Monday, September 30, 2013

September 30th, 2013

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

I am often asked 'What did you study at University?', to which the answer is 'I didn't go to the usual University, however, I am still an active student in the 'University of Life' - the best University in the world'. Through surgical interventions that prevented my completion of Senior High School and 'A' Levels, I was left 'not fully able' to attend the 'lecture theatre and concrete structure learning institution' but remained 'fully determined to obtain as much education as I could, from those with outstanding practical knowledge to share'. 

As I left the orthopaedic ward of the teaching hospital, I was told that my walking and working would be 'limited' and that I should not lift more than about 1kg. Consequently, I took work in a government research laboratory. Wearing a white coat, sitting on a high stool, peering down a binocular microscope. I learned to dissect tropical insects - and how to make my own dissection tools! I was part of a team working on the diuretic hormones of disease-spreading blood suckers. It was fine, but it was not 'very challenging' - frankly it was remarkably boring, with an occasional moment of 'wow'. Once you have dissected a few thousand Rhodnius Prolixus under the microscope, cut out their central nervous systems, extracted and tied their malpighian tubules around wire posts under a ringers solution, and waited for two hours before measuring the diameter of the droplets... you can, and do, get quite bored. Although the job was within my capabilities, it was not stretching me mentally, physically nor, most importantly, did it fire any 'passion' in my heart. One autumn day, I decided that it was time to ignore medical advice and discover where the real boundaries of my envelope lay.

I spent hours walking, my back aching, my left leg and arm refusing to move normally, stopping at every factory or office I came across asking at the reception for 'any opportunity for work?'. Finally, I came across an engineering factory, on the edge of Brighton, it was a grey building with a broken sign, it smelt of metal, oil and 'man sweat'. It was an old-school engineering operation.

They had just been awarded a major aviation contract, in relation to hydraulic and pneumatic systems at a major military establishment, as part of an early airborne warning system. They were seeking 'young talent' to assist them with the added demands of the new contract. For whatever reason, I was seen as a 'youngster with potential' and put into the purchasing department technical team. My earnings were not great in financial terms, but the gains in experience would turn out to be more valuable than any money could compare to.

I spent hours visually scanning A0 blue prints, far bigger than my desk, often still damp from being pulled. The detailed drawings of pipe-work, wiring, switches and installation details abounded. I spent days counting and recounting pumps, valves, pipe fittings, electrical components and more. Quickly, I found that these drawings spoke to me, I could scan them and read them holistically, they made sense to my way of thinking - they inspired me - and I could see the effective three dimensional outcomes. Then, I started to spot ways of improving the designs. Such inputs were first met with 'discouraging noises' by my line manager, however, I made my way to the Drawing Office and met with open-minded draughtsmen. 'You see that you have used two different pumps for these two circuits? If you look at the spec sheets you could use the same one, and we could reduce the parts diversity - they both pump across the desired range...', I pointed out. Drawing after drawing was recalled, and the parts diversity was dropping - not just from my inputs, but it appeared that a 'second set of eyes' could spot things that those with 'Drawing Office Vision' were overlooking. This was before Computer Aided Design, and therefore each draughtsman, sitting at their large drawing boards, in rows like teak trees, had made independent selections for the different areas of the project. My role, in assessing the parts and putting together requirements lists, enabled me to see the bigger picture. The best part being that the design department embraced the feedback, and enjoyed the positive interaction. Despite my lack of a formal university education, I had the right approach and saw the bigger picture. Through reading the various specifications sheets of hydraulic, pneumatic, electrical and various control systems, my knowledge grew, and my ability to interact with designers and engineers grew also. I was actively contributing to the hydro-pneumatic installations for a military aircraft installation - and it made me proud to be part of the team.

Later, I was invited to the 'good inwards' department, when the delivery trucks arrived. Seeing first hand the parts, that I had only met through blueprints and spec sheets, fired a passionate flame in my chest - and my head. Holding the various parts, and knowing where each one would be installed for the aircraft that would benefit from these systems, was like touching a piece of future history. The storekeeper indulged me, showing each of the many thousands of parts in stores, spending time explaining, thus adding to my knowledge. Every lunch hour was spent gaining a fresh grain of knowledge from a mentor with years of experience. Consequently, quality control, use of measuring and testing equipment and more was within my reach, and as a result I got more and more oil on my hands - I think that oil and the manufacturing spirit were seeping deeper into my soul.

