The world has united in a concerted effort to help the victims of the tsunami, displaying the best qualities of humanity: sharing some of its wealth and lending a helping hand where it is most needed. With media attention focussed entirely on this tragedy and its aftermath, increasing numbers of voices are being raised to return our attention to other tragedies as well, in particular to the devastation and suffering in many parts of Africa, as a result of natural as well as man-made disasters.
One such voice belongs to Daphne Schiff, Science of Flight Professor Emeritus in Glendon’s Multidisciplinary Studies Department. Schiff has first-hand knowledge of the suffering and deprivation in parts of Africa, as a result of wars, famine and disease. For the past seven years, she has joined with friend and flight partner Adele Fogle (currently President of Aviation International in Guelph, Ont.) on an annual humanitarian mission to Central Africa with Air SolidaritÚ, a Paris-based volunteer organization. They call themselves the Air-O-Sols and in previous years the two of them piloted a single-engine plane on the north to south half of the 6,000 km tour, delivering medical and school supplies, as well as inspecting the sites where the collected donations were used for the mission’s projects. In October 2004, as Fogle was not able to join her, Schiff flew alone and completed the other, south-to-north half of the annual mission starting from Bogande in Burkina Faso.
Air SolidaritÚ has given much-needed support to many important projects in the past, including help with building schools and health clinics, libraries, nutrition education centres, immunization campaigns and building a dam.
This year’s mission provides assistance with setting up eight new health-care centres in Burkina Faso, the creation of village organizations for active land management, support for agricultural groups with breeding stock, establishing literacy and micro-enterprise programs in Cameroon, assistance to the Rehabilitation and Prosthetic Centre in Bogande, paramedical education in Mali, partnering with local organizations in Mali and Senegal to improve drinking water, and a support program for troubled children in Brazzaville.
In order to participate in this humanitarian mission, the Air-O-Sols have to collect approximately $40,000 each year. This amount covers the $15,000 cash contribution that every participating team has to provide, as well as fuel and accommodation expenses for the tour of inspection. But for the Air-O-Sols these flight missions are much more about meeting the people and getting to know the countries first-hand, to have a personal connection that binds the helpers closely with those in need.
Schiff (pictured right) and Fogle have a long history of flying together. Years ago, they joined “The ‘99s”, a women’s racing organization set up by Amelia Earhardt in the 1930s to provide airplane racing opportunities for women who, until then, could instruct but not compete. The first race consisted of 99 women, thus the name.
“We loved racing. It was pure joy”, said Schiff. “But it was time to be useful, to do something humanitarian”. So she and Fogle became the Air-O-Sols and joined Air SolidaritÚ in 1998.
“I have met wonderful people and made life-long friends during these trips. I have had the privilege of being an honoured guest at local celebrations, such as the feast last fall in a village, where I was the first white person any of the villagers had ever met. It was amazing”, added Schiff. Her collection of photographs illustrates the moving experiences and the wonderful people she met on her trip. Among her old contacts is the chief pharmacist of Air SolidaritÚ in Africa, living in Bogande. There he was, waiting for her on her arrival, at the landing strip with his motorcycle and they motored off to visit his family in town. Schiff’s entire luggage consisted of medical and school supplies, received with great appreciation when she arrived. The medical supplies were donated by Novopharm and Apotex, two companies who are sponsors of the Air-O-Sols’ expeditions.
“It is very important to come to the aid of victims of great disasters, such as the recent tsunami in Asia. But I would like to re-focus everyone’s attention to the many other tragedies around the world as well, and particularly in Africa. Tragedies which have been there for a long time and communities which need the continued help of the developed world in order to get on their feet again and to be able to work towards a better future”, concluded Schiff.
Article submitted by Glendon communications officer Marika Kemeny