PCM News

News and updates from Paul and Cathy Middleton, serving in southern Africa.

31 December 2019

Welcome to Paul and Cathy's blog . . . . . please scroll down for new posts

Let us introduce ourselves.

Our names are Paul and Cathy Middleton.

That's us clinging to the top of an engine on one of the planes we used to fly.
You can find out about how we got to be where we are in the 'A short history of us' on the right (quite an interesting story if we say so ourselves).

This blog is basically a collection of the e-mail updates we have sent out since we joined Mercy Air in 2003, as well as some of the personal family activities we have got up to. Click on a year and read from bottom to top and it should give you a good idea of what we do.

20 October 2019

ASAM, Mozambique - October 2019

This week Paul was back up in Mozambique with a team for a few days.
The team about to board
Taking off from Mercy Air
On the descent into Beira we flew over Buzi, where we had spent much time earlier in the year when we helped with the cyclone relief efforts.
Looking a lot better now than in March/April
At ASAM it was a game of aeroplane Tetris getting a helicopter, a Cessna 182 and our Kodiak into the hangar.

Not much room to swing a prop!
Each day we attended the familiar morning meeting.
Paul flew Nigel and his wife Erin from Mercy Air, who were preparing to help with an intensive pastor training the following week.
Should be fun!
Also on board were Jeremy and Janet Boddington who are with Mercy Air for three months with a view to stay longer. He also took Allan Luus (CEO of Mercy Air) and Anton, an engineer from South Africa, who looked at options for installing new electric and water services to help with longer term strategic planning for the mission.
Anton and Jeremy surveying the missions dammed river
The day of departure
It was a good few days except for the fact that four of the ASAM staff came down with malaria! They are well on the mend now though.

Thank you

Paul and Cathy

07 October 2019

Flying for Life - Limpopo Dental Team

Paul recently flew another MAF/Flying for Life trip to Tshikondeni in the Limpopo province. On this occasion, the plane was full and one of the passengers was Jeremy Boddington, a retired Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm helicopter pilot who, together with his wife, are looking at joining Mercy Air soon. I will let him tell the story of the day:

"Recently arrived from the UK, my wife, Janet, and I are starting as short-term volunteers with Mercy Air.

What better way to get a feel for the work, than to accompany Paul Middleton on a flight to the dry and arid Limpopo region of northern South Africa, taking a team of dentists to a village day clinic?  

We left before sunrise, using torches to pre-flight the Kodiak in the dark. As Paul powered the aircraft down the Mercy Air strip, I wondered whether we were going to miss the trees at the end of the runway and how many Mercy Air staff had been woken from their slumbers. The Kodiak however has excellent short field performance and we were airborne about half way down the 600m long strip.
Loading passengers and supplies in Jhb
We arrived into Johannesburg at 06:30 to collect the dentistry team and then flew another 1h45 on to Limpopo, landing on a bumpy dirt strip before 9am.

Tshikondeni is an old coal mine airstrip that we can still use
This saved the team a six hour drive that in reality could easily have taken nearer eight - each way!
Google Maps depiction of the journey by road
From the airstrip there followed a one hour rickety minibus ride, with frequent stops for the driver to release smoking seized brakes. On arrival at the clinic, a mobile dentistry van and a number of patients awaited us, sitting in a line on the concrete step.

They seemed most grateful to see us as, over the next few hours, pain and aches were removed. 
Dentistry done, we moved on to a day centre for disabled adults, started by a local Christian lady some years ago. Delivering new shoes, food and other supplies, we enjoyed a time of talking and hearing about some of the ‘students’ and how the centre freed up caring families to get out to work to earn a living. After a time of fellowship, singing and prayer, we said our goodbyes, hugs and some tears in evidence.
At the dissability centre
The return journey was quieter (our exhausted passengers were asleep), and after dropping them off in Jo'burg, we made it back to our short unlit grass airstrip with about 10 minutes of light to spare. Night falls fast in Africa."

Thank you

Paul and Cathy (and Jeremy)

08 September 2019

Flying for Life - Limpopo

It can get quite hard to realise the affect that your actions have when you repeat them often.

