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, September 24, 2010

A day in the life...

Submitted by Jonathan Porter
Rain, rain go away come again another day! Over the last ten days we have had more than our fair share of rain, floods and the like.

We have dealt with a collapsing bridge - flooded and washed away roads - leaking roofs - broken down vehicles - and the like. It seems like a lot, but it is part of living the life here - you embrace it

Take the past four hours. We left the airfield, Matthew in our 14 year old Opel Astra, and Patricia, Lydia and the other girls in the 16 year old Previa crew bus. Both are good solid vehicles- on the whole. Tonight, the Astra decided to strip its timing belt. This is a trick that it used to do on a regular basis, but since we modified the system, blending two different engine systems together, has been good for almost a year. Poor Matthew, light failing, alongside a flooded ditch on a winding road - realizing he was out of telephone credit, decided to wait for the Previa to come along to help.

A passing 'bush fitter' came by and, reluctantly, Matthew allowed him to start stripping the engine parts (we carry a spare timing belt, so it was just needing somebody able to fit in the space to pull off the job). Meanwhile, we dropped off the girls to our Kpong Accommodation unit and finally stumbled upon the stranded Matthew as the black layer of threatening clouds hung low and showed its most intimidating side as the sunlight faded completely, making the faceless heavy hand of a potential downpour above us.

Having made our way around more than a foot of water last night, and knowing the last three kilometers of road were very muddy, this was not a good omen! I swung the Previa around to shed some light on the engine compartment and we all assisted in the open bonnet surgery on the in-line engine.

Just as the surgery was completed (bush style), I got into the Previa and shouted clear to those in front as I saw the steam bellow out from the front end. Sitting in the balmy evening, with little airflow and high humidity the cooling system had declared that it could no longer cope and blew past the pressure valve as overheated steam added to the already moist environment.

Decision time. Can we make it the last three kilometers? I decided it was a go, on the balance of the odds. In fact we coasted about half of the distance, slipping and skidding as we went past the Fulani camp, definitely not stopping for a chat this evening!

As I rounded the last-but-one bend,. Patricia screamed for an emergency stop. A thick and long puff adder was blocking the route. Practically enjoying the road widthwise - and covering the width.

African Puff adders are very dangerous (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bitis_arietans) and although we keep two pythons in the house, and respect the snakes around us a great deal, this snake is one we do not mess with. On a past occasion we have spent twenty minutes crushing the head of one of these snakes to extinguish it. It is great to let them go into nature - but around the house, it is not safe to leave them alone - they will kill a dog easily and possibly a human - they account for more snake bite deaths in Africa than any other snake. Respect them, and handle the situation well and you they are no big deal. But this was not a good situation under the circumstances..

Some snakes we will capture, bag and relocate - but not the bad tempered Puff Adder. I jumped from the overheating car and Matthew quickly was by my side as the snake lazily headed off towards the house in the long grass.

There was not time to waste, it was a big snake and would be hard to kill. We considered options and reluctantly decided a gun was the only option. I ran to the gun cabinet and pulled out a suitable weapon. It took four direct hits to get it to stop moving out of the way. Even then, it took another ten minutes to sever and bury the head, an essential safety process. The skin of these things is like armor plate - it is really amazing.

Once that task was done, it was time to start the dodgy generator at the house, charge the batteries for overnight light and fans, and... well... write this blog, before Matthew shuts down the genset, switches over to the inverter, then it is time for bed. Tomorrow we hope to be able to walk at the airfield without sinking in!!!

Some people watch movies - we live them. It is not easy and nobody ever shouts 'cut' and lets us have a break whilst they reset the set for a another take. No, this is real life, real time, one take, every time action. The best part of it is that it really does change lives, one day at a time!

Thank you for your support, without you we cannot achieve these things.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Femcare Challenge.... How to introduce sanitary wear in a village...

Submitted by Jonathan Porter
As we prepare for the first Femcare sanitary towel drop in Battorkope, we must get our training right. We recently spent a morning discussing the challenges of this - and raised more questions than provided answers.
We did establish that we needed to make this first Femcare drop a bit more special and complicated - in that it will take a double trip to get Audrey and Patricia to the village. There is no way the airfield will be approved in time, so two amphibian runs will be needed (Patricia is not yet rated on the Amphibian). Patricia speaks Ewe, Krobo and Twi, and Audrey speaks Twi (they both speak English too!). Patricia will be flown out first to set up the event, then Audrey will be splashed in, the reverse on extraction. Patricia can then get everybody set up prior to Audrey's arrival and also answer one-on-one questions after Audrey's extraction flight.
It is a wonderful part of MoM bringing people together of different backgrounds to solve challenges deep in rural Ghana, transported on wings of hope to change lives one flight at a time - or in this case two flights at a time!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Bringing moringa to Battorkope

Submitted by Matt Porter

On the 8th of September, Captain Yaw and myself, Matthew, took a trip to Battorkope in the amphibian to take moringa oleifera seeds to the village and explain to some of the farmers there how to use it. We have about 250 seeds there - enough to get started with some moringa trees to get their own seed going. Moringa oleifera is a tree that has very nutritious leaves, and the seeds can be used to help purify water by acting as a flocculent (settling the debris) - it does well in the tropics and poor soils with little water, and with enough seeds, one can produce a LOT of leaf by growing it intensely as a vegetable. Our plan for it for Battorkope is to help them help themselves to use it to combat malnutrition and, if necessary, for water purification as well.

