Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Photo of the Week, March 30th

The Northern Region is not renowned for its water bodies, but this reservoir due west of Tamale, is clearly instrumental in providing life changing solutions to the surrounding people.  Water is not a luxury, it is rather the basis of our survival and development.  Ensuring access to clean, safe drinking water for every citizen in Ghana is not optional, it is an essential and urgent need.  Clean and safe drinking water, and associated health education, must become 'an action point - not just a talking point' in our development agenda.  Photo Credit: Medicine on the Move 

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

Sunday, March 20, 2011

March 21st

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw
A couple of years ago I wrote an article entitled ‘How many people can you fit in a tro-tro?’ The premise behind the article was ‘one more, one more, one more’; that is, a mate can always fit ‘one more’ into the apparently over-occupied vehicle.  Such acts are common, as is the incredible ability to load a vehicle vertically with every conceivable contraption, vegetable, household item or animal.  It is not unusual to see a pickup truck loaded to height of three metres or more, and as for the Benz busses I am left wondering as to how they conceived that it may be possible to load a vehicle up to more than twice its original vertical extent!

The ability to squish, squeeze and pile people and their belongings into and onto our vehicles is only matched by the ability to load heavy goods vehicles beyond their axle limits.  We have proved beyond a doubt that the ‘limit’ given by the manufacturer is easily exceed – so much so that it is possible to break an axle whilst travelling at high speeds.  Of course, any damage to the road surfaces during these ‘Experiments’ is purely accidental!

So, when we get asked ‘how many people can you get into a two-seat aircraft?’ we are often frowned upon for stating, categorically, ‘two’.  Furthermore, when we explain that there is a ‘seat weight limit’ and then we add ‘and a baggage limit too’, people are incredulous.  Let us be fair, an Astra car has 5 seats and can carry ten people, plus baggage, and a goat.  Not to be funny, but such sights leave me with my jaw dropped open.

In the Aviation industry weight limits and seat limits are a part of safe operations that we simply do not ‘tamper with’.  We like to still be able to talk about our today tomorrow morning!   There are some exceptions, like the Israeli pilot of a 747 who, in May 1991 got one thousand and eight seven people on board his plane… but he made a compromise, he pulled out all of the seats, and sat them on the floors.  That case was exceptional, a case of evacuation – but note that he realised that in order to carry the weight he would need to shed some load.  No passenger baggage, and the safety infringement of passengers without seatbelts was weighed off against an emergency situation.  I do not believe, not even in my wildest thoughts, that we are loading our terrestrial vehicles to dangerous levels in order to save lives.  No, we see the acts we see due to several factors.

The main motivation factor seems to be greed.  Some may call it ‘making a living’, however, you cannot call ‘putting other people’s lives and belongings in jeopardy for a few extra cedis’ making a living, no, it is greed.  The operators are simply trying to make an extra cedi or two along their way, regardless of the risk they put their passengers, their passengers’ belongings, the road and other people at.  That is GREED.

Another factor is ‘ignorance’.  Many of the users of the transport system are unaware of the actual dangers of overloading and treating human beings as if they are sardines.  The people themselves want to get to their destination and are prepared to take the discomfort of being part of a ‘Ghana Benz People Sandwich’ in order to achieve their goal.

The police and other authorities, charged with protecting the population, fail on a regular basis to enforce the ‘right thing’ and I can understand it, because when they stop a vehicle in ‘infringement’ of the law, the people on the bus may make a large fuss and ‘beg for’ the driver and mate.  Therefore, the law and safety are over-ridden by greed, ignorance and consequent acceptance that it is all part of the ‘status-quo’.

This week, we started two new members of staff.  We try to do an induction programme for all new members of staff.  We show them around the premises and cover the basics of safety around the airfield.  We do not cover everything; some things take years to learn about! 

