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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Gone 30 days... And we feel 6 months behind... So, all is back to normal

It is now nearly two weeks since we returned from our awareness and fund raising tour of the USA. IT went well, on one hand, and could have done better on another. Medicine on the Move is now so well known it is, frankly, beyond the scope of even the biggest marketing agencies dreams! MoM made front pages of magazines, on-air appearances on AOPA live, radio coverage and about more internet links than any other organisation on a ‘first trip’ to the states could dream of. Our hosts at Oshkosh, Zenith Aircraft Company, were fantastic and many visitors to their stand came up and shook our hands saying that they had been following our endeavours on-line for a long time… so why don’t they write? We pointed out that ‘words of encouragement’ go a long way in the ‘darkness of silence’. I am sure that the months that ensue will see more ‘little comments’ along the way!

MoM is an international organisation, and its volunteers make it what it is – both in Ghana and around the world. Clay from Iowa is responsible for much of the PR, Tony from California much of the organising, the SVCF advice and fundholding, Sid procurement of agricultural equipment and contacts, Hella provision of stability and focus, Melissa creator of postcards plus energy and motivation for Patricia, Rex master of cinematography and promotional video, Marcel the electronics and electrical equipment consultant, Ben and Micheala the technical gurus, and the list is growing, Wayne provider of training, Vicky, Linda, Nealy, Eric, Roger, Seb, Susan, Freddy, Chris, Isabelle, Calvin, Lucy, Caleb, Joyce, Kelly, Victoria, Augusta, Jack, Jim, Paul, Helen, and so many others… the list grows daily of those with words, items and funds to help make the MoM world go around…

We had hoped to raise more in the way of operational funds, and as such we need to re-adjust our plans for 2012, pending any other good surprises that come along. But as I say, ‘when you have a little money you can make it go a long way!’

Last night I received a call ‘so, you have been back nearly two weeks… when do you start doing stuff again?’ I almost laughed my own socks off… Here is a brief summary from touchdown on the 18th August to today…

Landed 19:00hrs. Met by Bill O, Matthew, Emmanuella and Lydia (who was discharged from hospital a couple of hours earlier. Drove with a truck packed with items from the trip (including a propeller, spark plug cleaning centre, altimeters, ASI’s, bandages, dressings, varieties of tools, a wind up radio for Lydia as physio (thanks Clay, Tracey and co), and a new shoe collection for Patricia!

22:00 arrived at the airfield to move into the new buildings. No water. No Power. Only a front door. Only one toilet (no toilet door), not all ceilings on, no mosquito porch on one of them, scorpions on the walls, holes in some walls (needed to be stuffed with rags) and not all the beds in place. Sleep where we can as we can!

Friday: Five girls from Kete Krachi arrive. They arrived with us for a one week programme post fly me day – about managing a bush strip and aviation (hopefully they would like sponsorships to the AvTech Academy). Try to get the toilets working. Came close to terminating several members of staff…. The poor chaps could not understand why we had to move in even if they had not completed their dragged out work load? Duh we cannot move 10 girls per day back and forth for this programme (5 from Kete Krachi, 2 from Asesewa (who never showed, the school stopped them!), 3 from AvTech… it was already planned that it would be here, and here we are!

Matthew and I went to the city to purchase needed supplies and procure new mattresses for the Avtech and Krachi girls… meanwhile, all aircraft are washed and several kilos of mud removed from Potters Wasps (mud daubers?) from every possible nesting location… these planes have not flown in nearly 5 weeks… extra care is needed.

Saturday: Patricia and I are both out of hours and cannot fly before re-validation (if you don’t fly for 28 days we ask for 3 take off and landings with an instructor.) Since we are now in the same situation as after the Harmattan, that is EVERYBODY is out of hours, the most experienced pilot must fly solo three circuits… so I do my three solo. I had forgotten how ‘frisky’ the air is here! Then Patricia did her three with me, and we are officially operational again. Flying the girls from Kete Krachi and preparing their ideas towards the management of their own community airstrip. (fix what we can in the bungalows). BBC Health programme team arrive and start filming

Sunday: most of the customers who were due to fly could not. Flying school customers make the majority of the cash flow that keeps our ‘inner circle of sustainability’ running… so that was a blow. More BBC filming… lovely crew (Ben and Ben) with lots of energy and understanding… they want to show the concept of ‘Encouragement Training for Community Health Empowerment’ and the ‘West African girls learning to build and fly aircraft to reach other West Africans and to take training to them.