This is my first trip in the amphibian, so it was quite interesting. here we are approaching Battorkope. Funny to be told we are on finals whilst still over the water! You can see the runway that has been put in by the community by hand. Also you can see that there are a lot of trees around the village - which is nice, not all been turned into charcoal, which is a common activity this time of year.

Splashdown! For some reason, I was surprised that landing on water felt quite hard! Like landing on solid ground - but pretty smooth, a few intimidating trees sticking out in various spots, but there are buoys in the water to mark taxi ways.

The water level has really risen a lot in the past few weeks with heavy rains up north, and this can be seen even here - the level has risen about 80m inland, swallowing up the farms. This happens every year, but more so this year. So our docking/beaching point was a little displaced - but the people still found us!

The village are used to the sequence now - but this was still new to me - so after landing, we all go off to the church hall to meet. I am up front starting my talk about moringa - this day I was doing an introduction of it - explaining the importance of it from a nutritional point of view - high in most vitamins, a lot of minerals - and the cultivation. This are mostly farmers, and should have no trouble in growing it - they will be planting them 3 metres apart, and i have recommended that they use them as windbreaks on their farms, leaving the rest of the space for other crops this year. Within a year they should all have seed. The people were interested, and had heard of moringa - even one man, Daniel, has a few trees already! This did not surprise me - in the past 5years moringa has sprung up all over the place - but, as in Battorkope, few people know the real benefits of it, often having heard various tales bordering on folklore. So this was very important.

Here you can see the farmers who will be planting the seeds on the left, and the rest of the people on the right. On the table are the seeds that we explained to them how to cultivate and you can also see the leaves there Daniel bought out from his tree to help a bit with explaining the importance of the leaves!
We will come back in a few months to check up on how the trees are doing. If the goats don't eat them, they should get to about 4-5 feet in three months.

The farmers with their seed. Daniel is there on the right, the chiefs are behind them sitting.

Here we can see Daniel in his garden with his moringa trees and family. I hope that he can be of use to the other farmers if they need any advice in the cultivation over the next few months!

And having done all of this in less than two hours, back to the river with the village, before the weather builds up and the swell rises, Captain Yaw is doing his pre-flight checks - including checking inside the floats for water! They are Kevlar reinforced, but just in case!

Here, on climb out from Battorkope, you can actually see the wake from our take-off...Look carefully!

On our way back to Kpong field, we flew over this... So, a very interesting mission indeed, I think it went down very well - we will find out in a few months, but if taken seriously, this could really help Battorkope's general health!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

First aid introduction to the Fulanis

Submitted by Mathew Porter
The MoM team went back into the Fulani community this last Sunday the 5th of September. We took plenty of pictures, to save us writing, and you reading, a thousand words...

Nurse Lydia and myself, Matthew, went there early Sunday morning. Nurse Lydia had the smart idea to do a little segregation - women, children, and men. A good idea - the children don't disturb the women, and the men don't disturb the women. I got the men, Lydia got the women, and Ilias got the children.

This is Ilias, a 13 year old Fulani boy who is able to read - the only one in the camp. Nurse Lydia looked at his school reports, and said they were impressive. He has volunteered to help us start doing some education for the children and any adults who want it. His english is excellent - Lydia has also inquired at a local school about getting him back in. As a semi-nomad, is was able to end up in school for a couple of years. But as semi-nomad, he also ended up leaving the school.

Nurse Lydia started first aid with the Fulani ladies. Here we see Amina doing a little practical demonstration of wound cleaning on Nurse Lydia that she had learned in the morning. First aid introduction has been very important, and something I have talked about with the community for a year or so. It will take a lot though to get the Fulanis to understand the basics alone. This session, I think one of the only messages that really sank in was the wound cleaning. There are many steps to go from putting herbs and dirty rags in wounds, and we saw a few months ago with Amina's thumb, to cleaning wounds with clean water and soap, using cream if necessary and plasters or bandages. The ladies all did a little demonstration of the cleaning and all did very well.

I took the guys. I wanted to do something different with the guys, but with the first aid going on, they took an interest in that. This is the first time so many guys have come around, which is nice. The most useful things for the men to learn are, it seems to us, is to learn to read, and then perhaps later we could do things with them such as motorcycle and generator maintenance, or maybe some veterinary lessons - although they likely know more than the local vets about livestock already... Still they were very welcome, and enjoyed and learned.

Kids leaving their toys lying around...

