Monday, March 7, 2011

March 7th

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw
It is always a treat to have an experienced flyer visit our facilities at Kpong Airfield, and so the last few weeks with Detective Erin Nolan from the NYPD aviation department have been fantastic.  So much has been learned from our law-enforcement-aviatrix and so many new ideas are buzzing from her inputs.  Adding to the interest, Melissa Pemberton, the ‘SportsGal’ who flies outstanding aerobatic routines as well as sky dives and does other amazing aerial performances, has joined our team for a few weeks.  Melissa does amazing displays – in one she spins her aircraft around a falling human being, skydiving through the air.  The ‘flying man’, falling at speeds that make your eyes water, is her husband, Rex Pemberton.  Rex is a renowned adventurer and conqueror of Mount Everest, and many other of the highest mountains around the world.  It was a fantastic bonus when Rex arrived with Melissa at the airfield.

Much as our focus is on aviation, and the positive impacts on aviation in Ghana by the two lady pilots, Rex has raised a whole new level of thought processes.  Interestingly, Rex is learning to fly, a tough task behind his able, talented and multi-pilot-licenced wife, and will take a lesson or two here in Ghana!

This twenty-eight year old young man speaks with authority, to high powered groups around the world, about what it is like to climb Mount Everest.  Originally conquered by Sir Edmund Hillary, in 1953, Rex became the youngest Australian to climb the mountain in 2005.  Yet, when you talk with him it is clear that he is a person with a passion for life, and changing others’ lives in a magnificent manner.  Rex normally presents to high powered audiences from Hewlett Packard, Google and other major corporations, so when I asked him to speak to our staff, I was over-the-moon that he agreed.

Standing under some shade at the airfield, he drew a sketch of Everest on the flip chart.  He then proceeded to explain how he and his climbing partner took three months to achieve a twenty minute stand on the top of the mountain.  He stood on the top of the world for twenty-minutes ONLY.  He went on to explain how the need to climb up the mountain a to a base camp, and then back down again, time after time was necessary to build the body for the big day.  Once trained over the three months of ‘up-down-up’ it took only three days to achieve the summit of twenty nine thousand feet! 

As I listened I watched the faces of our teams.  The AvTech girls, all learning to fly and build aircraft, were glued to the tales of the exploits, their smiles wide as they flashed their eyes at their friends, making sure all had caught the last nugget of the story.  The estates team, comprising masons, carpenters and motor mechanics, as well as the security team, seemed totally spellbound.  It was a long time since we had a presentation for our staff that captured and encapsulated the attention of all, in one journey of discovery.

Rex focused on safety and team work.  Correct equipment, correct attitude and working as a team, encouraging the other team members when they felt down or tired.  He explained that less than one in twelve attempts to reach the summit succeeds.  He also pointed out that for Sir Edmund Hillary to reach the top with Sherpa Tensing, it took a team of three hundred people to make it happen.
As a demonstration of the challenge to breathe and work whilst at higher elevations, working in thin atmosphere, we were all asked to take a deep breath and hold it in for ten seconds, then exhale and take another breath to hold for ten seconds, repeatedly.  Now, try doing that whilst walking, working and thinking.  The physical challenge was enormous, but the physical difficulties alone were not all he had to overcome.  On top of the battering of the arms, legs and lungs, the swelling of the hands and feet, the immense cold and the biting winds that could blow you off at any moment; they also had to think through every action, work out the best path or plan to make the next step, in order to reach that goal.  The goal of standing on the ‘table-top-sized summit’ for twenty minutes.

Rex states that this moment (or twenty of them) changed his life.  He now spends so much time talking to executives and enabling companies to adapt their strategies to business life through hearing about his exploits.  It was fantastic to have him share this with our little team in the rural lands of Ghana – a more unlikely audience you would never find, and yet he was ready and willing to change the perceptions of people who may never be able to afford a Pierre Cardin suit or Rolex watch, let alone possess one. 

Later, I asked Rex how he felt when he reached the bottom of the mountain after the successful attempt, and he admitted that it was a bit of an anti-climax, a sort of ‘what now?’ feeling. 

As he spoke I realised that climbing Mount Everest was an amazing goal and I asked myself ‘What is my goal?’  I realised in that moment, that our mountain had no peak, it simply climbs on forever, a sort of ‘never-ending-adventure’.  We are constantly training the next young person to fly, build and maintain aircraft; constantly seeking the next community to reach by air, to change lives through our humanitarian aviation logistics; constantly struggling against the elements to keep the airfield in tip-top shape and the vehicles in good working order; and so the list goes on… constantly.

Much as Rex had his goal of reaching up to the top of this mountain, and attained it, I realise that we have a different approach. Ours has no summit, ours in an unachievable goal. In fact we don’t really have a goal; it is more like creating a sustainable legacy – ensuring that the daily summits we reach are simply another positive step on the giants’ causeway of our vision.  We know that as we achieve one thing there are ten more to do, and the exponential expansion of the possibilities drive us forward with ever increasing speed.  We are not satisfied to reach the next one rural village with health education – nor the next ten, twenty or one hundred.  No, the target is endless, and the need to ‘hold our breath and keep on working’ is tough, but it is also a necessity, not for us but for those who will gain and grow from our efforts in light aviation, especially our outreach on the lake that will gain momentum in the coming months. 

To read more about our visitors’ impressions, you can visit the Medicine on the Move website – a view from the outside can often change the way you approach your daily challenges, so take a few moments and open your mind.

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

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