Our induction to working with our operations starts with a welcome and an explanation of the basis of a successful operation.  It is interesting that not one person EVER has given the right answer when we ask ‘What is the basis of a successful company and working environment?’  We may get an answer of ‘attitude’, which is part of it or ‘’money’, which demonstrates a wrong approach. 

The one word that portrays success in all that we do is ‘Safety’.  Attitude is a part of that, as is cleanliness, but making money is not the basis of operations, it is the long term consequence of good operations.   We then talk about the name and purpose of the different locations on our site, we talk about the ‘rules’ at the site.  Rules are key to safety and successful operations.  At times a certain rule may be infringed, we all understand that, but the infringement of a rule must carry with it the understanding of the consequences.  However, breaching rules without mitigation against the consequence leads to a breach in safety.  You may ‘need’ to cut through an area not normally authorised, and so before doing so you inform why, when and how and put EXTRA safety measures into place BEFORE breaching the ‘standard rule’.

We do not allow ‘open toe’ shoes in our working areas. Why?  What good does it do the employer to impose such a regulation?  Frankly, it only directly protects the employee – and then you find the employee is the one complaining about the rules!  An employee wearing safety equipment is doing so to protect themselves.  No employer EVER goes into a workshop and says ‘all those wearing boots, take them off and go bare-foot’, for if they did the employees would be affronted at the employer putting their staff in danger.  Yet, when I go into a workshop with chale-wotties everywhere, and make a comment I have been told ‘this is Africa, and we can’t wear safety boots it is too hot’.  Well, if the company is to be successful, a safe working environment is a professional working environment and with it, albeit a little slower than cutting corners, a successful operation will emerge.  In the same way, fitting an extra person on a tro-tro will only lead to more damage to the vehicle, more deaths on the road and more damage to the road surface – because a short-term vision of ‘making profit’ over ‘making a success’ is one of the main reasons that developments are not making the headway that they should.  Sadly, so many ‘get away’ with breaching safety that it becomes the ‘de facto’ – it needs to change, and sooner rather than after the next funeral.

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

Monday, March 14, 2011

March 14th

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw
5th March 2011: As the sun kissed the clouds, with a reddish tint prior to casting its light upon the runway at Kpong Airfield, four young Ghanaian women, Ciara, Juliet, Lydia and Emmanuella, were walking, eyes scanning the runway surface, making a final check before one of the busiest sessions of flying in West Africa.

By 06:30 a bus with twenty-five children from Techiman arrived.  Four aircraft lined up neatly at the runway edge.  At 07:30 four children were walked to the aircraft by the AvTech students who had just completed their FOD walk.  Ghana’s young people, who see a future in aviation, escorting four young people to their first flight in an aircraft, perhaps even their first time near one. 

Erin Nolan from the NYPD Aviation Unit led, flying in 9G-ZAE, an X-Air Falcon.  Erin, at the end of her annual leave, having spent five weeks in Ghana sharing her aviation experience, was ready to share ‘one-on-one’ the marvel of flight with youngsters from Ghana.

Melissa Pemberton, international aerobatics display pilot, sat in the second plane.  At the start of her annual leave, donated to the youth of Ghana in aviation and health-related matters.  9G-ZAA, the principal training aircraft at Kpong, was securely strapped onto her shoulders, for she prefers to wear a plane, as witnessed by thousands at shows, as she too received her first youngster to thrill into the skies.

Then Patricia Mawuli Nyekodzi, Ghana’s own Aviation diva, the woman who had been one of the conversion instructors for the above two pilots, sat waiting for her ‘children’ to come out to the aircraft.  Patricia loves aviation and loves sharing it.  Sitting in the ‘freshly-re-clothed’ X-Air Hawk, registration 9G-ZKT, which she had completed the test flight sequence on the day before, an aircraft that has just been returned to a shiny new finish by herself and her team of girls in the workshops.

