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Lebohang Lebogo: First generation drone pilot delivering blood for SANBS

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DURBAN – Flying is her life, even if it means journeying into the brave new world of drones and artificial intelligence.

Aiming to transform your dreams into reality? If you think that is impossible you might change your mind once you’ve chatted to Lebohang Lebogo, a medical technician with the South African National Blood Service (SANBS), whose sights are firmly set on reaching for the stars.

Lebogo, 29, is one of South Africa’s first generation of drone pilots, whose mission is to save lives delivering bloods to far-flung places where conventional transport is often a challenge, particularly when it comes to emergency services. At the South African National Blood Service conference in Sun City this week she said she was “super excited” to be part of a visionary future in which distance-related medicine is becoming centre stage.

“People are scared that technology and Fourth Industrial Revolution is overtaking the job market. I say embrace the new technologies, learn new skills and become part of the future.” It’s a message that she has certainly taken to heart, creating what she calls a “planned career path” that has a strong humanitarian element. Turning the clock back to the day when she decided that flying was her life, Lebogo believes her mother’s support and influence have been the key to unlocking her dreams.

“We lived in a the Kagiso township near Mogale City. It was quite a troubled place so often as a small child I used to look up at the sky and think what a beautiful quiet place it was. I used to love watching the silver wings of aircraft flying overhead, so graceful like large birds. One day I said to my mother I want to be up there too flying in the clouds. She didn’t laugh. She said she would help me get there. After that I didn’t worry about dolls or clothes, flying and learning about aeroplanes was all that I was interested in.”

Fortunately for the young flying enthusiast, things fell into place at the right time. Her mother was working at the SANBS headquarters in Johannesburg at the time she was leaving school and managed to obtain a training internship for her daughter to become a medical technician, working with blood products, learning the ins and outs of selecting and cross matching bloods for specific patients.

Also Read Lillian Barnard: Tech Enthusiast And First Female Managing Director, Microsoft South Africa

At this week’s SANBS conference at Sun City, Lebogo shows how it is done.

“I couldn’t have chosen a better career. For me knowing that what I was doing was helping to save lives was amazing. Sometimes I would hear about the mums who had been saved during a difficult childbirth and who needed blood, or accident victims who would have died without bloods being rushed to them.” While her training took up most of her time, her dreams of learning to fly were still very much alive.

“Any spare money was spent on flying lessons. Most weekends I spent training in a Cessna 172. I remember the first time I flew and watched the tiny villages and big cities under me, it was like magic. I will never forget it.” With 32 flying hours under her belt and while setting her sights on going solo within the next year, another opportunity came her way that was not to be missed.

“To be honest when I was asked if I would like to learn how to operate a drone I had never heard of one and hadn’t a clue how they worked or what they were supposed to do, but if it meant learning some sort of flying technique then I was all for it.”

She says the day she was introduced to the TRON – an unmanned aviation vehicle (UAV) capable of carrying small loads of cargo across great distances – was an experience of a lifetime.

“And I had been chosen to be part of the team piloting it – wow!”

For SANBS the introduction of a drone blood delivery and collection arm has been a journey into a brave new world, one where artificial intelligence and groundbreaking new technologies are geared to change medicine as we know it.

Amit Singh director of the new drone project gives us an insight into the need for such a mission and the development so far.

“Delivering medical supplies has always been a struggle, especially when it comes to rural areas,” he explains. “With long distances, poor road conditions, and slow land vehicles it can be difficult for supplies to arrive on time. When it comes to healthcare, time is always a factor. A timely delivered vaccine can save lives during outbreaks. On the other hand, late blood transfusions can end with the patient dying while waiting for supplies to arrive. That’s why a drone was an ideal solution.”

For Lebogo, the next few weeks will be devoted to getting her head around the complexities of packaging and storing the different bloods she cross matches and processes, steering and guiding the drone to and from the pick up points keeping within the aviation boundaries.

“With my background in flying I have had to study the Civil Aviation Authority rules and regulations. They are no different from a drone. We don’t have approval yet to operate a drone service, but at least we will be ready to go once the right certification is in place. That will be an historic day for all of us.”

The first step towards that outcome will be to conduct a number of non-delivery practice flights between two of SANBS sites Kopanong Blood Bank and Sebogeng Hospital in Gauteng as part of the proof of concept required by aviation law.

“Once the authorities are happy with the logistics, we are hoping that we can go to the next level,” says Singh. Meanwhile Lebogo will keep her focus on getting her private pilot’s and later her commercial license.

