Tag Archives: MAF

First-Time Fliers

On a recent trip to Papua New Guinea (PNG) for MAF, I watched the freaked-out reaction of several first-time fliers. 

A ‘Barn-Raising’ – Congo Style

Black, thick, foot-deep mud is so much fun to sink into when you’re barefoot, and it’s supposed to be there…inside a house…in every room. This is for all the adults out there who have lost your memory of how much fun it is to get down and dirty, literally. Come to Congo and you can have a small taste.

Yesterday here in Nyankunde, the MAF international staff (and I, of course) had a crazy-fun, purely African experience of taking part in the Congo version of a ‘barn-raising’ (as the Amish do). This was a house, however, and the work involved mudding the bamboo frame inside and out. It was incredibly messy and crowded with well over a hundred people from the church and community helping out. The new house belongs to Kazi, one of MAF’s long-term employees in the village of Nyankunde where MAF is now based.

The frame was built at an earlier time, so this community day was all about the mud. The inside of the house is piled with dirt in every room (and there were about six). The women carry buckets of water from somewhere nearby and dump it into a massive tub, then carry it in smaller buckets to the house where a bucket-brigade of men pass it through to the room being worked on, throw it in the huge mounds of dirt, and mash it around with their feet and shovels until it turns into mud. Then it goes up on the walls by hand until every inch but the windows is filled in. This involves some throwing of big hunks of mud to the higher sections of walls, which I can attest, does not always stick.

I took pictures but many of the MAF staff got right in the mud with the rest of the work crew. It was such fun! Legitimate playing in the mud. No matter how hard I tried to protect my camera, though, I simply couldn’t keep the mud off it, or my bag, or my head from falling chunks, or my clothes….

One Flight at a Time

Video by Rich Thompson, MAF Australia

On the morning of 24 April, Bishnu Gurung and his friend walked along a narrow trail cut into a steep mountainside in the Nupri Valley of Nepal, heading toward their tiny village of Jagut six hours further along. The only access leading into the mountains are the trails and walking bridges that crisscross the valley as they make their way high and deep into the Himalayas. When the ground began to move under Bishnu’s feet, and the mountain let loose a landslide of boulders directly above them, it was too late to run. A large rock hit Bishnu in the chest, knocking him unconscious. When he came to, he was lodged under the protection of a tree that likely saved his life. His friend was dead.

Silas Tamang grew up in a small village on a steep mountainside. When the earthquake hit, every house began to crumble. As his parents and life-long neighbors ran for their lives, landslides came down on either side. They couldn’t stay, even to camp under tarps. It was too dangerous. All 105 people left behind the only life they had ever known to camp in a forest of relative safety, all now homeless.

Similar stories can be told by hundreds of thousands of people in Nepal. Statistics give a picture of the magnitude but can never give a picture of the pain: more than 8800 confirmed deaths and more missing, over 600,000 homes destroyed and 280,000 damaged, 2.8 million people in need of humanitarian assistance.

Where do you begin to help in the face of such daunting numbers?

Help on the Way

MAF’s Disaster Response Team needed to first answer the question, “Can MAF help?” With very specific skills in fixed wing flying and aviation logistics, it was very possible there would be no need. Daniel Juzi landed in Kathmandu, Nepal a few days after the earthquake, followed quickly by Alan Robinson, to assess the aviation situation.

Soon it became clear that fixed-wing planes could not help. Daniel and Alan knew what was needed to reach remote and isolated areas trapped behind a wall of damaged roads and landslides, or villages that had never known road access in mountainous terrain. It had to be small helicopters that could land in the smallest of spaces. Humanitarian organizations would need to quickly reach these areas to assess the needs and rapidly respond with aid.

Fishtail

MAF made the decision to not fly but to coordinate the flying through a partnership with a local highly respected company called Fishtail Air using two of their Airbus AS350 helicopters and pilots experienced in Nepal’s mountains. The aircraft held five and six passengers, or up to 550 kilos of cargo. MAF staff had the skills to coordinate rapid and urgent humanitarian needs in a high-paced environment. It was a good match.

