Monday, June 18, 2012

June 18th, 2012

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

It is quite amazing how fickle the World press is. In fact, it is amazing how fickle human beings are. No matter how old we get, we still seem to see everything with the eyes of the average five year old. Yes, I just accused you and the majority of the planet at seeing things, much of the time, rather like a five year old – and herby include myself for good measure.

The average five year old is amazingly intense about what it sees and does NOW. Little consideration for any consequences of its actions, statements or tantrums. Sound familiar? It does for me!

Last week the entire news about aircraft incidents consumed the media, minds and thoughts of the people in Ghana and Nigeria. A week later and we are off seeking the next spectacle, with an occasional glance back at the air-crash to see if it got ‘exciting’ again. Is that macabre? Is it sinister? Is it morbid? No, it is simply human, five-year old and normal. We focus on what we see and hear – in the here and now. Of course, with the advent of the printing press, radio, television and now the internet it has been, and will continue to be, principally fuelled by the control of the media (yes, the very media that you are reading now!)

The headlines of the day, repeated, discussed and splashed into our cone of vision quickly become our topic of discussion and our distraction of thought. This is not in any way a negative thing. Like the five-year old, we are quick to grasp the ‘new shiny thing’ in front of our eyes and try to grasp it. I was pleased that, last week, so many people wanted to grasp the concepts of aviation in relation to ‘overshoot’ and ‘aquaplane’, but sad that the desire did not extend towards a greater understanding of the industry this week.

In the UK a few years back there were a number of sad and devastating shootings. It raised the awareness levels so high that the UK banned ownership of handguns. It was a reaction to the public outcry. Overall it was a positive thing. Yet, today, if you ask about why handguns are banned, most people will tell you simply ‘it is an act of the nanny state’, because the reasons behind the decision are as buried as the corpses of the many who suffered a terrible fate that instigated the action of the state.

During the recent Schistosomiasis conference in Akosombo, there was a lot of noise in the media about the challenges of the lake-side dwellers. Such publicity raised the awareness of the need and the general public, in true five-year old fashion was ‘shocked and wanted to do something’. Of course, as Schistosomiasis left the headlines, so did the thoughts that went with them – as did the support to do something. Not from all, but certainly from the vast majority whose attention was grabbed by the next juicy titbit of audio-visual distraction from their previous thought.

Coca-Cola grasped the ‘five year old’ public concept a long time ago. Hence, on every street corner, in every newspaper, at every opportunity, the ‘Coca-Cola’ message is broadcast and remains at the forefront of responses to ‘What would you like to drink?’ responses.

What if disease prevention could afford a campaign like that? Imagine every time somebody asked you ‘What would you really like?’ the natural response was ‘eradicate malaria, schistosomiasis and pointless infections?’ - all of which are actually within our reach, if only we educate and promote accordingly.

It is interesting that we accept the daily bombardment of Coca-Cola and other beverages and the plethora of telecoms enticements, yet we resist the absorption of the messages related to health and education with the same strength of a trained soldier under torture!

Again, the five year old will be much more receptive to ideas of chocolate and fizzy drinks than that of undertaking a less ‘exciting’ task of cleaning up his room to prevent him getting sick.

Therefore, it seems to me that the time has come to make fighting disease and poverty exciting! To make it interesting. To flavour it with more fizz than any carbonated drink. To make it more intoxicating than any adult beverage. The time has come for us a society to reject the bland and fickle media of ‘propaganda-like-stimulation’. The time has come for us to realise that unless we embrace our entire society we are destined to follow in the footsteps of other societies that we regard negatively.

Of course, it is not that simple. We all know that the biggest action any society undertakes for the betterment of all is free education – and it leads to better health as a natural progression. However, you need to have good, dedicated teachers in all locations for that to be meaningful. Sadly, the current lack of infrastructure makes getting teachers to want to go to, and remain, in the rural areas a challenge, to put it mildly. However, without it, the rural areas will continue to suffer, as will health and national development.

What does it take in today’s society to encourage teachers to WANT to be in a rural school? Easy access, such as roads? Yes. Electricity to power lights, computers and fans? Yes. Clean water supply? Yes. Also, in case we might forget it, telecoms coverage to ensure voice communications as well as access to internet – the resource that is rapidly becoming a human right along with water and health – and yet its infiltration into Africa is limited by so many factors.

The question often asked is ‘which one first?’ Should you put roads, power and water in before the teachers? Should you provide incentives to the teachers to enter the villages on a promise of future support and infrastructural development? What do you then do when the teachers become disheartened?

The proverbial chicken and egg scenario runs around like a chicken with its head cut off, only to fall to the ground at the expiration of its life, without getting anywhere.

I guess we need to look at the answer like a five year old would. ‘Make living in the villages more exciting – then I will go!’ (perhaps make chocolate available daily too!)

It is clear that we are not going to get electricity, water and other resources to all the villages in need overnight. But it is possible to equip each school with enough power to run a small computer and to provide mobile technology internet within a relatively short time span. It really is possible, but it requires the will power – political, social and community wide support – together.

In the meantime, the organisations that I work with will continue to try to find the funds to expand the successful aerial drop system of health education materials to small communities, which is available and working in Upper Manya Krobo already, and although highly effective and relatively low-cost remains a relatively unsupported method so far.

Fresh Air Matters, and a fresh approach to the matters of need in health and education matter more today than ever as our country grows. Let us no longer be five year olds in our reaction to the propaganda and publicity of the day – let us see the bigger picture and change the world – together – to be more exciting, dynamic and sustainable for our grandchildren to inherit.

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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