When the parts went to production, I asked to gain access to the production floor. It was granted. There I was met with the magic of machining and assembly. Both drew my eyes, hands and heart. Making things was brilliant - especially things for aircraft! Again, the time-served craftsmen on the shop floor indulged my millions of questions, and thus I learned about the early Computer Controlled Machines - perhaps it was a moment of love-finding. It was a fresh seed in my brain garden and it was planted firmly.

Economics have a nasty habit of biting, and when the contract I was working on was cancelled, it was time to seek a new financial-life-support opportunity. All the same, my seeds of engineering had been planted in a well tilled place, and, even if needing to be allowed to germinate, they had formed the early connections to aviation, engineering and the benefits of sharing knowledge in a hands-on manner.

The economics of the 80's was not good, and jobs lasted short times, but over the next few years I found myself exposed to the electronics and telecommunications industries and then, by a stroke of misfortune of working in an aviation steel stockholders where staff were treated 'not as one would think suitably', I stumbled across an advert for an apprentice CNC machine tool programmer. The seeds of my early engineering exposure were about to be given a large dose of high power fertiliser - and I would be involved in a wider range of projects than I could dream of. All because I ignored the doctors and pushed to find the limits of my envelope. Sometimes, that step out leads to a step up!

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

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Photo of the week September 25th, 2013

Patricia Mawuli, who is a regular contributor to the picture of the week, is the current Woman of Worth poster personality in the Wolfpack promotion. Patricia is an active role model for young women, not just in Ghana, across the world. Patricia is dedicated to training other young women, particularly from rural Ghana, in engineering, welding, CNC machining, Aircraft maintenance and of course as a flying instructor. Patricia is a volunteer pilot for Medicine on the Move and is leading the aerial supply of health education materials to rural communities using the Rotax 912iS powered Zenith CH701 Aircraft that she has built and maintains. Photo courtesy of Wolfpack.

Monday, September 23, 2013

September 23rd, 2013

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Flying combines so many different disciplines - engineering, physics, chemistry, biology, agriculture, land management and, to be honest, it requires lot of understanding of the human body - especially in relation to human limitations and how to handle health matters, including accidents.

Whether it is a heart attack, a baby being born, a tractor accident, a paper cut, swarf splinter, infected cut or an air accident, understanding how the human body works, first aid and trauma management are essential skills for those involved in the sort of work that I do.

I have been asked on many occasions 'how I learned about how to treat patients', and the answer is 'I lived through a lot of treatment and learned from it all!'

My first major training came when I was 11 years old. As a result of school bullying, and my head being treated as a football for a while, removing some of my teeth and leaving me unable to use my legs or left arm properly, I spent a long time in hospital.

A hospital can be a place of pain and suffering, or, if you take the right approach, a place of learning, discovery and people skills development. I chose the latter.

In the bed next to me there was a young man recently diagnosed with diabetes, and he was learning how to give himself injections. I did not want to be left out, and so we shared the opportunities! For him it was an encouragement and for me it was a new skill to learn. The practice 'patient' was a tangerine - and the injectable substance was simply water. We managed between us to perfect our bubble flicking, syringe plunging and ultimately 'inflate' the tangerine into an orange - a point of no return! I even got to practice on him when the nurses weren't looking! In those days, we learned by doing - and many skills were gained! 

Part of my rehabilitation involved a lot of physiotherapy. However, physiotherapists are not there all the time, and thus I needed to invent my own 'skills building'. In order to stimulate my left hand, I taught myself to write and draw with my left hand. I learned new ways to manage my geometry for moving about, and asked so many questions about the bones, nerves and muscles that my basic anatomy knowledge was quickly challenging that of the nurses!

Within eighteen months I was back to near full-mobility, and along the way had grasped the basis of 'body function' - bones, muscles and nerves. I had to understand them to understand my own recovery - and it came in useful a few years later.