Nurse Lydia came along and ran a first aid course with the Krachi girls – they learned so much, things which we all take for granted – but Nurse Lydia is a Ghanaian with punchiness and understanding – she does a lovely course, pitched at the right level.

Monday: Fulani camp visit, with Cindi, Matthew, Emmanuella, Kwadjo and Audry’s relatives who came to see too. More BBC filming in the workshops where CH801 engine baffles for the XP-360 were being made by the Krachi girls and AvTech girls, led by Patricia.

Changed Lydia’s dressings – leg still needs dressed as does the arm.

Tuesday: Battery problems. Two aircraft need new battery cages. The batteries we can obtain locally for our operations are UPS batteries – and they are not the ‘standard’ size. Much care must go into the design and construction of a suitable long term battery cage. We are over-engineering it after challenges with a past model from outside the country.

Wednesday: More airfield training. Including safety training and preparation of a training programme that can be rolled out in Krachi in the future. We were not happy with the slow running of Kilo Tango at the weekend and so we decide to rebalance the engine. This had the Krachi girls really excited – and literally with ‘blown away hair’. We put them each side of the plane behind the struts to hold down and watch the vacuum gauges as we ran up, tested and reset the carbs on the 912 engine. I love to watch the faces of the youngsters as they realise the thrust pulling on their attempts to hold the plane back even at 60% power, and to see the sudden understanding of the induction cycle of a four stroke engine. Teaching and providing enlightenment is one of the most fabulous things to do, and when it is in a practical manner, you know that you have also changed their community (for they WILL talk about that event) and their eventual children (for the story will grow!). Wonderful day.

Thursday: More training at the airfield with the Krachi Girls, workshop activities, and more. Plus trying to get the accommodation workable. Decide to BAN the masons from the building. Girls do some electrical installations so that there can be light in the evenings from the Genset. Masons set to trench digging – they can do less harm there! One quits his job since he does not want to dig a trench… Try to trial fit the alternator to the 801 – but spiders have filled all the mounting holes with a very sticky substance. Two hours with dentistry picks to clear the holes…. Get used to it, this is the tropics!

Friday: more electrics, more training, aircraft parts and tools – these are basic needs. When a youngster cannot identify a screwdriver or a type of hammer we care quickly challenged when at their site. ‘Pass me the pliers’ has been responded to with being passed a drink of water! Also knowing the parts of the plane improves the ‘understanding and acceptance’ of the flying machines into these communities – they should not be ‘magic items’ but real understandable machines that do a valid job.

Redress Lydia’s leg – no need for a bandage any more there! Remove the stitches, redress her arm. Realise that we need a treatment room… the conditions we are dressing this arm in are many times better than most hospitals, but not even close to the conditions of a Veterinary dressing room in Europe or the USA. Rethink needed on clinic and dressing issues.

Saturday: Krachi girls should go home. They don’t want to and come up ‘it is easier to travel on a Sunday’. They win… five big smiles, ten wide eyes and a good plan… they win. They stay and help with the flying and moving planes around. Time to test the SPOT tracking devices for MoM missions…. Bad weather stops play and cash flow.

Sunday: 06:00 Krachi girls to the ‘station’. It will take them around 13 hours to get home… a mere 200km that is 125 miles (or less than 2 hours in a small plane, if we were allowed to land on their airstrip – which is ready). The road is dangerous as is the ferry crossing that they must undertake to get home. They call at designated points along the way, in case we need to run a search and rescue mission to them. Drizzle stopped play the whole day. Another bad (no) cash flow day, and confirmation that we will not make payroll this week. The staff will understand, we are better than most employers – we are rarely more than a few days late with salaries – some companies are several months behind in these tough economic times.

