Story by Katie Machell, photos by Red Tribe
‘Our God is faithful. God made it happen: today we managed to land a plane at Enairebuk Airstrip.’ These are the joyful words of Pelua Ole Siloma, manager of RedTribe Beadwork based in Olorte in southwestern Kenya.
Set up by Hennie and Becca Marais, who live in Olorte, RedTribe is involved in several ministries in this remote Maasai community, and has been partnering with MAF Kenya for a number of years.
Until recently, the support we could offer to RedTribe and their visiting teams of volunteers was constrained by the limitations of their nearest airstrip, but all that has changed with the opening of a new one. Hennie takes up the story.
Flying in, driving out
‘Entasekera Airstrip [about 20km from Olorte] has been the only useable airstrip since we arrived in 2009, so for the last 8 years we used it to fly doctors, engineers, church groups and family in. The strip is very challenging, at 700m length with a gradient, high altitude and a dangerous tailwind; all combining to mean the planes could land with passengers, but take off and depart with only the pilot. This has meant we have to drive out of the bush to Nairobi to drop them back; a journey which can take anything from six to nine hours depending on the condition of the road and rain. It also means that my Land Rover goes through a lot of wear and tear and I spend several days away from the projects every time we receive visitors'.
'The only way to overcome this was to lengthen the airstrip, so we offered the Entasekera Community to do that, but they could not come to an agreement. Since we are not part of that community we had to accept that we needed to find another airstrip.’
Old airstrips for new
And God amazingly provided. Much closer to Olorte was an old strip that had been built in the mid-1990s by a previous missionary family. As far as anyone can remember, it was last used to fly that family out 17 years ago; since then the land had claimed it back and the strip had been become rough, overgrown and unusable. ‘When I looked at where the airstrip used to be, initially I thought it was fine,’ recalls pilot Daniel Loewen-Rudgers, who first inspected it on foot earlier this year. ‘But when I took a closer look, I saw anthills, I saw bushes, I saw trees, I saw the undulation of the ground, and I realised it was going to be a bit of work. And when Hennie and his team started working on it, then I think we really appreciated just how hard it was going to be!’
'Having this airstrip is going to make a massive difference to the ministry. This achievement will help the growth and logistics of the projects RedTribe runs in this remote Maasai community.' Hennie Marais
Due to the remoteness of Enairebuk, the location of the strip, it would have been very expensive to bring in heavy machinery like bulldozers, so Hennie adopted the same approach as his predecessor who had originally built it. ‘We cast a cement slab and dragged it behind the Land Rover, and we made a roller out of a 200 litre oil drum, to compact it,’ he explains. ‘It took 15 men 6 weeks to fill in erosion ditches, level anthills and also smoothen and level the strip. It was mainly done with hand tools, a three wheel tuk-tuk, and a Land Rover.’
Daniel explains how he made the first test landing at Enairebuk on October 21st with an empty plane, having done high, middle and low passes before touching down. ‘From day one when you start training with MAF, you are already doing airstrip evaluations so it was pretty straightforward. I had already drawn up an entire airstrip chart after my previous visit, and it had turned out pretty much as I expected. As I flew in, I was able to look at the terrain and how it’s all laid out, and the chart I had drawn up was quite accurate, so it worked really well. I was able to assess it quite quickly because of the information I already had.’
The response of the Enairebuk community was very encouraging. Many people came to the strip, especially those who had helped with repairing and rehabilitating it. ‘Apparently no one believed that a plane could land there,’ says Hennie. ‘So when Daniel first landed people were amazed!’
On October 28th, pilot Christiaan Haak landed at the strip and then departed with passengers: a team of six dentists and ophthalmologists who had spent a week supporting RedTribe’s healthcare work in the area. This time, people came running from all the local villages, some as far as eight kilometres away. Most people in the community have never seen an aeroplane and so it was a great event.
'It took 15 men 6 weeks to fill in erosion ditches, level anthills and also smoothen and level the strip'. Hennie Marais
‘Having this airstrip is going to make a massive difference to the ministry,’ concludes Hennie. ‘This achievement will help the growth and logistics of the projects RedTribe runs in this remote Maasai community. We can now fly volunteers in and out, which also means that I can spend more time on projects and less time driving people to Nairobi. We already have bookings of volunteers coming in to fly out to us in 2018! MAF is enabling RedTribe to grow and thrive by flying in people with the right skills to help us grow our projects.’