At seventeen, I underwent my first major trauma incident. A simple accident resulted in a broken vertebrae and two slipped disc. Sadly, it was just before the completion of my A levels, but thankfully, being in a teaching hospital for five operations and many months of treatment was a fantastic educational opportunity - I believe it was better than going to university, which I had to forfeit through this opportunity in my life.

The orthopaedic ward was an 'early exposure' ward for the young nurses. They were there learning by doing, and studying whilst learning. I quickly learned that knowing something has nothing to do with being able to 'recite' it. You have to be able to 'apply it'.

My dressings were changed several times per week, over months, and I was the 'perfectly difficult' patient for nursing and medical students to practice on. Aseptic procedure is important in infection control, and the senior nurses knew that I would correct any student who 'skipped a step', and I did - with relish! Here I learned about the basics of dressings, wound preparation, bsi (body substance isolation) and making sure that infection was controlled. I also was the 'favourite' patient for 'teaching and learning' and, as a long-term ward member, would be used for endless visits by surgeons, nurses, physiotherapists, etc. The best part was that I got to listen to their lessons many times over - and soon knew - and understood - the answers to many questions!

Another duty that was bestowed upon me at that time, was that of 'unofficial-counsellor'. Patients who had challenges with their conditions would be put in my ward, placed near to my bed, to share my optimistic outlook on the challenges of health. Then, one day, a nurse asked me to take my wheelchair to the common room, as there was a twenty-something lady who had a car crash, and had lost her arm. She needed 'her vision of life adjusted'.

I wheeled my way to the common room to find a shaky, red-eyed and not very happy newly-wed, sitting, no, slumping, in a chair. All of her 'joie de vivre' appeared to have been amputated with her arm. I rolled alongside, sought eye contact, and started to chat. It was one-sided to start with, but quickly moved through staccato interaction towards a meaningful conversation. I told her how lucky she was - which did not go down too well... then, as we chatted, we considered what could have been worse. With a reality check in place, we started to talk about her future - a topic that had been ripped from her body with the trauma of her event. Her future would not involve her lost arm, but it would involve a lot of new opportunities. As we sought the positives, the smiles started to grow. Not everyday, but over the next few weeks her face became one of light, smiles and soon the only tears that were shed were tears of laughter. To be honest, it did me as much good as her! Her husband, who I believe had been driving at the time of her accident started to cheer up too, and the day of discharge from hospital was a new beginning for them, and the prosthetic arm that had joined their lives. It just needed a change of focus, and the picture that represented their future was recalibrated accordingly. In all honesty, I think that they were happier than before the accident, all things taken into consideration.

Learning how to take ones misfortune and turn it into a positive, and to learn from every situation we find ourselves in, is key to our success and our happiness. We cannot change the past, but we can shape the future - but only if we have taken the opportunity to learn from our situations, seeking out the positives, adding them up and putting them in the forefront of our field of view.

Today, I am prepared to handle most accidents and have passed First Aid/EMT courses, based on my experiences and having learned from the opportunities that have presented themselves. 

Today, through experience, coupled with an inquisitive nature and backed by further study, I am confident of handling accidents at the airfield - or anywhere else - and to train others in the same skills. Moreover, I have learned that it is essential to actively learn from all situations you find yourself in - taking the positives and adding them to the toolkit of life experiences that make us what we are.

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

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Photo of the week September 18th, 2013

Work on the new water treatment plant at Kpong is moving ahead, and the new inlet station, on the banks of the Volta, is nearing completion. Here we can see the existing pumping station to the left and the new station to the right. It is physically much larger, standing as a symbol of hope for fresh, clean water supplies to so many people in the communities around Tema and Accra. The project is expected to increase supply by more than 40 million gallons of water per day before the end of 2014. It is important to remember that so many people in our country are very far from receiving piped water, and must rely on more traditional methods of water sourcing, collection, transport and purification. Water borne diseases are a major challenge for development. It is good to see progress being made - yet we must remember that there is so much more to be done! Photo courtesy of Medicine on the Move

Monday, September 16, 2013

September 16th, 2013

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

I was asked 'Where did it all begin?', a question that I have asked myself a thousand times, and never taken the time to answer - for the answer is not simple. So now, perhaps I should, and I invite you to share that moment - well actually plethora, nay myriad of moments!