Monday: The mason who quit wants his job back – so we agree. Cindi back to the Fulani camp with Matthew and off to the Hospital with Lydia, Immigration with Jenny, the bank, and GCAA for Patricia, Jenny and I. Hospital was fine, final stitches out from Lydia’s arm, surgeon happy. I am not happy with the dressing room. Little evidence of the understanding of ‘aseptic’ procedure – the attempt to cut off Lydia’s stitches with non-sterile scissors used on dressings for large leg ulcers on the patient sitting next to us made me step in. I cut out the stitches with a fresh scalpel blade whilst the nurse held the ends with tweezers that ‘may’ have been sterile. Dirty dressings were carried past clean dressings, the stench in the dressing room enough to make you reach, and I did, but I held it back for Lydia’s sake. If we can build a small ‘treatment room’ not even the clinic we so desperately WANT to build, if only there were the funds, we could DEMONSTRATE how it should be done. The mini-clinic budget is $60,000. The ‘treatment room’ budget is around $12,500 – including building, water, power and basic supplies. (any takers? You can have your name above the door too if you like?) - of course we still have many other demands on the limited funds and making decision about ‘transport solutions, accommodation, treatment, operational costs, safety’ without mentioning those who need paid back loans, it is a big juggling challenge – but one in which we do not dare drop a ball, for each ball represents a person, or in fact a community, and their lives.

Alberta (as always) was wonderful with the physio, and Mr Ampomah (the surgeon) has his usual warm and open smile and insisted on taking a photo of the smiling Lydia and I. This man needs more encouragements – he is working under challenging conditions – I would love to be able to help them more, but we are still paying off Lydia’s surgery and have another surgery to pay for later in the year (to reset her hand next time).

From the hospital to Immigration. Jenny is extending her stay beyond the standard visa, and must pay around $30/month for that extension. Despite being past the daily deadline, the helpful staff took her application and passport in. It should be processed in a couple of weeks – but that means another visit to the city, and a round trip costs us over $120 and a lost day.

To the bank, hopeful of drawing some cash. Sadly, the cheque put in a week ago has ‘not cleared yet’. In fact the bank ‘seems to have lost’ the cheque. I walk out and leave Patricia to do her magic. Perhaps next week we can draw on it. It is not much, but it was the funds to pay for the curtains, some furniture, electric sockets and water pipes for the accommodation units… but next week… we can cope, the girls are happy just to have the new mattresses that we purchased last week for them.

To GCAA and to some good news! The authority are not going to charge Krachi for their airstrip approval! There may be some hidden caveats in there… but we will see. Some great exchanges and lots of smiles for Lydia. Sadly, the Director General had not got back to my request by e-mail about seeing him and when we got to his office he had gone home… never mind, ‘next time’, as they say here. Lydia had hoped to show her arm to him, but not to worry, enough folks down the line, the more important ones when it comes to day to day operations, encouraged her and there seems to be support towards her flying now in a new way. Frankly, I think that those who were ‘anti’ did not understand that this surgery could be done… so it is an education session all around!

Jenny got to witness first-hand how much time EVERYTHNG takes. Frankly, nothing is smooth, you cannot ‘just go do’, it simply, simply does not work that way. Frustration is part of the annealing process of development work!

Finally, at 10pm we got back to the accommodation, scorpion hunting and bed.

Yesterday was a ‘day off’. The lack of electric sockets in the accommodation beyond a joke now. I got up really early and went to the office to charge up and do some work (off day). The decision was made to ‘borrow sockets’ from the workshop (off day). We can operate differently for a few days and that we shall. So, with some creative wiring (off day) and the use of lots of insulation tape, the bungalows now have 2 sockets each in them. We had wanted to take the girls to Akosombo, but with one of the carpentry staff unwell, we all chipped in and moved (off day) some doors around (yes we are still fitting doors in the bungalows – but the bathrooms do all have doors and all the ceilings are up now…). Finally, I checked in on Cindi who is writing up her recent trips and preparing some outline materials for ETCHE project, and then it was ‘off-day-over’. It is funny, I never plan an off-day. Seven days a week, 365 per year has been my mode of operation for a long time. I think I need to accept that it is not possible to teach an old dog a new trick, and so I have decided, no more off-days for me! (they are too busy!)

AND now today is Wednesday, we have some bookings for cash flow, but the wind is strong… will we fly? Today is a national holiday (end of Ramadan Eid Festival), and I really hope so, for today we have a Bride and Groom coming by and we need to fit the Vortex Generators to Alpha Foxtrot and install the new battery cages, and move some items from the farm site and cut some 5mm plate by hand to make bearing plates, and … and … and… well, you know that our list of ‘to-do’ is longer than the storage capacity of the internet, so I must go and make a start…

Capt. Yaw

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