Monday, October 17, 2011

October 17th, 2011

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Light Aviation really is ‘under-rated’ in this part of the world and commercial and military aviation is far ‘over-rated’. Such an approach is like ignoring the kindergarten and focusing on the University – doomed to fail. Unless the early-years of education are solid and appropriate, you cannot expect the tertiary levels and above to yield good fruits – and this applies to all sectors!

As was said to me by a pedagogue recently, ‘West Africa needs to leave the Victorian age behind’. It may sound a little harsh, but in reality we are seeing far too much ‘Victorian style’ education still taking place. Book-only rote learning, memorizing vast tracts of text and endless formulae, acceptance by examiners of ‘their versions of the answer only’ and more. Indeed, the education system – at all levels needs reform. From the early years – and that includes pre-school, in fact from the days after birth, we need to provide active stimulation of our young people – colours, shapes, music, textures and more. Fisher Price has founded an entire mega-business model on the colourful, noisy and shape orientated play things, including play–planes, and they work!

So, much as we need to re-assess our approaches to basic education (and in all honesty it is underway, just rather slowly and without much publicity), so too must we re-evaluate our approach to aviation exposure and training.

At the recent WAFRIC (Women Aviators of Africa) conference, a lot of time was spent on exploring ways to ‘stimulate young women into aviation’. Young Ghanaian women, some as young as 16 who are already learning to fly, partook actively in this debate. It is clear that ‘unless exposed at a young age it is hard to have ambition, and the associated motivation, for any area of study’.

What I find comforting, from the West African aviation development perspective is that the women are mobilising themselves in Ghana – and more actively than is appreciated by many in the higher ranks.

The 99s is an international group of women pilots, and they have ‘chapters’ all over the world – and yet Africa as a continent is lagging behind, so, when I get to read the following written by Kitty Houghton from the International office of the 99s I am left smiling: 'We are very happy that the Ghana Section of the Ninety-Nines is now official! You are certainly the leaders in Africa. Your example may spur the women pilots in other parts of the continent, to establish their own 99s Sections... We hope it will be a step toward more recognition of the terrific things you are doing for aviation in Ghana, and a higher profile for your Section and for all women pilots in Africa.'

So, once again, Ghana leads the continent, but hopes to have some hot competition to maintain its top spot in the promotion of the women who soar above and set standards for others to aspire to.

It is not only the women who are making ‘early-years’ strides. A young man by the name of John Paul wrote to me last week saying ‘I am a boy of 15 years old. I completed J.H.S. this year, and I have never missed Fresh Air Matters for the past two months. I am very desperate about flying and I have passion for it and I have never stop dreaming about it for the past three years, perhaps I have nothing in mind than to be an airline pilot. … Thank you for introducing something like Fresh Air Matters, thank you very much, we pray that god guides and help you so that you will always publish it so that it help we the juniors to take the right path.‘ I find the last part particularly interesting ‘juniors to take the right path’! To which, as always, I replied with the advice, albeit in other words ‘to follow your passion not your wallet’ and ‘visit Kpong Airfield and watch the planes before deciding on what you want to do.

John Paul, like so many others, has not REALLY had exposure to aviation. He has read about it, seen it on TV and visited a web page. He has never felt the blast of air coming off the backend of a propeller!

Exposure does not mean just ‘books, TV and the Internet’ nor does it mean ‘a visiting speaker to the school’ – these are good, but they are not enough. No, it means ‘field trip’ - not necessarily a school field trip; mums and dads, uncles and aunties – you have your role to play here!

Why not take the kids to do something special instead of going to another funeral this weekend? Is it really necessary to spend so much time at the church ‘event’ and the other ‘events’ that are in practice depriving our children from the opportunity to family time, discovering new things together and exposure that may well be the creative break your children, nephews, nieces and the like are in need of?

I am always surprised NOT to see young families out together discovering wildlife, places and opportunities – we have wonderful places to discover in Ghana – and of course, I promote the ones we discover by air too! I know that flying over the waterfalls, seeing the Adome bridge, Akosomobo and Kpong Dams, elephants in Mole Game reserve, Pin-Tailed Whydahs, Red Bishops and antelope in Shai-Hills game reserve, the beauty of the landscape, the enormity and potential of all that we have is sitting there, underutilized assets in the battle for socio-economic development through stimulation of the minds of the youth.

This week we have had another pleasure, and one that will surely expand into a future Fresh Air Matters column entry. We have a visitor from Germany who is a pilot, flying instructor and teacher for the visually impaired. This visitor has been enjoying the wonders of flying in Ghana and converting her European license to a Ghanaian PUP license. As we chatted she asked ‘Do you fly blind children?’. This is not as bizarre as it may seem. Blind is not necessarily blind – and in fact most blind people can distinguish shades and all of them can feel the sensations of acceleration, pitching up, pitching down, rolling and the effects of yaw – and hear the engine changes too. Our German friend expounded on the impact such feelings can have on the development of blind children and the positive outcomes she has found in Germany. This is an area we are now exploring in more depth.

So, I ask myself, if in developed nations, the benefits of exposure to flying for blind children has such an impact and is recognized, how much more we are lacking the broad based exposure for our young people to watch, hear, feel and experience moments that are readily accessible here in Ghana?

I know that this year we have cancelled the only airshow in Ghana due to lack of sponsorship and other financial support, however, every weekend the Kpong Airfield is open for young people, preferably with their families, to visit, watch the aircraft and to see what it means – and it makes a great day out!

What will you do to expose your family, and even yourself, to something new this week?

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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