I asked Nurse Lydia to come up with a first aid kit for the Fulani community - one that we could use as a standard for other communities in the future. This is a starter/introductory kit, with gentian violet, a few anti septic creams, plasters, cotton, paracetamol. She went through all this, and very specifically the paracetamol. The Fulanis learned something there - big guys still take 500mg max at a time!!! The first aid kit is important because the Fulanis are living in the bush, any small cuts need to be dealt with properly, so they don't end up in hospital a month later with infections. We will be getting together a much more detailed kit in a box with a lock.

Nurse Lydia also found a body chart - to introduce the Fulani children to. They have a lot to learn these kids - reading, anatomy, and english, all in one! But they are smart. In one morning, they learned eyes, nose and mouth, in english, and where they are on their faces. I learned them too, in Fufulde - "hinere", "hitere", "houtourou"!!!

"Hitere!"- Nose!
We will be back in two weeks for more first aid, and more basic education...

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Another Airfield opens in Ghana...

Submitted by Jonathan Porter
After my recent mention of Angelina Joli, now I can tell you about my other life, being a pilot in a real life Avatar movie... Zoe Saldana is not, however, present in our part of the planet 'Pandora' - but the Home Trees certainly are.

Today I flew into the newest aerodrome in Ghana, at Mim. It is nestled in a Cashew Plantation between belts of rain forest. The area is very beautiful, surrounded by endless Cashew trees with their unique hues. Flying in to 'officially' be the first plane to open the strip (and to collect the evidence for the authorities that the strip was in order with wind sock, etc) was wonderful.

Located less than 30 minutes flight south of Sunyani, but several hours drive, Mim is, in itself, not a rural community. However, the location is strategic in a wider view of the long term aims of MoM.

The Western Region of Ghana is an area with great needs and very under publicized lack of facilities. Mim offers MoM a gateway to the Western Region without passing over the worst terrain in the country and avoiding Accra and Takoradi. Accra is very busy with big birds (airliners) and Takoradi is home to many whirly birds (helicopters). It is a fantastic achievement to have Mim on-line and we must thank Lars Wallerwick and Mim Cashew for funding the development with MoM as a listed 'collaborator' in their applications. We are at the end of a two year application process and Lars has been very patient. It was a pleasure to fly with Lars to Mim from Kpong - and we hope to fly there regularly as we open sites in the rural areas less than an hours flight from the staging post that Mim offers.

Flying from Kpong Airfield to Mim can be done many ways, but there are two routes that strike as ply-able. The direct route is over the same terrain as the movie Avatar shows - that is Pandora-like. Endless rain forest - emergents, trees that you could settle a hundred people in. Sometimes it feels as if the trees are stretching up to grab you as you fly past! It is certainly not terrain to pass over without a lot of thought and altitude.
The 'safer route' we call the Northern Passage. It involves an extra twenty minutes of flying, but avoids the heavy forests, low lying clouds and turbulence associated with low level flying over such terrain.

As we set off from Kpong we knew that the Northern Passage was the only option - the clouds filled the valley separating the Savannah from the rain forest like a meringue topping. We flew a few minutes VFR on top, seeing the Battorkope strip through a hole in the clouds, until over the lake - then the air smoothed and we could settle below the top of ridge that separates the Afram Plains from the rain forest and cocoa farms on Eastern and Ashanti region.

It was never boring. Waterfalls passed by, field workers waved, and we progressed, watching the weather more intensity than a million watt floodlight - highlighting the need for another staging post along the way.

Crossing the ridge of virgin forest we were safe in the knowledge that a 701 can be landed in under 25m on an upslope, if really pushed. When flying the MoM plane over hostile terrain you know that there is an option somewhere in an emergency!

As we set up our approach for the first landing on the newly approved strip, the jubilation on the ground was evident as young men and women leaped into the air. We slid onto the grass with another smooth, short field landing. The crowd grew as workers, some in clothes that would be used for rags in many parts of the world, filed out from the heavily wooded areas, curious to see the new arrival. Many stated that they had never ever seen an airplane before - and they will tell their children for many years to come of the first landing at Mim of the MoM plane.

Drawing upon my limited local language skills and enlisting a translator we kept the crowd from touching - and since each person was carrying a two foot long blade (machete or cutlass), we did not want them too close. Some words of advice were given - including encouragements to achieve more and be safe - and it was time to get airborne again. Proof of concept achieved and ready for the real work to come.

The cloud ceiling was now high enough to attempt the direct route. All was well and I knew that it would be a rough, tough and tense flight back but with views that few have ever witnessed. I It really highlighted the safety of the Northern Passage. Although the crew would survive in a forced landing here - it may take them weeks to walk out of the heavy forested areas.

The welcome back at Kpong was magnificent - the crew all hyper-happy at the event. It was good to be home after a day of flying over hostile terrain in the sweet little plane, built by hands of a darker hue, flown in skies of blue, under and around grey and white clouds, as it moves around to change lives, one flight at a time....