People of the Yakona community have seen their hard work finally paying off as the first MAF plane landed on their airstrip connecting them to easier access to basic services. Siobhain Cole, wife of Telefomin based pilot Ryan Cole, had the privilege of joining her husband on the first flight into Yakona witnessing the joy of the community.
Story by Siobhain Cole
Imagine having to walk a day before you can get in an ambulance. Or having to carry your tools from the hardware store for a day to be able to fix your home. Or having to walk a day before you put your children on an airplane to send them off to school, knowing you won’t see them for more than ten months.
This has been the situation at Yakona, a community caught on the border between two provinces who felt like they’ve been forgotten. Since 1986, this small community, tucked away in remote Papua New Guinea, has been building their airstrip with shovels and sticks and the sweat of their brows. You might wonder why building an airstrip would take so long, but the requirements for a safe airstrip are very strict, and MAF does not want to take risks.
So, after the jungle has been cleared, the tree roots also must be dug up, the ground must be made as level as possible, the soft topsoil must be scraped off, stones and gravel carried by hand in people’s self-made bilum bags from nearby riverbeds to make a solid surface, drainage ditches must be dug all the way around. Even trees beyond the end of the airstrip need to be cut down so they don’t get in the way when the plane takes off. All this is why this community has been building their airstrip for about 37 years - that’s the whole of their pilot Captain Ryan’s life!
With MAF’s first landing procedure we need to receive a report from our partner, the Rural Airstrip Agency (RAA), that all necessary work has been completed and the airstrip is in a good condition. Then, a risk assessment is completed by MAF before an experienced pilot is allowed to do the first landing, and this only with an empty plane.
After Ryan was the first pilot to put the wheels of an airplane on the surface of this airstrip, he told the people to stay back, so he could do a visual assessment of the airstrip to make sure it is safe for passengers.
Thankfully, despite Yakona being a short, steep airstrip, the airstrip was safe, and he flew off to pick up two members of the RAA and myself to join this milestone achievement.
When he landed the second time, the community’s joy could not be restrained! As I jumped out of the plane, I was almost immediately pinned to the aircraft with the joy and affection of a dozen women. The joy continued to flow out in singing, dancing and running around their balus (airplane), waving branches.
Once the dancing and celebrations had eased, the community was encouraged to sit so the leaders could thank MAF for opening their airstrip, present gifts of bilums (string bags), carved spears and vegetables, and the RAA representatives could give some instructions about the importance of taking good care of their airstrip so MAF could continue serving them.
Once the festivities were over, several people asked Ryan to bring Bibles. Ryan was almost mobbed when he opened the Bible Box for the contents, and he quickly sold out. Ryan promised to bring more Bibles the next time he visited Yakona. These Bibles are sold at a heavily subsidised price thanks to donors around the world.
Please join us in praying for the people at Yakona, that their newly opened airstrip would enable them to have better access to discipleship training, education and healthcare, and that they maintain their airstrip so it continues to be safe for years to come.