Finally, in the fourth plane on the line, sat yours truly, Captain Yaw, in 9G-ZAF, the CH701 STOL aircraft, emblazoned with the Medicine on the Move (MoM) logo.  Like the other aircraft, this aircraft has been built in Ghana, by Ghanaians.  Looking across at the fence line, the smiling face of the first youngster of the day changed the overcast to the brightest sunshine you could imagine. Life itself emanated from each of the four youngsters as they approached the aircraft and pilot that would release them from the bonds of earth for a few minutes.

As the Techiman twenty-five completed their flights, Kete Krachi’s representative youngsters arrived, fresh from their boat trip, courtesy of Volta Lake Transport Company, and kept the planes in-cycle.  Each student getting one take-off, one circuit of the airfield and one landing, in the cockpit.  After the Kete Krachi twenty, it was the Carol Grey twenty, from Somanya’s little school in Lower Manya.  Later, forty-five students from Upper Manya, mainly from communities around the lake edge, took their turn.

For five straight hours, the four pilots sat in their planes, welcoming child after child, awakening in each one something that only aviators can appreciate.  A special dawning of a glorious light that can only be experienced in a cockpit, a few hundred feet above the ground.  One hundred and eleven children were flown, plus Nurse Lydia who had been on first aid duty, a willing MoM volunteer who filled the last seat on the last run of the session.  There were no missed approaches, no bouncy landings, not one person was sick or injured, the only injuries of the day caused by excessive smiling – especially by the pilots – all of whom gave their time and energies freely.  As much as the first students of the day ‘beamed’ and transformed, so did each and every young person who climbed towards the clouds of inspiration, flew along the paths of discovery and descended to the runway of new opportunities.  These young people were changed and changed those around them, magnificently.

Such an event is only made possible by the ground team, led by Matthew and Kojo, those who mowed the runways, prepared the show ground, drove the buses, etc.  The focus group was the young people from rural Ghana, or the real Ghana as I prefer to call it.  Theo Ago, from Air Traffic Control gave up his day off to help and cover the radio in case of emergencies, others from a variety of companies, mainly Managing Directors and CEO’s came along and sat with the young people before, and after their flights, interacting with them, asking questions and realising that there is an enormous amount of magnificent energy waiting to be tapped into out there.  The energy from the real/rural Ghana is immense, and it is, in my experience and opinion, a much more pure form of energy than found in the urban areas.  It really is as if God has passed out a blessing to those who live in less fortunate surroundings, with few amenities and more challenges to make it through each day, than to those in suburbia and ‘down-town-central’.

All of this was filmed tirelessly by another volunteer, Rex Pemberton, who used so many cameras – in cockpit, on wing, on the ground and around the place, that at times we wondered what would be filmed next.  The team from e-TV was present, Crystal Jeanne staying true to her word that she would be at this event, from when she heard about it first at the Be Bold Show.  Those who have seen her emissions know that Crystal is a smiling person, but you could see on her face that her smile was being exercised some extra degrees – as all of our faces enjoyed the moments. This event was about changing lives, one flight at a time – even just watching one flight is all that it takes to transform a dull eyed ‘nowhere to go’ youngster to a beaming innovative energy of tomorrow – how much more so if in the cockpit!

During the ground discourses, a few outstanding students were selected to return to Kpong Airfield later in the year, for a week in the workshops.  Perhaps, just perhaps, out of these few, one or two will make it to becoming a flying instructor or aircraft engineer.  Perhaps, in a few years one of these students will be flying alongside Patricia leading more and more Ghanaian’s into the skies, flying missions out to their own communities under the Humanitarian Aviation Logistics programmes, changing more and more lives, one flight at a time… just perhaps.

Experience is a good gift.  Inspiration is a good gift.  Love is a good gift. When we give money we create a short term moment that is quickly lost.  When we give experience, we crack open a door.  When we give inspiration we open a door wide.  When we give love, we keep that door open.

It was expensive, but what price can you put on the transformational inspiration that poured out on this day?  For all of us who were involved, it was, without a doubt, priceless.

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

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