The price of hiring a commercial helicopter, however, is out of reach for most NGOs, costing anywhere from $1800 to $3000 per hour. UK Aid (DFID) agreed to fund 50% of the operation, and MAF supporters across the world contributed the rest necessary to subsidize the flights so registered NGOs needed only to pay 10 to 30% of the actual cost.

One Body, Many Parts

“God brought the right people, the right partners, and even the right local operator to work together for this time, and use skills neither of the other had just by themselves,” said John Woodberry, MAF’s Disaster Response Manager. “We have people gifted in all kinds of things, from logistics, to coordination, to the legal side of flight operations, to assessing needs, to funding, and working with partners and their many different desires, and still keep our eyes on the big important issues. It’s been amazing.”

The overwhelming response from NGOs took the team by surprise. Often the large one-room office was standing-room-only. In the first two months, 69 humanitarian organizations used the service, flying 2,399 passengers, and 374,910 kilos of cargo to 210 different locations unreachable by road.

“To me it’s phenomenal!” John Woodberry says. “When you look at our 10-hour operational days from the beginning, on average there’s a helicopter taking off and landing every 9 minutes. It gives you a feel of the pace of the needs we’re meeting out there.”

Not One Home Left Standing

NGOs that used the helicopter service ranged from small to large, local and international, faith-based and secular. Over and over, the MAF staff heard passionate thanks from organizations that had previously tried to reach remote areas, only to be hindered by impossible helicopter costs, frustrating wait-times, or bureaucratic nightmares prior to using the MAF service. Many became emotional as they told the team of the destruction they had seen and what they were able to accomplish with the subsidized flights.

Six days after the program officially began, Daniel Burgi popped into the MAF Nepal office with his Sherpa colleague Dandul looking scruffy, excited, and emotional. “I wanted to give just a quick word of thanks to you guys,” he said and proceeded to describe their first helicopter flights loaded with food for two extremely remote villages.

Daniel has worked in Nepal for 18 years with Himalayan Life, a small faith-based NGO, and speaks the language like a native. Before MAF began coordinating the highly subsidized flights, Daniel and Dandul trekked for five days into a hard-hit but overlooked section of Sindhupalchok District, walking from village to village in a long loop.

“For three days we didn’t see one single house that was standing,” Daniel described. “We were absolutely stunned by the devastation. There was nothing left, simply nothing.”

Himalayan Life provided 3700 kilos of food and shelter materials in just two days to six villages via helicopter. “These loads were the first relief items to arrive in that area. People couldn’t believe it that we were actually back. We said we would come back and we came. It has meant an unbelievable lot to them. We’re very, very thankful.”

One Flight at Time

In the face of daunting statistics, this is how you help: one flight at a time.

Medical teams from Médicins du Monde (MdM) flew into areas cut off by landslides to set up temporary medical clinics, and in one instance averted a full-scale Shigella dysentery outbreak.

Mountain Child flew large canvas tents into four high mountain villages, allowing the damaged schools to reopen for the poor ethnic-Tibetan Nupri children.

CARE medevaced from a remote village a woman crushed in her collapsed home during the second major earthquake.

One family of seven, whose home was reduced to rubble in Bhacchek, lived under a 10 x 15 foot tarp, with two beds getting soaked each night by the monsoon rains until BMDMI (Baptist Medical and Dental Missions International) brought the materials to build a sturdy corrugated iron Quonset hut shelter, not only for this family, but for 200 more.

Water Missions International stopped a bloody diarrhea outbreak in the village of Pokhari by flying in over a kilometer of pipe, a 10,000 liter bladder tank, taps, and chlorination unit, giving clean water to a community that had lost every home. “My favorite memory from this was hiking up a week later for a follow up,” Project Engineer Tim Darms recalls. “I ran into a couple of the community members who immediately recognized me. They greeted me with kisses. They were kissing my hand, kissing my chest. I was a sweaty mess, but it didn’t stop them.” Tim paused, his eyes filling with tears. “Just seeing that level of excitement a week later really broke me.”

