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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Getting to know you ......

The first drop we carry out is a 'sounding out contact' a sort of 'Hello! We are here! Who are you? Are you interested in what we do?'. We call that a 'pinging drop', as in the way a computer can be 'ping-ed' on the internet to see if it is there and wants to communicate.

So, I guess the 'pinging' drop (The 'A' drop) is the equivalent of an 'introduction' letter. Therefore, the second drop ('B' Drop, which is actually the start of the 10 drop programme), is the 'getting to know you' drop. For the communities who responded to the ping, this drop contains an invitation to a training programme, within their district, generally at their nearest market town. It was clear that each of the 'respondent' communities, those who had completed their questionnaires, were openly excited and it appeared as if the WHOLE community was inspired and excited by the passage of their expected 'air-mail' - I am sure that even the sheep and the goats were aware of 'something special' happening! Those who did not respond to the first drop were 're-pinged' ('X' Drop) - just in case they had not understood. In at least two of the re-pings, the community folk were excited and appeared ready to receive the bag - perhaps they have heard about the idea from their neighbours! Only time will tell!

We are clearly getting better at these flights, but they are incredibly intense. Despite having been in training for this, with research drops, for nearly 2 years, both crew find the run tiring. Your senses are heightened as you approach the GPS marker, and since you are low-level, you need to look more carefully to spot the drop zone to plan your 'run-in'. As you approach, you lower to drop height (200' above the surface) and are planing your 'drop' and your 'exit-route' as well as your 'emergency route'. We have found that accelerating at the moment of the drop, climbing at the same time, works well. Perhaps the extra noise also alerts anybody who is not aware that the 'AEROPLANE IS COMING'! As you climb out, the Drop Master reaches back to the 50 - 100 bag capacity hold, that the 701 easily handles, and selects the next labelled bag, the pilot sets the course to the next community.... Time between drops is as little as a couple of minutes. We litterally leap from community to community in a small percentage point of the time needed to travel by road between each point passes. Perhaps this is time travel at its best!

After the climb out back to 500' above ground level, we turn to look back at the drop zone. In most cases the bag is already in the hand of a runner, and being waved frantically at us! It is a moment of amazing satisfaction. Not only are these aircraft built in Ghana by Ghanaians, they are operated by them. As the skills levels increase they will do more and more flights with 100% local crews. Today, for the first time, I took the left seat on the run. I want to find the best way to train this. Patricia took the Drop Master seat, as she was learning to be able to explain better to the next crews how to carry out each task.

Today's run took 1hr 46minutes. We covered over 200km, and you can see here how the communities are located. The 'Z' number is our unique community identifier; where we have a name (ie they are in communication with us), we add the community name - however, the drop team use the 'Zulu' reference for planning purposes - since some communities have the same name, or similar sounding.

I must say, the feeling of 'achievement' is high. But we are not even scratching the surface. Sadly, we have had to cut back our drops to only 20 respondent communities at this time (we had hoped to reach 100 this year), and only in Upper Manya Krobo District, simply due to funding limitations.

As funds permit, we will expand the programme, focusing on the lake-side communities around the lake, many of which are in much greater need than these early ones. The choice of Upper Manya Krobo as a starting point was, for us, logical. We have excellent relations with these communities from the research drops to one of them, it is close to base and we are based in Krobo-Land (Lower Manya Krobo District). As my Mother used to say 'Charity Begins at Home', and these are the people around our home, and to them we owe much, and so to them the first slice of the ETCHE-Drop cake will go.

We urgently need additional support financially to expand this outreach. $50 is all that it takes to reach an entire isolated community. That includes the cost of the materials, the flights, the associated training, catering and related support costs for one drop. Each series takes 10 drops. That means that for $500 you can support one community's initial ETCHE programme. Together, we can change lives, one flight at a time. We know it, for we see it. We live it. Will you help us to do more?

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