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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!

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