08 December 2016

Sight Flight KZN

Following a 'vision trip' a few months ago, early December saw the first joint flight to northern Kwa-Zulu Natal between Mercy Air, Mission Aviation Fellowship/Flying for Life and Wilderness Safaris who own Rocktail Camp where we were based.

Wilderness Safaris were keen to look after their staff and the communities they come from and knew MAF were doing similar work up in Limpopo (see previous blog entry) which Mercy Air was already involved with.

For this trip Mercy Air flew two optometrists to Manzengwenya in northern KZN armed with all their eye testing equipment and about 300 pairs of donated spectacles of varying prescriptions.

The flight was only an hour long but by road it would have been nearer nine.
Some of the many donated spectacles we took with us.
The obligatory 'on the way there' photo. Wim in the front with Paul and Cathy and Bonita in business class just behind.
Manzengwenya is an interesting strip in that it's cut out of a forest and is surrounded by tall trees. It's a bit like landing in a shoe box. It is just over 2km from the coast.
Final approach 21.
The 310 parked and unloaded. A surprisingly small amount of cargo for the large amount of difference it was about to make in people's lives.
After lunch we saw most of the lodge staff.

There was even time for Paul to get a quick check up.

Some of the tools of the trade.
In the evening before dinner we had time for a walk on the beach.

Last week we had to share our accommodation with a scorpion. This week's guest was a slightly less scary but none the less impressive Long Horned Beetle.
There was also a rather large moth (that we didn't get a photo of) but with a wingspan of almost 15cm that was fluttering around. We overheard a French lady remark/question "it eez a bat?"

The next morning we drove along some sandy roads into the community...
..where people were already waiting for us (most were actually inside in the shade).
All the fancy equipment was set up again...
..and Wim and Bonita began testing.

There were many people lined up and excited about the renewed gift of clear sight and we were there well into the afternoon.
Most people were in their 50's, 60's and even 70's. The oldest man to arrive was 89.
At the other end of the scale there were a few kids under 10.

  We had a couple of translators to help us with those who didn't speak English so well.
During all this Paul and Cathy's job was to record names, ages and prescriptions and actually distribute the spectacles to those who had been tested.
Cathy and I both found the work very interesting and we had many questions. Wim and Bonita were very good and took time to explain things and let us have a look ourselves.

One of the big perks of the trip was seeing the reaction and joy of so many for whom the world instantly became a more clear and vivid place.

One particular old gentleman was shouting and proclaiming "so clear - so colourful" all the way back home when we gave him a lift afterwards.
The next morning there was just one more staff member to see before we loaded the plane and set off again for White River.
In total almost 100 people benefited from the visit, some seeing the world in a new light for the first time in a long time.

Thank you

Paul and Cathy for the Mercy Air team

28 November 2016

North East South Africa

In late November Mercy Air once again flew the Mission Aviation Fellowship/Flying For Life/Love Trust team up to the Vhemba district of South Africa for a week.

It might not look much on the map but the red line represents flying twice the length of the UK.
We took off just after dawn in the cool of the day and enjoyed seeing clouds and mist in the valleys beneath us.
We always consider it a compliment when our passengers sleep during the flight. Even the co-passenger slept although we weren't allowed to use that picture!
As we came in to land at Tshikondeni in the very north east of South Africa, we began to realise just how much affect the drought was having.
We parked and unloaded the supplies we had bought for the week.
There was quite a lot of stuff for a little plane.
From here it was all driving on endless dusty dry roads. By the end of the week we'd clocked up over 900km.
The team we had bought up were working into local schools and particularly the pre-schools. One lady was running a course in early childhood development training for existing teachers. We drove her to a rather run down community centre each day where she just got stuck into training/teaching.
Then we headed off down more endless dirt roads to other schools where other members of the team observed, assessed and gave help where necessary to recently qualified teachers.
In between two schools we did divert off to follow a sign that advertised a 'Big Tree'.
I suppose we shouldn't have been too suprised to find a rather large Baobab just beyond a car park at the end of the track.
 It is supposedly 3000 years old and has a 16m diameter, 47m trunk circumference.
Notice Santi at the base of the tree in the background.
At the next school one of our jobs was to install a curtain that had been specially made to prevent dust (and occasionally rain) from blowing in through the security bars on onto the kids inside.
We managed to get some wire bending help from one of the kids.
The temperatures decided to get hotter than most Gulf states for this particular week (40 deg-ish) which was bad news for people and animals alike although we were grateful we could still buy water and food. Everywhere we went there were cows and goats huddled in the shade of trees doing nothing - they couldn't even eat grass because there was none.

The place we stayed at was a saving feature of the week mainly due to the fact that the huts had comfy beds, a shower and air-con. Extra excitement was also provided by the discovery of an unwelcome visitor in one of the bedrooms the first morning.
The wildlife viewing didn't stop there as it seemed the local communities cattle also had access to the pool area.
An organisation in Johannesburg had made a large number of sturdy wooden cars which we bought up in the plane for the school kids. Each day we took some boxes full to the schools and gave them out.
It was amazing to see just how excited the kids got at the arrival of these simple toys.
We were very impressed at how controlled they were in taking it in turns to play with them.

 Then it was back down more Baobab lined dirt roads...
 ... to the next school where the children again seemed happy to see us - maybe they were just laughing at us!
One child at this school had once been seen by a white doctor a while back when she was ill and now seemed petrified by any Mzungu. Lots of tears and gnashing of teeth!
At yet another school it was time for some swing maintenance in the playground...
...as well as some more cars.
After each days school visits we returned to the community centre to pick up the teacher and drop the students off.

In contrast to a muffin top, could this be a 'muffin bottom'?
Most evenings we were back in time for a short walk through the sandstone outcrops...
...and have a look at some of the bushmen paintings.

We weren't too sure whether the bushmen of old saw an elephant, an ant eater or a long nosed mouse!
The very last rays usually produced a nice sunset.
At one of the last schools we visited they were preparing for their 'graduation' and the kids took it in turns to do a final dress rehearsal of their presentation to us.
Then as soon as it had arrived it was time for us to go. A reprise of dusty dirt roads led us to the aircraft and the flight home.
Thank you

Paul and Cathy - and many children in north east South Africa.