Post image for Girls in Ghana Becoming Pilots, Building Planes, and Practicing Humanitarian Aviation

On my personal blog, I posted about my experience at the Kpong airfield in the Volta Region of Ghana. If you haven’t already, you can read that post here. Here is an excerpt:

Northeast of Accra, close to Lake Volta, the largest man-made lake in the world, there is a town called Kpong.

It is here that Jonathan Porter (aka Captain Yaw), a British expat, partnered with the local community to form an aviation and engineering school for girls (AvTech Academy), a flight school for anyone who wants to learn, and a humanitarian organization, Medicine on the Move (MoM), which uses planes to bring doctors and health education to villages that are inaccessible by road.

Patricia (see photo above) is 22 years old. She is the first woman to obtain Ghana’s National Pilots License. She is an engineer, a recipient of the Rotax Aircraft Engines certification. She knows how to fly and build planes. She’s the only certified female flight instructor teaching the National Pilots License in Ghana. When I met her, she was teaching a Norwegian oil industry engineer how to fly.

Any superlatives I use to describe my time at Kpong would be an understatement. I was truly blown away by my experience there. In this post, expect some camel drawing with the girls of AvTech Academy along with several insightful interviews. To start with, Jonathan Porter, the founder, and lead pilot Patricia Mawuli, were nice enough to answer a few questions about the various organizations that are operating in Kpong.

1) There are many non-profits and NGOs operating in Ghana and throughout sub-Saharan Africa. What makes your project unique? (with respect to both MoM and Avtech academy)

We believe in a sustainable solution. Let us be honest, most programmes aimed at helping folks are three to five year projects. Any parent will tell you that raising a child is more like a thirty five year project – and then some… even though results can be got in as little as eighteen years… EIGHTEEN – not THREE. If we were to ‘assess’ our children at three (or even five) and then cut the funding on them because it looked like they might make it in the world, we would be seen as ‘STUPID’ – but that is exactly what a THREE – FIVE project is.

Now, we understand that. Political cycles require that funding is short lived – for political cycles, and political careers are short lived. Therefore we set about creating a triangle of sustainability that makes our operations not only sustainable but self-perputating in terms of personnel and human endeavor collateral!!! For more on this, see this page.

2) What are some of the challenges in running MoM and Avtech Academy?

Not that many really, no more than any other operation. However, funding is always a challenge – and although we have our sustainability curve that we will be reached in the coming years, we could do with a little hand up to get onto that curve a little sooner so that we can focus more on the delivery with a solid, sustainable engine of change driving the propeller of health education to ensure changes in behaviour that will give rural communities the wings that they need for sustainable socio-economic development….

3) What is your vision for the future with respect to these projects?

Our big push in 2012 will be the ETCHE programme and the INCSI initiative, which we believe, linked with the MoM aerial support mechanisms will lead to a sea change in rural health outreach in developing nations.

4) When will we see a camel shaped plane?

Patricia says, the issue would be that the fuel tank would be large and heavy and the undercarriage only good in sand, as well as the lack of wings to provide lift may get in the way…. however, she adds, should you wish to provide funding for research – we are sure that we could ‘route it for a good cause’ …. and although it may not lead to a camel shaped plane, the principles and desired outcomes of camel drawing would be furthered, and more smiling faces may be found out there in the rural communities… all thanks to the principles of the Camel Man….

The Girls of AvTech Academy

These girls are learning how to fly and build planes. I feel privledged to know them. I spent the morning hanging out with the girls in the air traffic control tower (which they operated themselves) to get a better idea of their reasons for getting involved at Kpong airfield.




Of course, I didn’t leave Kpong without teaching the girls how to draw camels. I have not come across more enthusiastic or confident students.

Until July, all profits from the How to Draw Camels Ebook will be going towards Medicine on the Move. Few organizations have impressed me as much as this one.

Consider picking up the ebook if you haven’t already and be sure to check out the Medicine on the Move website as well as the MoM blog and the AvTech Academy blog.

Post image for Shadowing a Community Health Worker from Project Muso

My last post featured Mali Health Organizing Project, an organization I have come to admire because of their approach to public health:

Instead of trying to implement a pre-formulated plan to improve a community’s access to health care, MHOP asks the community what their needs are, and what they consider to be possible solutions. MHOP then works with the community to generate a health care plan from within, one that makes sense to the people that will be using it.