We have flown in support of MAF and Flying for Life many times the past few years and each time is always a big day out. The paperwork and flight plans are filed in the preceding week and we often take the aircraft to a local airport with runway lights the day before and fill it up with fuel. The day of the flight I get up just after 03:30 to drive to the airport where we do pre-flight checks before taking off in the dark, bound for Johannesburg. In the depth of winter (July) we land in Jhb just before the sun rises.
There we meet our passengers, load their supplies and can be on the ground for as little as 20 mins before setting off once again for Thohoyandou in the Limpopo province, almost two hours flying away. Once there, we unload before an hours drive to the hospital the team are working in.
There the patients are already waiting, usually prepped and ready for their life changing surgery that will restore sight to their eyes. This will not only affect them of course, but countless others in the communities such as families that rely on them to look after children while they are out at work or tending the fields.
The first lady was 95 and lived only three doors down from the hospital
Last Saturday we were again flying a team of nurses, doctors and surgeons to this hospital. Unfortunately eye issues are not seen as a priority by the department of health, after all, no one dies from blindness. This is reflected by the fact that in Limpopo, a province six times the size of Wales and with a population of 5 million people, there are only two hospitals equipped to offer eye cataract surgery. Our efforts to take specialists to Thohoyandou increased this number to three, but only of course for one day per month. The other sad fact is that people that were seen by our team were diagnosed as needing the treatment in January of 2017!
Proff uses a Schiotz Tonometer to measure eye pressure
The team are dedicated and compassionate and work tirelessly from the minute they get there till the last possible moment before we have to drive back to the airstrip in order to safely get airborne before the sun sets. This ensures that the maximum number of people have the chance to benefit from their expertise.

Fortunately I was able to use a private room at the hospital to get some rest before the long trek back. Within minutes of taking off it was dark, but the clouds that had made the morning trip up interesting, had cleared and there were no delays to our landing back in Jhb. As the team began their drive home, I refuelled the plane and then set back off into the night for the last 1h30 flight to where I had begun the day, or at least to the local airport with runway lights, where I put the plane to bed before driving up the hill to arrive at my house and a very welcome cup of coffee just before 22:30.
The bright lights of Jhb from 11000'
So, 'a grand day out' as Wallace and Gromit would say, but quite insignificant when compared to the extra lease of life given to the many people whose lives have been changed, and the many more who will benefit in the rural communities from their renewed sight.

Thank you

Paul and Cathy

01 June 2019

Cyclone Idai - Part Two

As a follow on to the previous blog entry:

Cyclone Idai made landfall in mid-March bringing heavy rain and winds of 170kph.
From this next comparative map you can see that the cyclone was almost the size of the UK.
Flooding was extensive and at one point an inland sea of 2000sq km had formed just inland from Beira.
In the middle of the next photo you can just see the town of Buzi emerging from the floods in one of the worst affected areas.
People there were left with few options for survival...
..and flying overhead we found people stranded on roofs.
Apparently there were crocodiles swimming up and down the streets!
In the more rural areas people had no choice but to climb trees and many were lost as they couldn't hang on for more than a few days.
As the initial search and rescue phase closed, focus then turned to relief. Our helicopters were able to land on the first bits of land to dry out to assess the situation.

They were able to bring in the first food and supplies.

We met a team from Samaritan's Purse, an organisation headed up by Billy Graham's brother, Franklin Graham, to offer support in times of disaster. We agreed to help them by flying doctors, nurses and medical supplies to a field hospital they had set up in Buzi. For us it was a 13 minute flight but when the road was eventually cleared it was still a 4-5 hr drive.

When they heard that Cathy was a nurse and midwife they asked if she would join them. On our next trip up Paul dropped Cathy off at the newly cleared (and drying) Buzi airstrip.
The hospital is the white tents
We had to take a dodgy boat across the river.
..and walk to the hospital past houses showing a high water mark 2 meters up all the houses.

At the hospital Cathy was straight to work.

Next door the original hospital's maternity unit had spread all the records out to dry.
Paul then left and spent the rest of the week flying nutritional food and water purification tablets, amongst other things, to various other places.

A few times during the week when Paul dropped off other supplies, we got to meet up for half an hour.
We did our last relief flight almost two months after the cyclone first hit, and Mercy Air's four aircraft flew an equivalent of 1.7 times round the world.

We have now finished  our immediate involvement with the relief operations, but for the people living in the affected areas the struggle will still go on for months, years or even most of their lifetimes.

Thank you

Paul and Cathy