GIVING BACK IN SIERRA LEONE
The Ozone Team would like to thank Roy Dade and Russ Foulcer, who took the initiative to help some locals near their regular flying site in Sierra Leone, Africa. Roy and Russ’s kindness is a source of inspiration, and we hope that many more pilots around the world will follow their example. Roy tells the story here, in his own words:
“Sierra Leone is a small country of approx 30,000 square miles, on the west coast of Africa. Sadly, it is best known for the savage civil war that raged here until final disarmament in 2002. The population of 6 million consists of 17 different tribal groups of which 30% are Mende and 30% Tembe with a small number of Crio, descendants of freed slaves, plus a small Lebanese community. The terrain is characterized by coastal mangrove swamps, beaches and shallow coastal bays, with wooded hills inland and a high mountainous plateau deeper into the interior. The capital city Freetown lies on the coast at the northern end of a mountainous jungle clad peninsula and has a population of about 800,000. Sierra Leone was recently declared to poorest state in Africa despite the fact that it is rich in natural resources including diamonds, minerals, timber and agriculture. With the winds of change blowing, 2007 saw relatively trouble free democratic elections with promises from the new President that Sierra Leoneans will at last feel the benefit from the natural riches of their own country.
“Russ Foulcer and I are two British Army officers working in the International Military Advisory and Training Team (IMATT) as advisors to the Sierra Leone Armed Forces. We both also happen to be paraglider pilots who also happen to fly Ozone gliders! Russ decided to take his Ozone Atom on tour, fortunately for him a number of unusual flying sites exist only minutes from the base including Leicester Peak and Adder Ridge (1700ft ASL with Babadour Ridge 1300ft only 250 metres from the main gate). Needless to say flying in such a unique and rugged place has had its moments, including soaring in warm tropical sunsets and sharing thermals with vultures. Probably the greatest buzz was the reception from the local people, many of whom had never seen a paraglider before, especially the children. Some believed the devil had come to pay them a visit, others that an angel had come from heaven!
“Many of the people living and working in the shadow of Leicester Peak near the base have come from up country to try to make a living breaking rock. All hours of the day they can be heard levering boulders from the ground and slowly smashing them into small chunks to be sold for cash. The going rate for a large head-pan of rock is 1000 Leones or six head-pans for about 1.50 EUR. To get work in the first place the rock breakers need to provide their own tools or borrow the money from those that buy the rock from them, but a sledgehammer costs 100,000 Leones or about a month’s salary for the average worker. This means that many start work in heavy debt or work with very inadequate tools. In some cases entire families are engaged in this backbreaking work, but that never stops them from providing a warm welcome when a paraglider drops in.
“Having read about Ozone’s Giving Back program, I got in touch with Matt Gerdes who quickly got agreement from the Ozone Team to provide some funds for direct aid to give something back to the people who live at the places we fly. The agreed plan was to distribute good quality tools to those that really need them.
“On 7th Feb 2008 Russ and I distributed a delivery of tools including picks, hammers, shovels and crow bars directly to those we met while landing around the peak. We had come to know some of the locals, like Sayou (pictured), who we found trying to smash a rock the size of an armchair with a small claw hammer. We also distributed them to a group of teenage kids breaking and selling rock for a small building project and two small family groups, the last of which we left dancing and singing by their hut as the sun set.
Thanks to the Ozone Team for making this possible and helping us to do something positive for some of the poorest people in the poorest country in Africa.”
Roy Dade and Russ Foulcer.