Saturday, May 31, 2014

Village Views

These are just a few shots I tooks whilst in the village for the airstrip survey and solar panels.

A shelter on the site of the new runway (which we had occasion to use to escape the rain)
We all acquired new 'friends' on the walk through the bush - leeches!
The house we stayed in
Our sleeping arrangement inside
The house next to ours - quite unique!
I heard shouts and whistle blasts whilst on the roof for the solar panels - a basketball match
Pigs in the garden

The Aid Post and Aid Post worker's house

The panorama

The helicopter parked in the village, next to the church

I shuttled the lawnmower out of the village so it could be fixed and subsequently returned to help maintain the runway. On the return trip I took in the new Aid Post worker and his family, who'd been struggling to get in with the airstrip being closed.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

A River Runs Round It

What's the value of an airstrip and flight service in PNG? Are they just there to make life easier for the expats?

Last week I got to stay a few nights in the village of one of the translators who currently relies on the helicopter for transportation. There is an airstrip near the village, but it is low-lying and has a river going around 3 sides, so floods regularly, making maintenance a big problem. Due to the softness of the ground, the airstrip has been closed for some time.

The current airstrip
So the community would like to build a new airstrip on a ridge closer to the village.

The site of the new airstrip with some of the trees cleared
The airstrip not only allows the translator to get in and out easier, but provides the area with a valuable service. Without the airstrip teachers and teaching materials for the local elementary school cannot go in and out. Without the airstrip the village is without supplies, other than those either grown in the area or walked in. Without the airstrip there is no way to evacuate medical patients with illnesses beyond the capabilities of the rural aid post. They cannot afford the cost of the helicopter, so there is 'hunger' (to use their word) for a new airstrip.

We set out to walk the new site and see what work would need to be done to turn the bush into a place suitable for an aircraft to land.

The ridge which it is hoped will be the site of the new runway
Unfortunately there are a few challenges ahead for the community as they prepare their new landing area. The first is that the ridge is not straight.

This gully will have to be filled in
At the start of the runway there are two such gullies to fill in - a lot of work for manual labour with just shovels and wheelbarrows to help! But even shovels and wheelbarrows need to come from somewhere and that's where one of our sister organisations can help - we had the Wycliffe Associates' program manager with us, who agreed to fund the supply and transport of the tools.

The second problem facing them is that, whilst the ridge won't suffer from flooding, the ground there is still soft.

Digging down to test to firmness of the sub-soil with the 'pogo stick' in the foreground
Also, not only will they have to finish clearing all the tress from the ridge, they will also need to dig out all the roots. If the roots are left in the ground, over time they'll rot and then that creates a soft area or hole on the airstrip. At best this means work filling in the hole, at worst an accident if an aircraft tyre drops into it on landing or take-off. Removing the roots can mean digging down as deep as a person is tall.

Tree roots around here are no small thing!
 Lastly, the ridge chosen is not quite as long as was hoped. 

This means the airstrip will have to be extended into more bush
And that there is another big gully which needs to be filled in
But there was still plenty of enthusiasm for construction, so the centreline was marked to show the workers where the airstrip will go.

The stick in the foreground had its bark cut to indicate the runway's path
A task of this size could take 10 - 15 years to complete. In the meantime there are plans to repair the existing strip so that flight services can resume, which will be even more work! What a 'hunger' the community must have for flights into their village. 

A meeting (inside the new literacy building) where the local community affirmed their commitment to the new airstrip

Friday, May 23, 2014

Solar System

How do you get clean water into a village house? How do you power a radio to keep everyone in touch with the world and call for help, if needed? How do you provide light to work in the evenings when co-workers have finished their day-time jobs or done their tending of their gardens? I'm sure you're ahead of me - a solar electricity system.

After I had joined in the initial survey for a new airstrip (see our next blog post for details of that) I had some time to help a colleague install a new solar power system for our host's house. They had one already, but of an old design and it wasn't really meeting their needs.

The old solar panels, with a few bits of the new system
As the village had had rain every day for the past 3 weeks, and we wouldn't have been able to work on a wet roof, we tried to do as much installing of the new system as possible before we removed the old one.

The first thing we had to do was screw in mounting brackets, but the roof is just made of corrugated iron. So, wood was cut to place inside the roof to take the screw-threads.

Thankfully some of the tools we were to take back with us were still available
The tools had been brought in to help construct a literacy building, in partnership with the local church; the one I had to sling the sawmill for previously.

The literacy building
It was great to be able to see at least the shell of the literacy building complete, having taken people and materials in and out over the past couple of months.

But back to the solar panels. Once the feet were securely screwed in place, we had to build the frame. This involved cutting the aluminium lengths I had previously brought in with the helicopter. 

With the legs cut, we then had to drill holes for the bolts to go through
Back on the roof, the frame was assembled. The rain ominously fell on the adjacent ridgeline, but didn't make it as far as us.

In the midday sun, the roof got too hot for bare feet
And on the ground there were generally at least a few people watching proceedings.

The ladders were ones made for the literacy building construction
With the frame built, it was time to put the panels on.

We were finally brave enough to remove the previous panels
The wires were then connected up and run down into the house.

Finally, after dark, the panels were connected into the system
What a day it had been - after 3 weeks of continual rain, we'd had a day without any and stayed safe on the roof. I didn't even get sunburnt. Answers to all the prayers for no rain and our safety.

And the old panels? They'll go on the literacy building's roof to provide power over there.