“It all depends on funding, but flying is all I want to do, whether it’s a drone or the real thing. My dream is to fly a plane to Bali. It looks so beautiful.”

 

FACTS ABOUT THE TRON

The UAV is managed and designed by a German Based company named Quantum Systems. It can be piloted manually or autonomously. It can take off vertically like a helicopter, fly as a fixed wing, and land like a helicopter. It is capable of flying a distance in excess of 100 km carry a payload of two kilograms equivalent to carrying four units of blood. It weighs 13.5kgs, with a wingspan of 3.5m.

The TRON drone is built for fast transport. Its design is similar to a dart – with a wider front and slim back to maximize its speed against the wind. It has an operational range of over 100 kilometers and capable of speeds up to 100 kmph. What is unique, is the fact that TRON can do two-way logistics.

It is designed to carry blood packs, or at least blood samples to and from hospitals in South Africa. With blood as its main demographic, it is important to have a storage device capable of maintaining temperature. A sudden shift in temperature can easily spoil medical supplies, blood included. The supplies also require a durable and stable container that can withstand shaking during flight.

 

Credit: LIZ CLARKE/BUSINESS REPORT

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Zoe Adjonyoh, the Ghanaian Irish Chef, Writer and Activist revolutionizing African Cuisine

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Zoe Adjonyoh, Founder at Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen (Source: Zoe Adjonyoh)

Zoe Adjonyoh is on a mission to bring African food to the masses. Born to a Ghanaian father and Irish mother, the writer and chef from South-East London deepened her understanding of West African cuisine after a trip to visit her extended family in Ghana. Described by the Observer as “the standard bearer for West African food” and named by Nigel Slater as ‘one to watch’ bringing immigrant food to Britain. She was named one of “London’s hottest chefs” by Time Out and most recently has been included as one of ‘The 44 Best Female Chefs in the World’ by Hachette Cuisine France. She became a judge at “The Great Taste Awards” in 2016, which is known as the “Oscars” of the food industry, and in 2018, she won the Iconoclast award at The James Beard Foundation.

Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen

Zoe began by selling Ghanaian food outside her front door during the 2010 Hackney Wicked Arts Festival to ‘make a bit of pocket money’ after returning from traveling across The United States. After the popularity of the stall she set up selling peanut stew outside her front door, Zoe went on the host many supper clubs in her home consistently selling out.

Zoe has been making waves in the international food scene ever since. Zoe has taken her fresh interpretation of classic Ghanaian flavours to pop-up venues across London, Berlin, Accra, Russia and New York, and is a leader in the new African cuisine revolution. Along with her world-renowned supper clubs, Zoe launched her first fixed restaurant space in 2015, at shipping container community project Pop Brixton.

In 2017, Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen became a roving private dining, street food, wedding and events company, which Zoe ran alongside her chef residencies. The brand is a prominent force in the festival community around the UK, including Camp Bestival as part of The Feast Collective, and came runner-up as ‘Best Street Food Trader’ at the UK Festival Awards 2017.

Revolutionizing West African Food

Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen was the first modern West African Restaurant in the United Kingdom. Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen was the epitome of social, relaxed and affordable dining – where guests gather to enjoy Ghanaian favourites, notable for their heartiness and spice, alongside Zoe’s contemporary West African creations.

In 2014, Zoe began writing her debut cookbook titled ‘Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen’ and was released in 2017 by
Octopus Books. The first modern West African Cookbook to be published in the United Kingdom. Due to its demand the publishers decided to re-release of the cookbook in November 2020 and is the process of working on her second book.

Source: Zoe Adjonyoh

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Coco Olakunle, the Nigerian Dutch photographer passionate about humanity, inclusion and diversity

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Coco Olakunle is a Nigerian Dutch photographer with a background in Human Geography based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Her cultures and lived experience are constant sources of inspiration. This produces a photography style that can be seen as a crossover between documentary and fashion, where she always try to highlight the importance of the subject’s identity and background. During her work time, she likes to create a space where the subject feels comfortable and at ease being themselves and letting their personality show. Coco finds that when the subjects in her work feels comfortable, it is felt in the overall process and in the end product.

Her work revolves around people and the personalities they embody: Coco uses her camera as a way to engage with humanity and peacefully open the doors of full spectrum inclusivity and representation. She’s constantly creating spaces for her subjects to express themselves and discover who they are. The subject is always the starting point but what you see in the image is actually a snapshot of her vision: how I want to see us.

