Supporting Health Development in Zambia
FMZ pilot, Andy Kradolfer describes one of his flights for Flying Mission Zambia:
Like every other flight I have done in Zambia, this one was unique! The task was multifaceted; medical research, plus hospital evaluation for both the government and a mission organisation. A Zambian medical student, Mr Chisoso, was along to evaluate five rural hospitals.
The trip was scheduled to take 3 days. We would call at 4 destinations, none of them carrying aircraft fuel. So, when I arrived at Lusaka International Airport Fuel Stop, as well as filling the tanks of the Flying Mission Zambia Cessna aeroplane I was flying, I filled 4 jerry-cans: that’s 520 litres. The cans would give me almost 10 more hours of flying time.
Everything we needed to do required permission. So, on our first stop, we had to go into the provincial Ministry of Health office to obtain authorisation for the task. To our passenger’s surprise, it happened really quickly. Then off we went to the first hospital, where Mr Chisoso was able to complete his work in a very short time.
No aeroplane had landed at our second destination for over two weeks. That is usually no big deal in Europe or America. Here in Africa, however, elephant grass can grow to over one metre tall in that time and would certainly prevent a landing. Overflying the strip, I saw that the middle was free of grass and landing looked possible. On my second approach I realised that by now we had attracted an incredible crowd so we had a different hazard. To my relief they stayed far enough away for me to execute the landing safely. As soon as the propeller stopped we were surrounded by at least 400 people, mostly children. It felt like being x-rayed. They were curious: what is coming to our village and what is this metal bird all about?
We decided that Mr. Chisoso should get on with his job at the hospital whilst I stayed with the aeroplane, topping off the tanks with the jerry-cans. I could hardly move with so many people surrounding the airplane. It was an incredible experience.
Part of my training as a “bush-pilot” has been to “walk” the airstrip, which means to check it for unwanted obstacles, surface condition, and any other potential hazards. (Checking out an airstrip from the air gives only a limited picture.) What I soon realised as I walked along was that I was not alone: I was accompanied by at least half of the people there. It was a good time to chat with some of them. But when I walked into the tall grass to cut down a young tree, no one followed me. They just stood still and stared at me from the strip. I can only assume it was due to fear of snakes, or was it uncertainty about what this crazy white guy was going to do now? As soon as I came out of the grass, the situation ‘unfroze’ and we continued on.
After an hour we could leave. I was concerned for the safety of the crowd, so I asked one of the hospital personnel to talk to the people about staying away from the plane. They listened, and I think the noise of the propeller spinning at full speed scared them enough for them all to stand back. That was a relief. As a “thank you”, I overflew the strip and waved good-bye with our wings, then off we went to our third destination, which was actually back to our first venue. From there we had to drive to the final appointment, since that hospital airfield was now being used as a vegetable patch (!)
Although only a small part of a big picture, this flight will certainly have an impact on medical provision in Zambia. Consider this: the Zambian University is involved in the research, Zambian medical students are doing the work and the country’s health system will be seeing improvement. What a blessing that we at Flying Mission Zambia can support such an endeavour.