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".

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Lydia is practicing in Alpha Foxtrot

Lydia started practicing flying on Alpha Foxtrot!!! Judging by her trademark sweet smile, you can see how excited she was as she did her pre-flight checks before her lesson. We are so proud of you Lydia and can’t wait to see how many communities you are able to encourage with your indomitable spirit and your genuine concern for others’ well-being!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Progress in the Fulani camp

Today saw an encouraging development in our efforts to renew the activities within the Fulani camp! Audrey, Ben and I arrived at the camp at 9:30am today in order to facilitate the planned focus group with the men, only to find the education building filled with…children. After a momentary panicked “Did they misunderstand and think we were starting up meetings again today,” their bright smiles and cheerful “Hello Madam” let us know they were apparently just glad to see us! Then I felt like a jerk. Alai arrived and explained that the men were just down the road and would be here soon. True to his word, within about 10 minutes, all 11 of the attending fellows had arrived and the meeting began.

In true Ghanaian fashion, what was intended to be an hour and a half meeting was finally called to close around noon with the suggestion that we all part for now, think about the information from the day, and schedule another meeting for mid-March to follow up. Although it was certainly more time than I anticipated, I was actually very encouraged by our meeting and the discussions that took place. I was also excited to see that almost half of those who attended were younger fellows in their early-mid twenties, who are typically not interested in these types of community activities Not only did they attend, but they also played an involved role in the discussions. Alhaji Jibril, a well-respected leader within the community, was also in attendance and lent support to our meeting.

The major points we took away from today’s meeting were the reaffirmation of their support in our activities, interest in attending some of our activities, and addressing the challenges associated with helping the school-aged children attend the local public school. We learned that not only do the men support the health and education activities that have been done with the women and children, but that they would also like to be involved. Until this point, they have been fairly adamant about their lack of time for such things. But during the conversation, they posed the thought that they might benefit from some of the health education and financial management skills, and by the end had suggested that if we could take an hour or so one morning a week, they would like to attend.

The majority of the time this morning was spent addressing the challenges they face with their children’s attendance at school. The current situation is that there are about 8-12 children who would like to go to school, but the taxi driver charges 120GH¢ per month to bring them to and from school. Some attendees expressed concern about being able to afford this expense (which is a valid concern) and thus we encouraged them to explore alternate possibilities. Once we established that MoM’s role in the community was not to build them a full-time school nor pay the taxi fees, as some suggested, most seemed open to suggesting options of their own. By the end of the meeting, there seemed to be some progress made and although no commitments have been made yet, it was a good environment to discuss options.

We have been asked to return in mid-March in order to follow up with them, which we will gladly do. After all that we have learned today and the insight from those who attended, I am excited to see what solutions they will find. It will be interesting to attend the women’s group next week to gather their perspectives on the matter and see how they are different or similar.

Following the men’s meeting, Ben enjoyed participating in the kids’ game of Keep-Away, while Audrey and I caught up with Amina to discuss next week’s meeting.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Communicating health through signage

One of the things I find so interesting about the public health field (and indeed, many other areas of life) is the way that communication is used. Messages are conveyed differently depending on the behavior change being targeted, the communication types found to be most effective in that specific community, and the population. One of the most important thing to consider, but that is often the most complex to address, is the unique cultures and perceptions of the people wherever you are. Think of the ZeroMeth campaign in Alabama, or the national “Got Milk” campaign across the US. Who do they target, what is their goal, do you think they were effective in what they were trying to do?

This is something that Medicine on the Move is currently exploring within the local context as we develop our health messages. In order to avoid “reinventing the wheel”, we need to explore concepts of disease and specific needs in the communities we hope to reach and find ways of crafting the messages to impact those who need to hear them. I would love to hear from those of you with health communication experience and any experience or advice you might have. With your help, we CAN make a difference!

In the meantime, enjoy some snapshots of various health communication campaigns and messages here in Ghana! Local artists are often hired to help create message boards (which help the local economy) Ghanaian celebrities pitch in too just like in the US, not to mention corporate sponsorships as well.

This was one of the most widespread campaigns seen in Ghana as an effort to reduce the spread of HIV. This sticker was put on public transportation vehicles across the nation and was also visible as a billboard in numerous locations across Ghana.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Miss Lydia and the 701...

