Jonathan Porter is insane. He’ll tell you himself, if you haven’t figured it out after the first few minutes of conversation. And most likely, you’ll have figured it out. I mean, here’s the idea: singlehandedly create the mechanisms to foster personal aviation in Ghana. Build your own airfield and use it to provide airdrops of medical supplies and health information to the thousand or so otherwise inaccessible rural villages of the Afram Plains. And, just to make it challenge, create a non-profit school for rural girls, and train them how to manufacture, maintain and fly the planes you’re using in your operation.
Okay, that’s a complete exaggeration – he didn’t do it singlehandedly. He did it hand in hand with his first student, Patricia Mawuli, who walked out of the bush seven years ago and demanded that that he give her a job working with airplanes. “I was absolutely horrible to her,” says Jonathan, but Patricia took everything he (figuratively) threw at her and quickly graduated from clearing stumps from the runway to earning her national pilots license (the first Ghanaian woman ever to do so), to becoming the primary flight instructor for Avtech Academy. Today, they work side by side, using aviation to save lives through rural health education.
This is my second visit to Kpong Airfield, about an hour’s drive north and east of Accra. It’s a hot day, even by Ghana standards – this means freakishly hot: even Patricia is complaining. I’ve helped Jonathan run some errands in the morning, but by mid-afternoon, we’ve retreated to a small air-conditioned compartment in the machine shop. I’m trying to help Jonathan brainstorm on strategize on the future of Avtech Academy and Medicine on the Move. They’re looking to expand their educational mission beyond health and aviation, setting up a series of displays and activities in modular buildings of their own design. The plan is to bring teachers and students from all over Ghana to Kpong, to create a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math)-oriented curriculum that the teachers can take back with them and share. Still early days, and they’re know every two steps forward are met with at least one step back, but… remember the part about Jonathan being insane?
We alternate between bouts of “Yes – brilliant!” with frantic whiteboard scribbling and quiet laptop introspection, continually digressing into irrelevant tangents involving Rotax engines, Dr. Who, OOTS and XKCD. I get the idea that it’s been a while since he’s had anyone out here as unabashedly nerdy as me to keep him company. I also keep looking out the tinted window, feeling guilty. While we’re chatting in cool comfort, Patricia is out in the next (un-airconditioned) hangar, walking the girls through the disassembly and reassembly of a two-stroke generator. We do leave our perch once, though – so Jonathan can show off the CNC plasma cutter by blasting the outline of a gecko out of a sheet of steel at the push of a button. Yes, we boys do love our toys.
Eventually, Patricia extracts us – lessons are done, and Mavis has dinner ready. The girls have already started, and are mostly finished eating by the time Jonathan and Patricia have walked the line of hangars and made sure everything has been buttoned up for the night. I let them have some quiet time talking the day over with the girls – it’s been a long one, and tomorrow will be long too. They’re headed down to Accra again, then back up here to prep more sanitation brochures for the next time the weather lets them do airdrops. There are lives to be saved up here by providing health education by any means necessary. And Jonathan and Patricia are just crazy enough to try to provide it.