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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Melissa’s Blog

Melissa’s Blog

Kpong, Ghana
Fulani Education Center Meeting

After the completion of the Fulani school building (being called the Education Center) Matthew requested that all of the people meet under the roof one morning at 8 am. We of course arrived around 9:30 knowing that you should always tell people to arrive at least 1 hour before you actually want them to be there. When we arrived several of the men had gathered and the rest of the men, women and children quickly followed. 

It was great to see that the men and children had been stripping the bark from the trees that were used as the supports for the building in order to preserve the wood. They also cleared the debris away from below the roof to make a nice floor. This shows that they are taking pride in the building are will hopefully continue to maintain it in the future.  

The women were dressed in vibrant colors and sat quietly to one side and the children sat in a group together in the corner. Some of the older boys carried sticks across their shoulders in the same fashion that their fathers do when herding the cattle. The men were also well dressed and one elder in particular caught my eye. He was a good bit older than the others and had the face of a man who has experienced a lot in life and is full of wisdom. When he spoke, everyone listened. The men were the only ones to engage in the conversation as is customary. 

Ghana is filled mostly with a Christian population and the Fulani are of Muslim belief. It happened that three ‘holy men’ were present who traveled from the North and came along to our meeting. In the end they approved of the education center and what it would be used for.

Matthew spoke English and Cindy (the school’s teacher employed by WAASPS) translated into Twi, the local language. They spoke about what the building would be used for including lessons for the children, educational materials and seminars for the women and men on health, nutrition and anything else. 

One of the men asked if he could take his children out of their regular school to attend our classes and we explained that this was a learning center to be used as a stepping stone to the children who were not yet in school to learn what they need to in order to pass the school entry exams and that it is not a replacement to regular school. They will meet on Monday mornings and try to keep a sort of regular schedule. They will also pay a small fee per family so that they have a sense of contribution towards the classes and will need to have a level of responsibility. 

Ghanaian ‘PUP’ License

Erin and I completed the remainder of our 5 hour conversion course and solo’s in the X-Air Falcon only one day before Fly Me Day! Jonathan completed our check rides and that night in the dark out by the picnic table Patricia presented us with our Ghanaian PUP Licenses! Erin’s was number 21 and mine was number 22. The numbers just happened to be the same days as each of our birthdays! 

I feel very proud to be a part of the beginning of General Aviation in Ghana and I look forward to watching it grow under the watchful eyes of Jonathan and Patricia in the years to come. 

Preparations for Fly Me Day

The girls had a lot of work to do leading up to Fly Me Day including re-fabricing the tail on one of the aircraft and having to use the parts from 2 rudders in order to make one complete one… and they did it! 

We had a practice run the night before Fly Me Day where we did 2 rotations in the pattern. Jonathan briefed all of us on what our roles and responsibilities would be. We started with a girl in each plane with me, Patricia, Erin and Jonathan. On my first round I flew with Juliet! We landed in sequence, parked, shut down the engines and then went through the same procedure for switching passengers as we would the next day. On the second rotation me and Cindy flew together.  It was a nice treat for everyone to get a flight in after all of their hard work. 

Other Tasks around the Airfield

In addition to preparing the airplanes Matthew and Rex worked together with the girls to put together the new wind turbine. It is not completed yet but they did the wiring and were able to complete the main structure. The girls were able to learn about how the wind will generate power through the turbine to charge batteries. 

They had an extra special treat when we all went for a tour of the Akosombo Dam with some of the students who came down for Fly Me Day and were able to stand above the massive turbine powered by the water. 

The masons and Matthew also worked hard to clean up and place along with placing fencing and tents where the students would be between flights on the airfield and mowing the runway and surrounding areas. 

They have also been working on the student and teacher accommodation and the mud hut where the wind turbine will be used in the M.O.M. garden. I am looking forward to seeing how the M.O.M. garden project will look when everything is completed! I will continue to post photos as things progress. 

Fly Me Day

The big event that we have all been preparing for was finally here! The weather was looking a bit iffy but it held out for all of the childrens’ flights. We arrived and prepared the airplanes then went to meet the first group of children. We took a bit of time to introduce ourselves and talk to them about what we would be doing. Then we numbered each of them for their flights!

We started our engines and 5 hours later after 112 flights later we parked the 4 airplanes back in the hangar.  The children ranged in ages from elementary school age to their last year of high school. We only had a few that kept their eyes closed and/or clung to the pilots arms where the majority of the children did very well on their first ever airplane rides!

Most of the kids would be quiet at first and as the flight progressed they would ask more and more questions about what they saw on the ground, how the plane was constructed and how the plane flew.  I think that everyone had at least one child ask if they could come home with them and a few tell them that they were their new best friend! 

We gave a ‘thumbs up’ to the kids who expressed an outstanding performance in questions, observations and overall enjoyment. These children were put through a series of fun trust tests and questions after the flying was completed and awarded prizes of t-shirts applause. The most exciting part was when Jonathan chose 7 girls who would return to the AvTech Academy to do 1 week in the workshop learning along side Patricia and the other girls. Hopefully a few of them will show enough potential and interest to be come AvTech students themselves.

Jonathan gave a speech to the students and teachers about maintaining the runways in their towns, ways to avoid Bilhartzia  and aviation in general. Then he invited the students one group at a time to come and stand next to the pilot that they flew with. Our students told us ‘God bless you’ and ‘Thank you’ and we were given the opportunity to speak a few words of motivation to them. 

I will never forget the looks on the students’ faces and the incredible experience of taking 23 children for their first flights in one day.  I hope that they will be inspired to chase their dreams and encouraged to study hard in school so that one day they might sit at the controls to the same aircraft in which they took their first flight.

Documentary Progress

I am learning quickly that there is something called ‘African time.’ Rex put it in a great way in his last blog.. it is like a slow moving train, not in a hurry but steadily chugging along. A building that might take 2 days to build with your own crew may take 2 months using the local people in a village; but in long term it will make it last longer because they will take pride in what they have made. Interviews that we had hoped to get done in one day a week ago have turned into 1 interview every few days.. so we are learning to take things in stride and manage the time that we have as best we can to accomplish what we need to in order to make our documentary a success. 
Rex and I have worked on laying out our story line and so far have excellent footage of the Avtech Academy and the airfield and have gotten a good chunk of the interviews completed.  Our next step is to film Medicine on the Move operations, the heart of the WAASPS organization. 

We are 2 weeks in with 2 weeks to go and have used much of our storage space already and to say that we are excited/anxious/etc. to get things completed would be an understatement. The girls are meant to prepare the float plane today so that we can take it into a village on the lake.  Now that Fly me Day is over, Jonathan told us that his time will be more freed up to complete the things that we need for the film. 

After 2 weeks I am counting every second to get into a village and see M.O.M. in action and to understand the reason for all that is going on here at Kpong Airfield. I know that it will have been worth the wait!

P.S. Kpong is pronounced Pong… I was corrected several times by the customs man at the airport  :) 

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