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FLYING FOR LIFE: Changing lives, one community at a time

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THERE IS AN AFRICAN PROVERB …. If you want to go fast, go alone if you want to go far, go together. And that is exactly what Flying for Life does!

They provide sustainable community development solutions through partnerships with other non-profits, volunteer doctors, education specialists and professionals. Through these partnerships, they bring a range of resources to rural South African communities. Their mission is to uplift rural communities across South Africa through sustainable projects for change.

We had an opportunity to fly with Flying for Life to the Venda village of Ha-Makuya to see the work they do in rural communities, often not accessible by road or taking a long time to reach. As a pilot, I was excited to be on this flight. As a member of an organisation with a vision of creating an Africa where every girl is educated, included, and empowered, it was also an opportunity to see the challenges young girls face in remote rural communities and work with the communities to design solutions to these challenges.

SOUTH AFRICA …. has one of the highest Gini coefficients (a gauge of economic inequality) in the world, making it one of the most unequal societies– the COVID-19 pandemic has deepened this crisis. The situation is worse in the rural areas where the population faces high levels of poverty, inequality, and unemployment. Under-developed, and with people living in poor socio-economic conditions, some of the many challenges faced are access to food, health, education, and transport - the digital age hardly registers a footprint. Health care services are far apart, and with treacherous roads, making it difficult for those in need to get to clinics on time. People lack the necessary infrastructure and resources to take careof themselves and each other, further impacting the rural economy hindering any economic growth.

OVER THE YEARS …. Flying for Life has flown the following dedicated groups:

  • Volunteer ophthalmologists and nurses to perform free cataract surgeries, and optometrists to assess patients and prescribe
  • Specialists to train local careers at the disability
  • Medical personnel to educate and screen the community for
  • Skilled businesswomen, men, and entrepreneurs, to share their skills and knowledge with the community

The organisation also visits several schools a year to teach children about dental hygiene, conduct extractions, and examine problems. They partner with education specialists to bring alternative and tested education programmes to these schools.


We had an early morning departure from Grand Central Airport (Midrand) on a Kodiak aeroplane to Tshikondeni Airstrip - destination: Ha-Makuya village. The flight was operated by Mercy Air, a partner organisation of Flying for Life. Mercy Air is a Christian NGO that has been providing aviation services to humanitarian and mission organisations throughout Southern Africa since 1991.


 The crew and various organisations involved on this flight included:

  • Maxine Holman - CEO of Flying for Flying for Life
  • Odette Schwegler - Programme Leader for Tin Soldiers. The mission of Tin Soldiers is to identify every person with Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva (FOP) who is currently undiagnosed, get them diagnosed and receive the care they need. Odette also took some wonderful pictures of our trip.
  • Ayanda Motjuwadi, who has been a nurse for many years, joined us and performed pap smears at the clinic
  • Mudalo Ndou, our interpreter for the day
  • Amanda Vilakazi, a dental assistant, demonstrated dental awareness and hygiene
  • Dr Talifhani Samuel, a dentist, demonstrated dental awareness and hygiene
  • Jennifer Harvey, volunteer; and
  • Refilwe Ledwaba (me) representing GFPA Foundation.


Bringing the much needed educational, dental and cancer campaigns to the village. The first stop was the local clinic, where residents were queuing from early morning for health and dental procedures, pap smears and community connection. To date Flying for life has achieved the following

  • +921 Eye Surgeries
  • +1505 Patient helped
  • +58 Children impacted
  • +123 Pap smears
  • + 180 flights

I had an opportunity to visit a local school, Makuya Secondary School, and interacted with Grade 10 learners. Most important to me was evaluating the school’s infrastructure and assessing how we can bring the GFPA education and skills development programmesto this community. GFPA introduced the children to aviation and space, and we peeked into the future with drone technology. Thechildren did a paper plane exercise, where they built the plane, and using different techniques, competed to see who flew it thefurthest. Much fun was had by all of us!


I left feeling there is so much more that needs to be done in rural communities and villages in South Africa. In addition to quality healthcare, education, and basic social infrastructure, I also noticed the mobile network was either dropping or there was no signal at all -facilitating the canyon-digital-divide the community must navigate as well. The conditions and challenges faced by rural communities have a devastating impact on the people and the future of their children. South Africa’s vision of equal access to education, the digital economy and employment opportunities for millions remain an unattainable dream. More action at grassroots level is required if our country has any hope of bringing real upliftment and change to the people who truly need it the most.


For South Africa’s people to truly prosper and the economy to sustain growth to bring real change, action must be taken to close the gap of poverty and provide real economic and educational opportunities in rural areas. More funding and support is needed for inspirational initiatives such as Flying for Life, which act, on the ground, and truly bring hope, help and healing where it is needed most.


t: +27 11 659-2880

c: +27 82 304-1067

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The digital divide is perpetuating inequalities that already divide countries and communities, the 2020 UNICEF-ITU joint report notes. Children and young people from the poorest households, rural and lower-income states are falling even further behind their peers and are left with very little opportunity to ever catch up. “That so many children and young people have no internet at home is more than a digital gap – it is a digital canyon,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director. “Lack of connectivity doesn’t just limit children and young people’s ability to connect online. It prevents them from competing in the modern economy. It isolates them from the world. And in the event of school closures, such as those currently experienced by millions due to COVID-19, it causes them to lose out oneducation. Put bluntly: lack of internet access is costing the next generation their futures.”



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