Monday, March 28, 2011

March 28th

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw
Mahatma Ghandi in a famous speech said ‘…what you see in the big cities is not the real India.’  If such a man, with a vivid Technicolor-vision and a sub-continent changing philosophy, says such a thing, we need to reflect upon it, and when we do we will quickly realise the truth goes well beyond the simplicity of the statements.

I am blessed to see the real Ghana every week from the cockpit, sitting at around one thousand feet above the ground – and it makes me understand the famous Indian ‘Freedom-Without-Fighting-Fighter’ really well.  I avoid flying over built up areas, choosing the more picturesque and ‘reality filled’ communities of the land.  If Ghana was simply Accra, Kumasi or any other congested zone of this country, it would not be the country that I love so dearly!  The hard-working and uncomplaining communities that lie across this varied territory, dispersed like stars in the night sky, they are the real Ghana, and they inspire my weekly flights, writings and other musings.

There is much talk in the media about ‘middle income status’ and ‘development’.  If you want to see if Ghana really is a middle-income nation, see if there truly is development at the grass roots level, then take a long, dusty and bumpy drive to a community around the Volta Lake, one without road to it! Take a look at the people there – see how they live, work, struggle, see how they ‘accept’ their lot in life – see how they smile!  Chat to their beaming children, look at the efforts the parents have made in bathing and clothing them – then you will see the real Ghana.  Here is the interesting thing… the attitudes, efforts, smiles and genuineness of those people seem to be worth so much more than the superficiality and ‘cash-now’ attitude which is too often found in abundance in the cities of the world. 

We fly over these people and their homes, we see how they work tirelessly to yield a crop, preparing the soil by hand, in fact doing everything by hand – for so many have no access to a mechanised solution, and if they did, they are far from resources to maintain and fuel it.  I witness on a regular basis the toil of the Ghanaian woman-folk, bent over for hours on end as they bob along the fields, babies on their backs, toddlers at their bare feet, whilst their husbands are out on the fishing boats to catch a few undersized tilapia; doing all that they can to provide an opportunity for a child to be at school and provide a shaft of light to relieve their struggle, but not demanding it, not really hoping for it, simply doing what it takes to make another day end without an empty stomach groaning into the night.

West Africa is like high definition monitor with the contrast turned up.  But take note, our ‘real Ghana’ people are not asking us for a free high-definition, wide-screen television (which a highly paid officer of a certain large government organisation blatantly did recently).  No, these people are happy for the gift of encouragement, education and inspiration, but most of all, they are happy to be respected for who they are and what they do. 

Whenever we fly, we look for communities that may be able to benefit from the forthcoming lake health education programme being set up by Medicine on the Move, using four-seat amphibian aircraft currently being built in Ghana.  One such community has been tagged for a visit many times over the last five years, just waiting for the right time for us to make contact. 

Last week, finally, I was privileged to enter that community with a MoM team.  We had spotted it particularly because there was no evidence of a clean water system, no power, no roads and it was clearly a community which could benefit from a bit of inspiration.  When we drew up to the banks of the community, children ran to the shore, women washing clothes got up and directed us where to dock - and a warm welcome and wonderful community opened its arms, as is customary in this part of the world.  A community of about one hundred people, where most walk out over the rocky path to get to market or to school. One of the ladies returned to her washing, singing a traditional song and swaying as she completed her chores.  Another fed her one month old child, sitting a meter or two away from the lake edge, the lake she will wash her new baby in later in the day, the lake that will be the source of water for the thirst of the infant should, God be willing and Insha’Allah, life remain in the little form long enough. 

When we heard mentions of ‘school’, we really wanted to visit the education centre– all of our team at WAASPS and MoM love going into schools and really enjoy our ‘training and sharing roles’.  A member of the community offered to join us and to show us where to go.  In a jiffy we got into a boat and made our way towards the school.  Approaching overhanging branches and seeing a shale face of loose rocks, we peered through the undergrowth, and there, tucked under trees, stick and thatch classrooms hosted well behaved and courteous children – wonderful children, loving and caring children – children with a future, if only they are given a chance, over ninety of them, from about five years to around sixteen years old.

We made our way over to the head teacher sitting on a bench under the thatch of central ‘building’.  Despite the ‘bush’ location, the presentation was impeccable.  Well swept and rubbish free, clearly a ‘cared for’ site.  The educator’s head popped up with a smile, a young man with energy and a clear commitment to his troops.  His hand readily stretched out long before his body left the simple wooden chair, as he showed no visible surprise at an entourage emerging from the lake edge and through the bush. 

Introducing ourselves, we asked if they had seen the aircraft operating in the area recently.  Excitedly he responded in the affirmative.  When he realised that the engineers and pilots from one of those machines were in ‘his’ school, he willingly assembled the youngsters for a quick educational-motivational-inspirational session.

Nothing beats going into small schools and sharing the inspiration that only aviation can provide.  Ghana’s very own ‘Captain Patricia’ was with me, and as always one or two had read about her in a paper or heard about her on the radio.  ‘Are you the girl who flies planes?’ is the usual question, followed with head nods, wide eyes and jiggly feet when they realise it is truly ‘her’ in front of them!  I must admit that I have been asked more times than I can ever remember ‘how can I learn to fly like Patricia?’, and I always push the question to Patricia to answer herself, whereupon she bends down and makes eye contact with the youngsters and responds ‘Well, you have to work hard and you have to be passionate about what you want to achieve.’ Words of wisdom from one young West African to another!

As the assembled group stood there, I took a deep breath, I could see this community school, the efforts and energies, I could see the eyes all following my every move, the ears wide open. The moment caught my breath.  Why? Where was I?  Well, you will probably be shocked when you read more, in next weeks ‘Fresh Air Matters’…

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and lead Pilot with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail

No comments:

Post a Comment