Lydia finally got her first lesson in the CH701 - the key aircraft to be used for the bag-drop campaigns, starting soon. Lydia can reach all the controls in the 701 - but she needs to increase the control level of her (disabled) right arm. Being used to using her right arm for throttle work in the X-Air, the changes are many, but she is doing well. The best part for me is the range of 'noises' that come over the intercom as she self recognises the over-control she makes - never a scared noise, always an excited noise. Ben asked me if she ever gets scared in the plane, and I responded 'she has never been in a plane with somebody who is scared, so the concept of being scared in the plane simply does not exist.' Then I realised how much of a gift we are giving to Lydia, and the other girls we are training, through flight, and how much of a gift it is going to be to so many communities once THEY are flying the missions..

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Ben and Michaela

Ben and Michaela are settling in, and making a big difference to our overall operations. Whether it is helping out with the admin, taking phone calls. running for water, moving cement, helping pull wires, writing letters, listening to the girls read, clearing drains, fighting fires, washing planes, getting covered in tractor hydraulic oil or giving us a fresh laugh when we are 'out'!

The brought with them plenty of gadgets, but still enjoy sipping on a bag of cool water (yes we have a working cooling system now!).

We all appreciate the new team members on the field and cannot thank them enough for making the sacrifices that they have to help us to change lives one flight at a time...

Friday, February 24, 2012

The end of Harmattan

Submitted by Michaela Sholes

At the risk of sounding like a Toto song...there really is nothing in this world quite like the rains in Africa! The sound on a tin roof is more calming than any lullaby soundtrack for kids, the smell of fresh rain mixed with dusty earth is more intoxicating than any French bakery, and let me just say that there are few things more refreshing on a hot humid afternoon than.

One might say, "These lovely words are pure poetry but...how does this relate to Medicine on the Move?" Simple answer. With the start of rainy season comes relief from the heat, but also new challenges. The rains signal a new growing season and represents opportunity as the rural communities are often dependent upon good rains to ensure a bountiful harvest in a few months. At the same time, rainy season also contributes to increased mosquito activity through increased stagnant water. Rainy season can also make even short travels difficult for many isolated communities, thus increasing the struggles to access health facilities.

There are challenges, opportunities, and rewards in every season and we at Medicine on the Move are appreciative of the rain that brings all three!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Sad reality

Sadly today, one of our supporters took a young lady from a local school to the Hospital. He supports a wonderful young lady who is blind in one eye, but bright, polite and eager.

At the hospital it appears that she has TB. It is not uncommon here. Something we need to add to our list 'of to do's' for the Bag-drop programme - TB education.

Get well soon to the brave young lady.... and to all who are not in a TB area, please remember it is a real challenge in many developing nations.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Fulani Update

Submitted by Michaela Sholes

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of spending the morning with Audrey as we caught up regarding MoM’s efforts in the Fulani Camp and our future directions. She provided some excellent feedback which will be invaluable as we plan for our upcoming focus groups! I really do love interacting with her in general, but particularly in regards to the camp as you can just see what a huge heart she has for the people and the children there! I left our meeting feeling encouraged and re-energized after our brainstorming. As suggested by Alai and Amina, she and I have planned to facilitate focus groups with the Fulani men this coming Tuesday (February 28) and with the women the following Tuesday (March 6). If anyone with their own experiences regarding focus group facilitation wants to chime in and share what they learned, I’d love to hear from you!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Getting the Fulani back on track

In the last few months, activities at the educational facility in the Fulani camp have been experiencing a few challenges. Low attendance at the facility, failure of the students (who were considered ready for public school) to actually attend school, and seemingly lowered community investment has resulted in sessions being suspended until the MoM team has had a chance to reevaluate community priorities and how they align with our efforts thus far. Currently, Ileasu is the only child from the camp still attending school and we are so pleased at his success in that environment. However, because MoM efforts and resources are intended to supplement (not drive) community investment and it appears that those two factors have lessened, team members felt that it was imperative that we take a step back in order to ensure we are not too personally invested in what we believe their markers for “success” should be and rather meet with the community to address how to approach future activities.

Over the weekend, Matthew and I made a visit to the camp to meet with Alai and his wife Amina as they have been our biggest allies in our efforts and there is already an established relationship of trust between them and Matthew. Our aim was to catch up with them, reassure them of our intended return, but also impress upon them our concerns about the process up till then. Communication for me is a little difficult as my French is rusty on a good day, but thankfully Matthew and Alai are patient and willing to translate for me. Alai expressed concerns about community faith in the relevance of the education we provide and their everyday struggle for survival. He has a point and herein lies a challenge we anticipate seeing repeatedly…. How do you describe the concept of “investment” which has a much longer return upon said investment, when the community lives their lives literally one day at a time? How do you encourage saving for something like your child’s education when they barely are able to find the money to get by today? Even if they agreed wholeheartedly (which they don’t) that educating their children (and themselves) is a worthwhile effort and not just a gigantic waste of time when there are cows to be tended and market to go to, we have to respect that these are their choices in the end and not ours.

