Pilot flies hope to Africa

Date: July 15, 1986
Location: Windsor, Canada
Newspaper: The Windsor Star
Page: C6

To thousands of Central Africans, the sound of Guy Gervais’ plane means relief from hunger, pain and ignorance.

Gervais, 54, originally from Quebec, has spent 28 years flying in places like Central and South America, Indonesia and Africa, and was even the private pilot for a Jacques Cousteau expedition on the Amazon and the Mississippi Rivers. But he has come out of the bush on a tour of Ontario cities to raise money for his organization, Air Service Freedom.

The two-year-old, Montreal-based company provides airplanes and pilots in Third World Countries. Gervais and three other pilots fly out of centrally-located Zaire, and hope to fan out to reach other African nations.

Zaire, a country the size of Ontario and Quebec, has a population of 33 million. There are two major cities, but outside of those cities, the countryside is covered with dense vegetation and has serious transportation and communication problems.

“We fly into areas where there are no roads or aviation service,” said Gervais Monday. “When there is any medical emergency, some of the people have to be carried for days to reach the landing strip.”

Air Service Freedom also provides transportation of medical, educational and religious supplies and air drops food to villages with no landing strip. The non-profit organization flies missionaries, doctors, nurses and teachers into the remote areas as well.

The Canadian service is similar to Wings of Hope, a 14-year-old American organization. Gervais flew for Wings of Hope In Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Peru. Both organizations work closely with volunteers, government, religious communities, aviation companies and service clubs.

Air Service Freedom is supervised by the Brothers of Christian Instruction in Montreal and is partially supported by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

“I’m a layman,” he said. Many of the young people today don’t feel useful and charity causes are a good way to feel useful. In Africa, there are more poor than there were 20 years ago. We have to take care of somebody in need because we have the power – the plane and the radio – to do it.”

Gervais approached 21 local service clubs and the Chamber of Commerce, hoping to persuade them to hold fund-raising events. In the past, Quebec communities have staged events like a swim-a-thon and a Festival de la Tourtiere – festival of the meat pie, a favorite dish in Quebec. A flying sight-seeing tour also raised money in Saskatoon. Donors get tax receipts and a news bulletin.

The money helps support two six-passenger Cessna planes in Dungu, which covers an area of Zaire 360 km (about 220 miles) wide, and Kinsagani, with a population of roughly 60,000 people. The money also helps to maintain the planes and living quarters and to deliver services that will provide wells for drinkable water, improve farming methods and transport books and teachers to bush schools.

“We never fly empty,” be said. “If I was going in to pick up someone to take to the hospital, I would bring food or seed or something.”

Besides flying, Gervais has also helped build 40 landing strips. He said to clear land, workers chop at the roots of huge trees and “wait for a big storm to come. The winds blow strong and blow the trees down. The grass on the strip is kept short with goats and cows feeding on it.”

He said the pilots are trained to accept other cultures, because “they run into some different things.” He said that one of the pilots, Phoebe Kingscote, has become a symbol to women natives in the remote areas. “When she flys in all women run to her and kiss her,” said Gervais.

“It’s a haywire business” he said. “We need so much and can only do so much. You need patience to wait for some things. Fuel is gold to us there. We pay $9 a gallon and here it is $3. It comes in a truck from Kenya in the dry season. But if it rains or we run out of fuel, we don’t fly. We can’t. The red clay soul is like ice for landing.”

Gervais said another pilot is scheduled to go to Zaire in January and about 50 people are on a list who also want to join. “But we need more money.”

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