My mother tells me that I spent too long in her womb (close to 10 months), and arrived in the world ready to eat bacon and eggs. I do not think she was telling the truth, but it is good that I was a large, healthy baby, since I contracted whooping cough in my early months. Apparently, my mother purchased lots of baby rattles and placed them on the cot, so that she could hear me moving in the night -reassuring herself that this fifth born child was going to live despite a negative outlook at the time. It was a close call, but it worked - and I am still here!

My younger years were not healthy ones. I seem to have missed a lot schooling, and rarely did outside things through my asthma and apparent penchant for getting sick. The upside was that I got to spend a lot of time at home, with my best friends. My best friends did not talk, nor did they ever demand anything from me. My best friends would only wait for me to interact with them. When I did, they filled my days with adventure, knowledge and inspiration. My best friends were books - from fiction, biographies, from encyclopaedias to the newspaper! I was able to read from an early age, encouraged by my four older siblings, and embraced the art of reading to be as necessary as the survival instinct of breathing. I have to read. I love to read. Even today I read for at least an hour every day. Put a document down near me, and I will read it. I even read the small print on the breakfast cereal - and love reading upside down and in the mirror - reading is such a wonderful exercise for the mind, as well as a source of new information to feed the grey computer with!

My father was a multi-denominational lay preacher. One Sunday we visited a particular church - it had a bookshop. There was a set of books on the shelf called 'Jungle Doctor' (by Paul White). These processed trees, coated with the authors cipher, with colourful sketches on the cover, called out to me. That calling was strong. Thankfully, I was presented with the books before we left that church - and it possibly prevented me starting a career in 'shop-lifting'! I think that was the very day that something different began inside of me.

I read those books, and the pages flicked over faster and faster, my eyes roving like a laser scanner. I devoured the stories. They had adventure and morals. The stories fed my imagination. Medicine, education, aviation and Africa were all in there - and are all part of my life today.

Later those seeds slipped into the fertile neuron fields of grey matter, hidden from consciousness, but clearly not forgotten, developing a root system that has, today, led to inspirations of my flying and health education outreaches that can be traced back to those simple paperbacks.

My love of reading became an addiction, sitting in the house, self-entertaining - learning.

Later, my parents moved next door to a school in the South of England. I could be the first to school every day - and if I was sick my teachers could send my work home to read! Then the troubles of over-self-learning presented themselves. I got into a heated debate with a teacher, in relation to nuclear energy. I had read all about it, and was well versed in the issues related to fission and fusion. The teacher had not read the same books, and wanted to keep the information 'simple'. To avoid further discourse and delay to the class, I was sent to the headmaster. It was not the first time, nor the last. It was a turning point in my life.

The headmaster had a bottle of whiskey on his desk. His speech slurred, his head unstable. He may have had problems, but taking those problems to the school, was not, in my 9 year old head, appropriate. 'What have you done wrong?', he demanded. 'I told my teacher about fusion and fission.' was my simple response. The poor man was clearly struggling with the conversation before him. My propensity for the truth could not be contained any longer and I proudly advised 'you would be a better headmaster if you didn't drink so much.' I was summarily sent outside his office.

A short while later my parents walked, from the house next door, to the school office. They entered the headmasters room. I sat outside, reading the newspaper. A few minutes later I was informed that 'I had been expelled'. 

Being expelled is not always a good thing - but for me, that was one of the best days of my life. A day when it all began. 

I was enrolled to a school a few miles away. My new teacher was ex-military, stricter than a Sergeant Major. He expected us to stand to attention each morning - and to read lots of things. He was a magnificent older gentleman with a backbone of steel, at least that is what I thought, for he never bent, physically nor metaphorically. Straight as the yard stick, which he actually used on the blackboard! We got on well, and he was always ready to listen to my wild ideas on making things, creating things, adventures and the like. He allowed me to write stories that could be as fan-magically-science-fictionally-bizarre as I could manage. He must have been watering those hidden seeds in my sub-conscious, aware of what can happen if you allow a child's brain freedom and encourage every corner of that mind growth potential.

