Flying to help the needy in Africa

“Africa continues to need our help.” That’s the message that Daphne Schiff, professor emerita of science of flight in Glendon’s Multidisciplinary Studies Department, wants to get out. “It’s wonderful to observe how the world has united in a concerted effort to help the victims of the tsunami,” said Schiff, who is encouraged by the world’s response to the tsunami. “We are showing our humanity, sharing our wealth and lending a helping hand where it is most needed.

riderRight: Daphne Schiff rides to her next stop on the Air Solidarité  tour

“But with media attention focused entirely on this tragedy, it is important to also remember other places and people where suffering continues. The victims of devastation and disease in many parts of Africa, whether caused by nature or humanity, continue to need our help and our caring,” said Schiff.

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 Solidarité, a Paris-based volunteer organization.

The pair call themselves the Air-O-Sols, and in previous years they piloted a single-engine plane on the north to south half of the 6,000 km tour, flying 3,000 km from Burkina Faso to Bogande in Africa. Schiff and Fogle delivered medical and school supplies, and inspected the sites where the collected donations were used for the mission’s projects. In October 2004, when Fogle was unable to join her, Schiff flew alone and completed the other half of the trek which involved a 3,000 km flight that covered the south-to-north half of the annual mission. She flew solo from Bogande in Burkina Faso.

Air Solidarité 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.

lineupThis year’s mission, which will take place next October, 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. Schiff and Fogle will also deliver supplies to help with the development of a Rehabilitation and Prosthetic Centre in Bogande and paramedical education in Mali. The mission includes supply delivery to partners working 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, they revel in the opportunity to have a personal connection that binds the helpers closely with those in need.

Schiff 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 Solidarité 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 Solidarité 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 which 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.

This article was submitted to YFile by Glendon communications officer Marika Kemeny.