After receiving some very straightforward thoughts from Alai , we felt that it would be best to come together with the community itself and talk with them about what sorts of things are important to them and how MoM’s resources may be used to help them achieve their own goals. As a result, we are scheduling some focus groups with the men and then the women, to foster this environment of mutual cooperation. Alai wholeheartedly agreed and suggested that Tuesdays are best for the community in order to avoid market days, religious observances, etc.. Matthew and I are going to liase with Audrey (who has played an active part in the camp sessions thus far) in order to figure out when exactly we will return to the camp for the group. From there, we will coordinate with Alai and Amina about specific dates so they will be able to pass on the information to others in the community to encourage any preparation needed for individuals to attend.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Yapei Queen

Submitted by Michaela Sholes

Who loves taking a cruise? MoMMers, that’s who! Especially when it’s the kind of eye-opening and moving experience as Ben and I had this last week aboard the VLTC’s ferry, the Yapei Queen! Readers saw pictures last week of the ferry as we prepared for our trip, but in true Ghana fashion, there is always more to the adventure! Some highlights from our trip include: our cozy cabin and friendly fellow passengers who were kind enough to share their insights and experiences with us during our interviews, the small communities whose commerce often depends on the ferry and access it provides to outside resources, the beaches in said communities which were often covered in the shells of potentially bilharzia-carrying snails, and last but not least, breathtaking Harmattan sunsets.

We so appreciate the VLTC for providing us with a cabin for the duration of our trip! The staff aboard the ferry was very kind and we are indebted to them and others for helping us navigate our way around the facilities aboard! See our cabin and some friendly faces who have become very dear to us during this experience!

One of the most interesting aspects of our trip was the opportunity to sit down with passengers at various points during the trip and learn a bit more about who they are and their perspectives regarding health issues, access, challenges and all sorts of things. I will be sharing the results from our baseline interviews in the next blog or two, but just to give you an idea of some of the things we learned… Of the 21 individuals kind enough to speak with us, only 2 (less than 10%) were aware that there was a disease called Bilharzia and what its symptoms are. Another 40% knew that there was a disease from the water that could cause blood in the stool/urine, but NO ONE was exactly sure how to treat it nor avoid it. Bear in mind, that those who travel are typically more informed than your average individual living in an isolated community.

As a result of this trip, I find that I am even more driven to find ways to get this information to these communities who need it most. As you can see, the lake is such an integral part to these communities through providing transportation, water (for drinking, cooking, and bathing), food and many other necessities. We have an immense job ahead of us. It won’t be easy, but it must be done…and with your help, it can be done…

They are counting on us, and we together will change their lives, through Encouragement Training for Community Health Empowerment…

The sunsets were amazing. Feel frre to use this as your computers background. Let it remind you that we are in Ghana, making adifference in the lives of countless villagers every day.

Health Education with the Manya Krobo Queen Mothers Association

As part of the Valentines day (chocolate day in Ghana) celebrations, we joined hands with the Manya Krobo Queen Mothers Association and provided some fun and inspirational interaction with some of the 1000+ HIV orphans and vulnerable children that are cared for by this organisation.  MKQMA has been a partner with MoM since the very early days, and we hold them close to our heart.  The AvTech girls, as always, shone, and Lydia told the children that with a bit of effort we can all make it.... regardless of our backgrounds - and she knows that more than most!  As part of the fun and games we took the opportunity to get across some basic health concepts especially related to HIV and to Schistosomiasis, and we not only left each child with a packet of Pasta (courtesy of DFP) we also left them all with a little more interest in aviation and the ability to spell Aeroplane!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Plastering.... we're so close to finishing the mini clinic/education unit

Since getting the roof on to B3/4 we have been a little (OK a lot) cash strapped.... but with some creative thinking and financial juggling (we have a lot of balls up in the air!), we are making progress on the plastering... Right now we will struggle to complete the buildings in the planned time frame, mainly since the weather has kept all the aircraft at Kpong on the ground, and consequently our main sponsor WAASPS are exceptionally cash flow reduced... but when has that stopped us in the past?  I remember a meeting with a donor organisation once who, after agreeing with all of our projects and concepts, being remarkably excited by it all, told me straight up 'We are not going to give you any grants or financial support'.  Amazed, (and a little angry too) I asked 'Why?'  - the response amazed me even more 'Because we know you, and you will always find a way - you will work to make it happen.  We give grants to people who arn't able to work around problems like you do.'   To me, rightly or wrongly, it is smarter to back the ones who are ready to make it happen - and have the courage and determination to push on to the very end.... but then I am biased....