I can remember my imagination being fuelled by the likes of Asimov, Huxley and Orwell - not the normal reading for a ten year old - but they used such wonderful imagery and wrote with such passion, that I loved these books. My other passion was plants. I loved cacti and all plants that survived against the odds (Xerophytes). My room was filled with the spiny fellows - some even had names - and I read about every aspect of botany that I could. My imagination was fuelled by science fiction, and my hobby was growing bizarre plants! Not a normal ten year old at all!

Perhaps it was here that my future was being made. My beginnings were not normal, not at all. But that is, I believe, where it all began for me.

Today, when I dig around the garden of my mind, I find testimonials to the beginnings of my path to where I am today in those events. This beginning prepared me well for a life in aviation, education and health in the rural parts of West Africa.

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

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Photo of the week September 11th, 2013

It has been said that 'No man is an island'. The Volta Lake has many islands - but we must remember that, they were not all islands before the dam was built . What at times appears to be an 'isolated individual island' is still connected to the mainland by the lake floor. If the water levels rise, any of us can become an island. If the levels drop, we are quickly, visibly, connected by land. In the ebb and flow of life's challenges it is easy to see oneself isolated and island like. However, we are all connected and just need to reach out for others to join hands with us, reminding us that we rely more on our humanity than our individuality. Remember all the island dwellers in Ghana, and remember our connection to them. Photo courtesy of Medicine on the Move

Monday, September 9, 2013

September 9th, 2013

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Many different cultures have given attributes to their children linked to the day that they are born. Some are amazingly complex, such as the Chinese and other astrology based systems which use the planets and the seasons to 'predict' a persons character. Others are much more simple, and rather more fun. The poem 'Monday's Child' is one of those:

Monday's child is fair of face,
Tuesday's child is full of grace,
Wednesday's child is full of woe,
Thursday's child has far to go,
Friday's child is loving and giving,
Saturday's child must work for a living,
But the child that's born on the Sabbath day,
Is fair and wise and good and gay.

It is rather sad to think that a child will be woeful (unhappy or sad) simply because they are born on a Wednesday! It is also important to note that such a poem was written before the word 'gay' was hijacked for sexual tendency description, but at the time was rather a word to describe cheerfulness.

It is blatantly clear that people born on a particular day are able to be demonstrate any of the attributes of others, and the exact day, hour, minute that we are born does not make us one thing or another. However, that moment in time when we are born does change the experiences we will go through. If we are born in the dry season, or winter, in peace or at war, we may obtain different nutrition that will affect our growth. The age at which we can start school will be affected by our birth, and it is clear that the life experiences, and our consciousness of the same, will be totally affected by the moment of our birth. 

One of the more practical and fun aspects of when we are born is the naming system that is common in parts of Africa. In Ghana, we have some simple naming processes that are dependent on the day of birth, there are variances by tribal origins, but the Akan system is widespread.

Male name
Female name

If we compare the origin of each name in the Akan system with the Monday's child poem, we find that there are some areas of compatibility, which confirms that we must all come from the same 'mother' at some point in our humanity.

If we listen to the geneticists, who tell us that our mitochondrial DNA is passed intact from mother to child, we all come from just a few great-great-great-....... -great-grandmothers! Furthermore, we all come from Africa! Although the exact location of our cradle of origins is unknown, it is believed to be in East Africa. One 'out of Africa' model shows that Homo Sapiens left East Africa about 100,000 years ago, and populated the world.

Perhaps, just perhaps, we should re-evaluate many of the discoveries of the world and explain them as 'of African Origin'. That would offend some, but we could ask them to provide mitochondrial DNA, and demonstrate that they actually did originate from Africa, albeit a long time ago! Our history is our history, and we cannot deny it. It is ours, whether we accept it or reject it. The good, the bad, the ugly and the magnificently gorgeous. It is all ours. 