Project Muso, a multifaceted non-profit with a focus on empowering women, has a similar approach. For both organizations, community driven healthcare is keyed by community health workers. In the case of Project Muso, community health workers (CHWs) are local mothers who are rigorously trained, supervised, and supported to extend primary health care into the homes of community members.

The Project Muso Website points out vital components of a CHW’s work:

– Communicate with patients—they understand the community’s values, perspectives, geography, and resources;

– Build trusting relationships that promote lasting behavior change–they live in the communities they serve and can cultivate ongoing relationships with their patients;

– Relieve overburdened clinical staff by taking on tasks of simple diagnosis and treatment, outreach, education, case management, and patient counseling—particularly relevant in a country like Mali that has only one physician for every 13,478 people;

– Ensure early treatment by proactively searching for new malaria cases—crucial since most children killed by malaria die within two days of their first symptom before seeing a doctor;

– Monitor and support treatment adherence, which is crucial to curing malaria infections and preventing drug resistance;

– and, Make a dramatic difference on health outcomes at a much lower cost than traditional clinical care. (More on the Project Muso Website)

During my last trip to Mali, I had a chance to shadow one of Project Muso’s community health workers as she visited families throughout the Yirimadjo neighborhood of Bamako, a routine she performs daily.

Her name is Djeneba. In addition to being a trained health worker, she is also a mother and a respected member of the community in which she lives and works.

As we made our way through the neighborhood, Djeneba was diligent in greeting everyone she encountered. This in itself is nothing unique in Mali, but Djeneba used the greetings to start a conversation. She would ask a mother if her child finished his malaria medication. She would tell a family to make sure they are using their mosquito net every night.

In each instance, I watched families listen intently to Djeneba’s words. It was evident that the message was getting through. In many cases, families thanked Djeneba profusely and asked for further advice. One woman remarked that before Djeneba began her work in the community, her family’s health was in the hands of God alone.

By establishing trust and forming real relationships, Djeneba provides health care as well as meaningful health education. The families then go on to reinforce the message by interacting with other community members, creating a positive feedback loop where the benefits are numerous.

Let’s compare this model with a different approach. Instead of Djeneba interacting with the community directly, reminding families to use bed nets each night, an NGO or the health ministry distributes free nets to the community and provides little if any instruction or reason to use them. As Amber, at the time a 3rd year Peace Corps volunteer, told me, in this case many of the nets will be re-sold and never used.

At one house, Djeneba performed a rapid diagnostic test for Malaria on a boy who had a fever. The test came back negative, but she advised the family that if the fever persisted he should be taken to the Yirimadjo Clinic, itself heavily supported by Project Muso. She also promised to follow up with the family the following day.

Towards the end of Djeneba’s neighborhood tour, we made our way to the clinic. Once a modest structure with little if any modern health equipment, the clinic has expanded into several buildings and now features equipment like an ultrasound machine and facilities like a delivery room.

It was here that I watched Djeneba follow-up with patients she had seen earlier in the day, reminding them about dosing for medication, offering them nutrition advice and telling them what to do if symptoms progressed or worsened.

As I rode back to central Bamako, my taxi driver asked me what I was doing in Yirimadjo. I started to explain Project Muso, but before I could finish, the driver smiled and told me he already knew all about it. Project Muso’s CHWs regularly visit his family. He went on to say that the health of his family has improved and sickness is no longer a source of anxiety and worry.

Recent assessments of Yirimadjo reveal that Project Muso‘s efforts are indeed having an impact. For me, the anecdotal evidence I gathered from shadowing Djeneba was all I needed to endorse this project. If you want to support an organization that is changing how health care is delivered in marginalized communities, head over to the Project Muso website, read up on their work and consider parting with a few dollars. It will be money well spent. I will also be donating all proceeds from merchandise and the ebook until my next blog post.

I want to thank Djeneba for allowing me to observe her as she did her work and Amber who also accompanied me and provided valuable insight with respect to the community and Project Muso itself.

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Post image for Mali Health Organizing Project: Changing the way Health Care is Delivered

Mali Health Organizing Project (MHOP) takes a unique approach to public health. Instead of trying to implement a pre-formulated plan to improve a community’s access to health care, MHOP asks the community what their needs are, and what they consider to be possible solutions. MHOP then works with the community to generate a health care plan from within, one that makes sense to the people that will be using it.