“For most of us, 2020 was a tough year. At the beginning of the year, all my jobs were cancelled. Being in lockdown and not being able to work forced me to rethink my skill set. I wasn’t able to practice photography though photoshoots, but I was able to share my experience as a freelance photographer with others. During that time, I got the opportunity to be in front of the classroom multiple times at various art academies, including one I had been previously rejected from as an applicant. To me, this proves that there are different tracks and ways to achieve your goals. Talking to the next generation of visual artists about my work and the philosophy behind it was a new experience for me. It was refreshing to bring other perspectives to the table, especially not coming from an art academy myself. I feel a great responsibility bringing new perspectives into these institutions and guiding students in finding their visual identity and translating it into their creative work.” Coco said.

One of my absolute highlights from 2020 was shooting the cover of ELLE magazine’s September issue. This was super exciting because I got to focus more on the fashion side of photography, and it was such an honor to have my work on the cover of such a big magazine. I look forward to doing more work in the field of fashion, where I can bring my photography style and cultural background to the table. I am constantly inspired by so many great African photographers, some of which are Nigerian, which makes me even more proud. Seeing all the creative work that comes from the continent inspires me from a distance, and even more when I am there.

Coco aim to get back to Lagos, as soon as possible. She said, “Creating in the motherland is very personal for me because it’s a way for me to connect with and learn more about my culture and my people on a deeper level. Being on Nigerian soil gives me a different type of creativity and inspiration from within and I love working with my people when I am there. My camera is like a passport that gives her access to new people and stories which I love bringing back with me and sharing.”

One of her personal projects is a documentary fashion series about her family in Lagos, which she sees as a personal exploration of her Nigerian culture and an exciting challenge. The idea for this project stems from when she was young. “I dream about Nigeria a lot and created my own image of how it would look in my head, and how my family would be. This visualization is my starting point for this series, blending my own vision with what I see when I am there. This project is a way for me to connect with my heritage and discover more about Nigerian culture, and, through that, myself.” Coco said.

In terms of personal development, she hopes to explore different sides of photography she is less familiar with. Coco is excited to master the physics of lighting, because she believes light is how you paint a picture. She loves learning new things in general, making the entire process to be a fun one.

“The past year brought me a lot of new opportunities and new perspectives which I am grateful for, and hope to take with me further into the next years. For the new year, my focus will be on sharing and creating supportive environments where other photographers can connect with and uplift each other.” She said.

A few weeks ago, Coco organized a ‘Creative Catch Up’ for a small group of creatives to reflect on the past year and share ideas for the next year. With good food, music and a table filled with (photography) books this get together turned into a supportive environment where they shared project ideas, thoughts and insecurities. Something she thinks they as freelancers should do more often.

Her work

Source: Coco Olakunle
Source: Coco Olakunle
Source: Coco Olakunle

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Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF) Entrepreneurship Programme Application Opens

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The Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF), Africa’s leading philanthropy dedicated to empowering African entrepreneurs, opens applications on its TEFConnect digital platform (www.tefconnect.com) today, January 1, 2021.

This year’s intervention prioritises the economic recovery of small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs) and young African entrepreneurs, following the Covid-19 disruption to economic activities.

To address the unique challenges arising from the pandemic, lift millions out of poverty and create sustainable employment across the continent, the Foundation’s Entrepreneurship Programme will empower 1,000 young African entrepreneurs, selected from the 2020 cohort.  The Foundation will also open applications to an additional 2,400 young entrepreneurs in 2021, in collaboration with global partners.

The Tony Elumelu Foundation, which celebrated ten years of impact in 2020, is empowering a new generation of African entrepreneurs, through the TEF Entrepreneurship Programme.  Successful applicants receive a world-class business training, mentorship, non-refundable seed capital up to $5,000, and global networking opportunities.  The Programme is open to entrepreneurs across Africa, both new start-ups and existing young businesses, operating in any sector.

CEO of the Tony Elumelu Foundation, Ifeyinwa Ugochukwu stated, “The Tony Elumelu Foundation now more than ever is demonstrating our commitment to unleashing the potential of young African entrepreneurs, the key to Africa’s long-term economic transformation.  The pandemic has created challenges across the continent, but we know that with the Tony Elumelu Foundation’s tried and tested Programme, we can execute the largest Covid-19 economic recovery plan for African SMEs and break the cycle of poverty in Africa.”

The Tony Elumelu Foundation’s $100million Entrepreneurship Programme, launched in 2015 to empower 10,000 entrepreneurs over 10 years, is now entering its 7th year and has empowered to date, over 9,000 young African entrepreneurs from 54 African countries.

Prospective applicants should apply on the digital networking hub for African entrepreneurs, www.tefconnect.com

Source: The Tony Elumelu Foundation

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