Sadly, time and time again we see financial support given to projects that never see the light of day, of get half-built, half (at best) conceptualised, never reaching the target audience - not making progress towards their end goal.  One thing we know how to do at Kpong is how to make every cent of every dollar work hard  - and how to change lives, one flight at a time.... working through the little details, making this a sustainable long term operation.... even if it takes a little longer through lack of financial support, we have enough enthusiasm and passion to work past the seemingly impossible - we have done it in the past and will continue to do so.... with your help....

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

We’re so happy Ben and Michaela are here we sent them on a Valentine Cruse

OK not really.......

Ben and Michaela set sail last night (Monday) for the North.  Hand carrying five Scholarship letters for the Kete Krachi girls for their entry to the AvTech Academy and the first steps on their way to becoming future MoM pilot/engineers... We made the ferry with seconds to spare, Michaela waving from the deck as they were casting off and sailing out from Akosombo Port.  On this trip they will be assessing the potential for health education to the 'captive' audience of the ferry on its four to six knot journey that will run day and night until they get back on Friday...  Internet access will be limited, but we hope that they will post something from their trip - if not wait for an amazing account upon their return!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Settling in

Ben is settling in, whether it is jumping in and out of the car to get the gates to the airfield, or buying electrical items for the B3/4 building (plastering now under-way), the wealth of new experiences, sensations and smells has failed to dent his smile. Ben only had 2 weeks here last year before taking the plunge and deciding to quit his day job and volunteer for two years to help in some of the most challenging conditions on the planet.... Well done Ben (you can read more about Ben here http://bensghanablog.blogspot.com/ )

Friday, February 10, 2012

Michaela’s Blog: February 9, 2012

Submitted by Michaela Hayes

I would be tempted to say that it’s hard to believe we’re finally here…if it weren’t for the thick Harmattan dust, bucket baths, and spiders the size of trucks which remind Ben and I on a daily basis that we are most certainly NOT in Oz anymore. And yet, it is SO good to be here! It’s what we’ve been preparing for over the last year or so and what I’ve been hoping for ever since I left Ghana in 2002. We are so excited at the opportunity to have an active field-based role here at MoM and can’t thank the team here enough for their thoughtful preparations and tireless efforts to have things as in place as they can be. By the way, to give you an idea of just how heavy Harmattan is, note the difference in the photo we took of Krobo mountain last year and a similar shot just yesterday.
This week has been a bit like trying to drink from a fire hose! If you are familiar with the expression, good for you…if not, it just means that we hit the ground not so much running as we were sprinting. In addition to battling jetlag on my part, settling in, getting a feel for airfield and MoM-based operations, we have already had so many opportunities to network within the communities and continue building the stage for all that is to come in 2012.

Some highlights from the week:

We visited the port on Monday and had the chance to explore the Yapei Queen, upon which we will be traveling next week. This ferry transports people and goods in a North/South manner along the majority of Lake Volta. It takes almost a full 5 days to travel all the way up to Yeji and back to Akosombo. During that time, we will be talking with passengers and collecting demographic and health-based information to help guide some of our programs for 2012.

On Thursday, Ben and I had the pleasure of being
introduced to one of the sweetest supporters of MoM when we met Manye Esther of the Queen Mothers Association. For those of you who, like me, weren’t sure exactly what a Queen Mother is…she is a person who would have been chief if she had been born a male. She commands a great deal of respect and influence in her community and after meeting her, I understand why. She is certainly a character and I look forward to building a relationship with her as we explore how to best support the local communities. She has become an invaluable ally in our efforts to gain support for our health education programs and is teaching me things already (i.e. the reason why, when asking about marital status of a participant, I need multiple definitions for “married.” Apparently, there is simply a live-in where the man can’t afford the dowry, a situation where partial dowry has been paid, and finally, where the full dowry has been paid and traditional rites have been performed)

This coming week, Ben and I will spend most of our time interviewing passengers on the Yapei Queen and we look forward to sharing our findings upon our return. Stay posted, there’s lots on the horizon for MoM!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Making plans...

Ben and Michaela started planning both at the airfield and aboard the Yapei Queen - the vessel they will be taking to the North on Monday!  All are very excited at the outcomes of these things!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Hit the ground Running!!!

Ben and Michaela made the monthly supply run of Pasta to the Queen Mothers and participated in the INSCI planning meeting for the March 15th, 1st Schistosomiasis Forum, which our Queen Mother's are an integral key to its implementation! (Ben managed to balance some Pasta on his head - he needs more practice to walk like that!)