any of what we do - whether you are a customer of WAASPS taking your lessons in flying, or using the aerial solutions we offer, or whether you are a donor, loan provider, praying for us or volunteer giving up your precious holiday time to make a difference in person - YOU make this all possible, thank YOU.

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