Hope

As MAF continues to provide flights through 15 September with further UK AID funding, new avenues may open to continue serving the Nepali people beyond this crisis.

“It’s been a great privilege and honor to be able to serve suffering people with the gifts God has given us,” John Woodberry said, looking back on the work of the first two months. “I’m under no illusion that my skills are needed, but I know all the staff would say that they’re just thankful they can help and love other people. MAF’s mission is to share the love of Jesus Christ through aviation and technology so that isolated people may be physically and spiritually transformed. We have a wonderful opportunity to serve being placed before us.”

The needs are great and much prayer is needed as MAF looks to the future and how we might bring hope to a broken people, one flight at a time.

 

 

 

Welcome Home, Chuol

Friends greet Choul at the Udier airstrip in South Sudan.

Friends greet Chuol at the Udier airstrip in South Sudan.

Everyone has a story to tell, but it’s easy to forget, even for someone whose job it is to find and tell those stories. Often it becomes a blur of humanity, just another face in the crowd, another passenger on a flight. You never know what life has handed the stranger next to you.

Chuol Kang Wuol arrived an hour late for check-in at the Juba airport. The scheduled MAF flight, heading to Renk in the northern-most corner of South Sudan, needed to leave on time for the long journey. When Chuol finally walked into the MAF airport office, he had left his luggage in the car. After retrieving the bag for weighing and tagging, we walked toward the terminal as a friend showed up with yet another bag which now needed to be weighed and tagged back at the office. We were late and irritated. We knew only that this tall Nuer man would be dropped off in Udier, a village on the way to Renk. It was a Medair flight, and for some reason, Medair felt that this man was priority.

We soon found out why. Chuol, whose contract work with Medair had ended, was returning to his home to see his wife and four children for the first time in four years. Chuol had never met his youngest child, now three, who was born after he left home. If he was excited and scatterbrained, it now seemed clear why.

Those years away from home included several times of extreme danger that forced Chuol to hide or run for his life. In the most recent incident in August 2014, while working in logistics for Medair in a large northern refugee camp, fighting broke out with armed gangs targeting Nuer people. Caught at the market when the violence erupted, Chuol hid for two days with no water while the militia searched for Nuer to kill. Six Nuer staff working for various international humanitarian organizations were executed, including some dragged from their well-marked vehicles and shot. Chuol witnessed two men near him die but he was able to escape and later evacuated to Juba, although not without residual mental trauma. One Medair staff recalls waking night after night to the panicked cries of Chuol’s nightmares months later.

“I know that life is changing, that life in the world is not permanent,” Chuol said, reflecting on how he had coped with such harrowing experiences. “When you see too much, you become a bit mad. But you can just be reminded to take it very easy because I know the time has come to get my family, and to get my people.”

Through the violent South Sudan crisis, with no communication, for a time Chuol and his wife didn’t know if the other was dead or alive. Finally he was returning to his home, his friends, his family.

MAF_SSudan-2015-03-138

MAF_SSudan-2015-03-139

Chuol stared intently out the window as the MAF plane landed at Udier, a small dirt strip in a remote and inaccessible region that had only been rehabilitated seven months earlier. He wasn’t sure if anyone knew he was coming, but as the tall lanky man climbed down the aircraft steps, shouts rang out as people recognized and gathered around Chuol, holding him, touching him, with tangible love and joy.

MAF_SSudan-2015-03-140

I imagined the healing this kind of love could bring. I was reminded as well of the simple truth, that in this land of turmoil, statistics, and massive impersonal numbers of displaced and dead, everyone has a story, and every life matters.

Chad

I just returned from Chad, a country I knew very little about before I went. If you do have any knowledge of the place, it will most likely be images of the Sahara, intense isolation, extreme heat, and Islam. All are true of some parts of Chad, but the lower third of the country is green with rivers and lakes, and the Muslim population is actually about 56% of the whole country. The government policy, at least for now, is religious tolerance.

Still, it looks quite different from the east Africa I’m more familiar with – the square mud houses, the clothing, the landscape, the language and people. Here are a few photos from the areas of Chad we visited. Stories to follow in another post.