Three thousand had already died since the meagre harvest of the previous year. Four hundred thousand tons of food were urgently needed.
Excerpt taken from Stuart King's book 'Hope Has Wings'
One of the Cessnas was ready and we immediately flew it to Chad. We started a programme of ferrying food to Bébalém from places further south where it could be grown. Other forms of transport were no longer feasible. Only planes could carry the grain over the dangerous bandit-ridden area.
'Fifty-five thousand were fed. Because MAF was able to fly in grain, people were able to stay in their own villages.'
At first Maurice Houriet and KeA Arnlund did all the flying. Then we were able to bring in other pilots, using the concept of a Mobile Task Force, consisting mainly of ex-MAF pilots who could give short periods of service in emergencies. Over the following months 18 pilots and engineers, some with their wives, were at Bébalém involved in the relief programme. Though this put heavy demands on the permanent families looking after them, their help was essential.
Oxfam provided £60,000 for food. Further large gifts came from Tearfund and the Dutch inter-Church co-ordinating organisation. Our own MAF supporters gave £86,000 to help the desperate Chadian people.
One of the mission houses at Bébalém was converted into a grain store and filled with tons of millet, rice, beans and wheat. Chadians were kept fully occupied preparing sacks for distribution to 40 starving villages. A mission doctor supervised the project. Parallel to the food distribution was a vaccination and health education programme designed to help the badly malnourished people.
The distribution of the food was administered by the Chadian Christians and local village pastors. They ensured that everyone received supplies. Fifty-five thousand were fed. Because MAF was able to fly in grain, people were able to stay in their own villages. There was none of the usual displacement in search of food. Such displacement invariably causes further hardship, deprivation and loss of life.
It wasn’t a large operation by international standards, but every ton of grain reached its rightful destination. A visitor to the country commented, ‘You don’t have to ask what the Church is doing in Chad. It’s self-evident.’
The famine flying added more than 1,100 hours on top of the usual programme flying. Again the effort was worth it. Thousands of lives were saved. We heard that only ten adults died during this period.
The concept of going into needy areas, sometimes at short notice, had now become part and parcel of our operations. Fast changing political, economic and environmental situations demanded it. We’d use the idea of the mobile task force to supplement a programme’s resources and meet an emergency. The whole of MAF could, perhaps, be classed as a mobile task force. I’ve sometimes thought that the initials should really stand for ‘Mobile Action Force’. Our work, our planning and our people have to have that mobility.
'It wasn’t a large operation by international standards, but every ton of grain reached its rightful destination!’