The residents of Sikoro-Sourakabougou, two largely marginalized quarters of Bamako, benefit from few public services. The roads leading into the communities are unpaved and cratered. Prior to MHOP, many women opted to deliver babies in their homes, rather than risk the 5 mile trip to the nearest clinic. Chief nurse of the MHOP clinic that started in April 2010, Adam Traore, notes that prior to the MHOP clinic, many women did not want to ride in a shaking and unsteady car on the rocky roads all the way to the downhill clinic. I gave birth at home in Sourakabougou several times without medical assistance because the closest clinic was about 5 miles away. (see the rest of her interview here)

After surveying the community, a clinic was the first priority. But MHOP did more than build a clinic. Here are a few of the unique features of the 7 room clinic that provides treatment and prevention for 52 health problems and diseases, serving a population of approximately 35,000:

* Government and community co-funding. Instead of building a clinic without local support, we organized the community to secure government involvement. In addition, Sourakabougou neighborhood residents donated close to $1,000, a huge sum in the local currency.

* Community management. Neighborhood residents elected a committee to run the clinic, developed an architectural plan for construction, secured a piece of public land for the project, fundraised for construction costs, supervised the hiring of medical personnel, and now oversee the operations of the clinic!

* New healthcare delivery methods. Our clinic will test new tactics to improve the coverage and quality of care, including malnutrition and malaria treatment. MHOP will also use this clinic as a trial site for innovative health-financing and technological interventions to improve health access and to reduce child morbidity and mortality.

In addition to the clinic, MHOP has started a community health radio project and they have created an active team of community health workers, who visit families in their homes, providing care, education and if necessary, referrals to the clinic (the photo at the top of this post is a collage of MHOP’s community health workers). MHOP subsidizes the health care costs for many of the residents of Sikoro-Sourakabougou, and care is completely free for the poorest members of the community. In return, those residents are asked to participate in community health actions, such as volunteering for community health education programs.

From their website: …we [MHOP] work as a catalyst to bring residents and their government together to address the most basic causes of illness and mortality. Our programs embrace innovative solutions to expand access to primary healthcare services, increase community governance, and ensure individual empowerment.

MHOP is the kind of program that flies under the radar. You don’t hear about them because they are not running an expensive PR campaign. They are not working out of a big office. They are doing the work. Every day.

I was fortunate to meet with Adama Kouyate (pictured at left), the Programs Manager at MHOP, to talk in more detail about MHOP’s work, challenges and vision for the future. The interview is broken up over several parts in the videos below. Of course, I also made sure that Adama had a camel drawing workshop before I left (see the results in the last video).

Be sure to check out MHOP’s website at Also, I strongly encourage you to donate to their summer matching campaign. Any donation goes a long way and in this case it goes even further because of the matching funds. MHOP is innovative and inclusive, but most importantly, they are effective. If you want your money to make an impact, click here. I will also be donating any and all funds received from purchases of the How to Draw Camels Ebook and camel merchandise to MHOP from now until August 12th.

Interview Part 1: Adama introduces himself, explains how he started working with MHOP and what he does there now.


Interview Part 2: MHOP’s programs and an explanation of community health actions, which act as a form of payment for health care.


Interview Part 3: MHOP’s challenges: funding, sustaining community engagement; student involvement in MHOP’s programs; health radio listening groups; civic engagement around health and otherwise.


Interview Part 4: MHOP’s vision for the future; involvement of Malian government; sources of funding; the difference between MHOP’s programs and those of the Malian Health Ministry.


Interview Part 5: Camel drawing..


Thank you Adama and thank you MHOP! Once again, check out MHOP’s website at and don’t forget their summer matching campaign!! Whether or not you donate, spread the word about Mali Health Organizing Project, few organizations are doing such meaningful and effective work.


I am now back in the states, recovering from jet lag and already thinking about when I will go back to Mali. Lots of posts are in the works: my time with Project Muso, shadowing one of their community health workers, a visit to the Mali Health Organizing Project, and lots more interviews and video.

An enormous thank you to everyone that contributed to the women’s farming cooperative. If you bought the book then you have a post card with a camel drawing coming your way. I only received one drawn camel, however, which was disappointing. I made a pledge to donate $1 for every drawn camel I was sent (see the original post). I still donated the $50 I had set aside, but it would have been nice to see some more reader participation. The money raised will go a ways towards repair work needed for the co-op’s water system. One reader and friend was also able to put me in touch with Sahel Eco, an NGO that works with water-related issues and they were able to lend their expertise to the co-op in order to figure out how to best resolve the water situation.