Kwame Nkrumah, the first President of Ghana, made a wonderful statement 'I am an African, not because I was born in Africa but because Africa was born in me.', little did he know that 'Africa is born in all of us'. However, that feeling of 'belonging' to Africa must be awakened. That deep, soul-embedded conviction that 'Africa is home' is not alive in everybody. For many who are born in the continent, that feeling is incredibly strong. But for others, the feeling is simply not engaged, and they seek to leave their maternal cradle at the earliest opportunity. 

More interesting is the 'awakening effect'. Every now and then a 'non-African born' person, regardless of their skin colour, walks upon the surface of the continent, breathes the air, feels the sticky heat and inhales the dust of the birth continent of mankind, and something inside of them awakens. Africa is, suddenly, instantly, miraculously their home. It is not something that can be described, it can only be felt. Such people are then 'Afro-centrics' and find that their soul-home is on the continent. 

Kwame Nkrumah was very right in his statement : 'I am an African, not because I was born in Africa but because Africa was born in me.' Being African is more than where you are born, I see so many African born people who are not 'Afrocentric'. It is sad, for such people give Africans a less than good name. Those who have Africa as their soul, those with Africa born inside them, alive inside them - dancing, beating drums and singing in multicoloured expressions of family, love, unity and peace - those are the ones that give Africa its positive reputation and, to be honest with you, the 'life and soul of Africa'.

I am proud to have my African-mitochondrial DNA, and for it to be alive and well. I am proud therefore to share my African name with that of Aviation. 

On the 17th December 1903, the Wright Brothers (although American, with African mitochondrial DNA) are recorded as 'giving birth to powered flight'. It was a Thursday, which would give it the name 'Yaw'. That name, albeit pronounced differently, is welded to flight, for it is the name given to the movement from side to side of an aircraft. The name originates from the earth - and the breaking of the bonds with earth are linked to that very day. Add to that the description that 'Thursday's child has far to go', and we can see that there really is something to a name.

When I am asked why my name is 'Captain Yaw', I simply reply 'It means that I am a pilot who was born on a Thursday, with Africa in my soul'.

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

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Photo of the week September 4th, 2013

The minor dry season has not followed the usual patterns of weather from recent years, this is in line with recordings from other parts of the world. Many rural communities are likely to find harvest challenges that will have repercussions into the rest of the year, especially in respect of food security.

When you live in rural conditions you are often far more affected by climatic changes than those in the urban zones. Spare a thought for those in rural Ghana at this time. Photo courtesy of Medicine on the Move

Monday, September 2, 2013

September 2nd, 2013

 Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Fear fuels superstition, fact fuels science. For centuries mankind used fear to create superstitions that would ‘explain’ how things worked. For example, flight. The concept of flight was often shrouded in stories of witchcraft and wizardry, or simple ‘magic’. The flying carpet of Asian origin was a magical device that fuelled stories that could, and still can, enthral a crowd. Climb aboard the magic carpet and simply state where you want to go, and the mythical rug will lift up and take you there, soaring over the cities and deserts, forests and lakes. Then there were the European witches and their broomsticks stories, which had at least a little scientific fact attached to them. Not that they could actually fly, but that that the ‘covens’ had a ritual of rubbing hallucinogenic plant extracts onto the ends of their broomsticks (hemlock, deadly nightshade, henbane, etc. – all of which are poisonous and can, and do, kill) and then applying that concoction via their ‘lady parts’ to induce a psychotropic sensation of flying – or a ‘trip’. Hence the ‘riding on a broomstick’ – it is reported that some of the coven members would ‘ride their broomsticks’ in the streets – clearly whilst on a ‘trip’ – but not actually leaving the ground. Therefore, superstition tells us that ‘witches fly on broomsticks’ but science tells us that ‘members of a certain group practised substance abuse with non-oral methods of absorption that led them to behave strangely’. There is little difference to the LSD addicts jumping off rooftops in the belief that they can fly, whilst they have an altered mind state from drug taking. Perhaps there would have been cases of women jumping off of rooftops with broom between their legs in medieval days, from a similar exposure – but that, I do not know! What I do know is that the drug addict jumping from a ten story building is in for a near certain death, but that jumping off of a small village house may just lead to the neighbours finding the ‘broomstick abusing victim’ laying in the mud in the morning – thus creating a story. 

