Tuesday, January 28, 2014

January 27, 2014

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

I am really proud to be a pilot of a small aircraft. It is an aluminium, high-wing, Zenith STOL CH701, and was built here in Ghana. It has a wingspan of less than ten metres, seats just two people, has no onboard toilet and you can't stand up inside. It has a practical range of about 1200km. It needs just a few hundred metres of dirt to operate from, is powered by a Rotax 912iS piston engine, and has a simple, ground adjustable, three-blade propeller. That automotive fuel powered, reliable, one hundred horsepower engine allows us to cruise at around one hundred and forty kph, burning just thirteen litres of fuel per hour. Yup, I am proud to fly that aircraft. Is see no reason to make up stories about it being bigger or faster than it is. It is a fantastic aircraft. Sure, it would be nice to have a bigger, faster, leather seats, with toilet, jet powered aircraft - but that is not what we can afford, nor what would give me so many smiles - nor what we ever set out to develop. We are proud of what we have, and have no jealousy of what other may have, or claim to have. I know that aircraft so well, and it flies so amazingly. We use it to serve the rural communities as we can afford to, and it has provided a great service in development of farms, waterways, flood monitoring, etc. It is fit for its purpose - and I, and my wife, love that little plane as if it were our own baby - well we did make it ourselves!

Why am I going on like this? Well, I am fed up with so many people making claims, or aspirations that are not realistic. Telling people you have a jet is a nice thing. If you have one. Bragging about your jet, when you can't put fuel in it, is not smart, nor clever - frankly, it can make you look silly when people find out the truth! Refusing to fly a smaller plane because you aspire to a bigger plane is equally counterproductive. Surely, we are better to be proud of our small achievements, and to embrace what we can do, rather than sit on the sidelines chanting 'eh Chale, next week-oo, I dey go buy some big t'ing-oo. You go see, it be big-oooo and fast-ooo'.

This attitude of 'sounding and acting bigger than we really are' is so counter-productive, and prevalent, that it is preventing real, sustainable, deep-seated development of our businesses, communities, and nation. We seem to have developed a culture based on 'claims and declarations', rather than one based on 'track-record, demonstrations and development'. It is considered by many to be more important to SAY what you are going to do, buy or be, than to actually achieve any of it.

How many mega-projects do we hear about, see the big spending on a 'launch party', hear the telephone-number-long budget, watch on the news and read in the papers - notice the full-page colour advertisements and applaud in awe... only to realise a few years later that it was nothing but a big, probably well intentioned, hype. There was a good party and some cash made from the launch by others - but little or no tangible achievement. Admittedly, it is really hard to actually achieve what you want to in the economic and physical climate that we are living in; yet it seems that so many projects simply NEVER go past that hype, noise and self-gratification process.

Let me share a couple of 'events' that stick in my mind that reflect what I mean.

I was approached to support a massive fundraiser for a new and exciting rural project. The event would be held at Parliament House. In the weeks leading up to the event I visited the proposed site for the project with those behind the initiative. We saw people chopping down Neem trees, talk of fencing, how many truck loads of stones would be needed, the creation of employment, raising the youth out from their ruts and giving them a new hope - there were glossy brochures showing the site plan, and it looked amazing! It was truly fantastic - and the names involved, and mentioned freely, were all 'big men' (and some 'big women' too). Past and present presidents were 'name-dropped' (not just by 'John' but the surnames too!), as if they were sweeties to please children - and the chiefs and local people were overjoyed! I was, and I admit it, totally convinced it would happen. I volunteered my time and resources to assist in the logistics of the event, willingly and without regret, because I believed (and still do) that the concept was (and would still be) magnificent. The fundraising evening came around.... it was a major event with big-name singers (receiving thousands of cedis for the evening performance), big name speakers (probably taking a small expenses envelope with large denomination notes inside), lots of big cars, expensive dresses, fine tableware, industry leaders, politicians, lavish food and wine flowing as if a wedding feast were in full swing... and funds were raised (or so we are told) towards the multi-million dollar project... That evening we all went home 'high with expectations'.

That was several years ago. Since that event, not a single footing has been dug... not a single truck has plied the route to drop a load of stones... and the organisers have not visibly been near the rural site again. Every so often the plot is referred to by locals as 'this is where the new project will be built'. The Neem trees have re-grown and the charcoal ladies are busy running a little illegal coppicing business from the land - and that is the only economic benefit that has been seen at the project site.

My other reference event was a 'large organisation/ministry' event. It was entitled 'The First Annual xyz Event'. the xyz must remain anonymous, for fear of the organisations/ministries involved knowing exactly which of the 'First Annual Events' being referring to. Again, it was a fanfare event with excess media coverage. The topics covered touched on matters of national importance. Representatives from the Armed Forces, the Police, Ministries, International Organisations and local stakeholders filled the seats. The venue was not the lowest cost and the menu was lavish, because of the status of the attendees. All the same, it was a really good event. The topics covered were relevant, and the aims and ambitions outstanding. Oh, and it was the first and LAST annual event. No follow up. No implementation of the well discussed matters. No outcomes. There were lots of pictures in the papers, and some prime time TV coverage - mainly of those 'big people' and their 'sound bites', and lots of 'feel good' factor. Sadly, it appears that little if any of the aims and ambitions of the discussions ever saw the glimpse of daylight under the rapidly closing door of the initiative.

I am sure that you can read any newspaper today and spot the same rhetoric.

We need to set our short term sights at what we can achieve, with our limited resources - and drop the hype and flash. We must be realistic and use the little funds we have to do something small, be proud of it, and keep working towards the bigger things. We must start small, and work damn hard, every day, every year and quietly aim for big. At least I think that way.... Do you?

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and Pilot/Engineer with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics (www.waasps.com www.medicineonthemove.org e-mail capt.yaw@waasps.com)

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