Even if you did not contribute with a donation or by drawing a camel, thank you for spreading the word!! Here is Franziska’s wonderful camel, undoubtedly the most artistic and creative drawing I have received so far! Thank you Franziska!

Lots to come! Stay tuned…


Post image for Still Looking to Celebrate World Camel Day? Here is your Chance.

Yesterday was World Camel Day, a time to honor nature’s greatest gift to mankind and the planet. In light of the occasion, I shared a number of world class camel resources and delivered at least one irresistible offer. That offer(s) is still on the table.

World Camel Day was also a time for me to reflect on how far I’ve come. I’ve been drawing camels my whole life, but sharing my skills and teaching others is a recent phenomenon. I used to ask people to draw camels mainly to ridicule them. For example:

That’s Joseph drawing a camel there. Don’t feel too bad for him. He is a good friend and I know he can take the heat. But how many couldn’t? How many lives did I scar when I laughed and then failed to show them the way? Believe me, I live with this every day of my life.

These days, however, the guilt is being replaced by pride. I recently taught 25,000 people how to draw camels in the village of Fana, Mali. Many of my former students have become teachers themselves.

But still, I ask myself: “Am I doing enough?” With that thought in mind, I have a proposal for you:

Buy the How to Draw Camels Ebook and I’ll Send you a Camel

A camel drawing, that is. If you buy the book for a minimum of $5, I will send you a hand drawn camel from Mali.. The camel will be drawn by me or by one of my grandmaster students. It will include a personal note. It will include postage from Bamako. It will undoubtedly be worthy of a frame or perhaps a shrine.

Where does the money go????

Every penny I receive through this website is given to projects that I have experienced on the ground. Specifically, any money raised over the course of this week will be going towards a new water system for an urban women’s farming cooperative in Bamako. Here are a few concrete reasons why they deserve support:

1. Mali’s parliament recently passed a new family act that promotes gender equality. Around the same time, the President of Mali appointed the first female Prime Minister. But political progress is not always reflected on the ground. The women of the co-op have completed literacy training. They control the co-op’s income. As a result, they have greater leverage within their households and their community. The co-op provides a model for realizing aforementioned political aspirations.

2. The co-op also provides a model for the integration of marginalized communities. Misabugu is a neighborhood of intermittent and sometimes nonexistent public services, and a growing population. The co-op, a source of sustainable income, raises the profile of the neighborhood and its continued success offers a message to the local government: this could work in other places.

For more information on the co-op’s water problem and the co-op in general, check out this post. Still have questions? Send me an email at phil dot paoletta at gmail dot com.

Don’t have any money? Or already have the book?

Maybe you’ve already bought the ebook. Or maybe you’re broke. I understand. I don’t have a whole lot of dough myself. But I have set aside a bit for this project. For every drawn camel I receive (up to $50), I will donate $1 to the co-op. I did this previously with Partners in Health. Partners in Health got a donation and I received 50 beautiful camels. Draw a camel. Take a picture. Better yet, draw a camel in public. Better still, draw a camel in public and write underneath it. In any case, you will need to download the How to Draw Camels Ebook, which you can purchase for $0 (just adjust the price of the shopping cart).

Send all camel drawings to phil dot paoletta at gmail dot com

I look forward to sending you a camel. Or receiving one.

One other little thing? Could you take just one second and tell someone about this. You can “like it” on facebook or tweet it with the buttons below. Make an announcement in an office meeting. Send an email. Draw a camel on a sidewalk and write underneath it.

Cutting Edge Camel Resources for Celebrating World Camel Day

If you have not read my interview with the What Took You So Long Foundation, check it out here. They are currently making tracks around the world, filming a documentary on camel milk. Visit them at

Speaking of camel milk, what do you know about it? Do you know that is a whole food with 3-5 times more vitamin C than cow’s milk, ten times more iron than cow’s milk, and that it is low-fat, low-cholesterol and rich in imunoglobins, protein and B vitamins? Have a look here.

You might also want to check out the blog Camel Milk Extreme Challenge. Nancy and Gil, owners of the Oasis Camel Dairy in San Diego, are spending a month eating and drinking camel’s milk, dried dates and water, nothing else!

Lastly, take a look at this article about one man’s effort to stop the proposed camel cull in Australia. This is where the photo at the top comes from.

Spread the word.