We can quickly see how the stories began, and managed to propagate themselves through lack of understanding and science! Science is much more humane than superstition. Superstition turns normally sensible thinking individuals into inhumane actors in horrendous acts. During the middle ages in Europe they had two simple tests for ‘so called witches’ or ‘people with magic’. The first one was the dunking chair. A supposed witch would be strapped to a chair and held under water for a period of time. If she died, she was not a witch. If she lived she was. Funnily enough, they all died. The other system was to attach the accused to a wooden stake, place wood around her feet and set fire to it all. If she died, she was not a witch. If she lived, she was. Funnily enough, they all died.

A pattern is quickly forming in the fear and superstition band. Once you have seen a few women killed (since human biology means that people who are held underwater will die, as will those exposed to fire), regardless of their beliefs, race or other persuasions, you fear being accused. Hey presto, the use of superstition to subdue the females in a population. It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of women were burned at the stake during the Middle Ages in Europe. What is most offensive to my thinking is that this was a torture aimed at WOMEN. It was used to put fear into women, to subdue and control them. It had nothing to do with their beliefs. If a women was too ‘outspoken’ or dared to challenge the ‘authority’, possibly even ‘stand up to her husband’ or ‘refuse the orders of a [so called] superior’, she was labelled a witch and, in effect, summarily executed – for that is what really happened. What is more, the Church led these outrageous acts. Even midwives could be accused of being witches for administering herbal remedies to ease pain during childbirth, since the Church at that time believed that childbirth pain was a ‘blessing from God’. Interestingly, they used a similar (but much milder) concoction to that used by the covens in their ‘broomstick flying’ sessions, derivatives of which are still being produced by pharmaceutical companies today for labour pain control. Happily, we are not going around burning pharmacists for making such concoctions today!

Superstition does not always lead to such macabre outcomes. There is another abominable practice that goes on even today, by those who seek to inflict fear into others. The practice of making ‘accused of witchcraft girls’ spend a night alone in a church, is still prevalent. All it takes is for a young girl to be a little bit sassy, or to behave a little bit differently to the liking of a parent, teacher or, I am sorry to say, church leader, and that girl can be thrown into a church for the night, alone, frightened and crying – accused of being a witch.

Such treatment does not do anything more than traumatise. It may ‘change the behaviour’ of the child, but it does not build the child up. It is a destructive process that can lead to long-term traumatisation of young person. It may change the ‘visible behaviour’ but it scars the person. Science tells us that we need to CARE for those with behavioural issues, use love and appropriate punishments. There is no place for ‘psychological torture’ nor ‘physical torture’ in the building up of our young people.

Education is the key to our improved humanity. Superstition should be securely locked up in stories for the stimulation of imagination – such as the flying carpet stories, dragons, Anansie, Harry Potter, etc. Superstition should be swept out of our society and replaced with understanding and development, through science and logic.

Sadly, I heard once more this week about a young girl being locked into a church overnight. What is more shocking is that the guardian of the child, who took the matter to the leadership of the community where it happened, was told that leadership and community itself could not understand why it was wrong and would continue with the practice.

Furthermore, we read last week about a 13-year old girl chained to a tree in a prayer camp at Zenu near Ashaiman, without food or water, accused of bringing witchcraft led troubles to her family. The treatment supported by her parents. Evidence indeed of the fear of superstition, and lack of science fact – and frankly, lack of LOVE and CARE.

It is only if we stand together for the care of our women and children – and it really does seem that the women and girl children get the worst accusations – and take time to educate on the science fact, that we will chase the shadows out of the dismal corners, of the superstition led fear, that is holding back our development and punishing women and children unnecessarily.

(Note: The UK repealed its antiquated Witchcraft Act in 1951, having made the last imprisonment under the act in 1944 to prevent a women ‘foretelling of the D-Day preparations’, which was clearly an excuse for something else!)

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