Daisy Lonsdale, at 14, is already a corporal – in Blackpool’s Air Training Corps.
She is also doing her bit to change the world, not just in this locality, where the cadets assist in many community projects, while the higher profile, and headlines, go to young yobs, but overseas.
Daisy’s part of 177 (Blackpool Airport) Squadron just back from Ghana, having transformed health, welfare, and quality of life, by providing clean, fresh water and sanitation to villagers, previously reliant on one standpipe shared by 1,800 men, women and children.
The cadets, along with their counterparts in Ghana, clearly made friends along the way as our touching picture of Cpl Lonsdale, a pupil of St Mary’s High School, shows. The little boy on her lap is Ham Tu. He followed Daisy from the moment she arrived in their village, carrying her bag and spending almost every waking minute with her.
The picture was taken by squadron leader Ft Lt Andrew Nickson on their last day in the village of Fihini.
By then the team of teenagers had put in nearly 120 soakways in the village of 37 mud hut compounds containing 1800 people.
“One standpipe supplies this village and seven others in the surrounding area,” says Daisy.
When the team arrived on their final day, little Ham Tu was nowhere to be found.
“His father’s one of the village elders,” Andy adds. “He took the cadets into his compound to see Ham Tu, who was sick. When he heard Daisy’s voice he brightened up and came out to see her.”
It was a touching reunion and a tearful farewell and Andy is “delighted” at how his young cadets acquitted themselves on this charitable humanitarian mission, and now looking forward to their next international challenge.
At a time when most teenagers were enjoying the summer holidays or fretting over exam results, crack cadets from the airport-based squad were in Ghana, West Africa, as part of a voluntary services overseas project in the north, incorporating an expedition (authorised by the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award), and a cultural phase on the Cape coast in southern Ghana.
It’s been planned for two years since squadron staff met Captain David Stuttard from St Dunstan’s, and learned of his other charitable foundation – called My Ubique.
“For the past 10 years, 177 Sdn has carried out battlefield tours to continental Europe but, due to increased costs and withdrawal of transport supply from service sources, we were unable to continue,” Andy explains.
To go to Ghana, cadets had to secure funding and start the innoculations required – as well as win permission to travel. Andy admits: “This proved difficult due to the many levels of command and differing requirements.”
The cadets began training an additional day a week, so as to not interfere with the squadron’s usual activities, or make other cadets, who weren’t going to Ghana, feel left out. They mugged up on the climate, culture, faiths, history, flora and fauna, and then company medic Cpl Peter Tipping stepped in with tips on maintaining kit, cleanliness and health, although some of the team fell ill with a 24-hour sickness bug on the trip.
Cadet Mark Boon, a fitness instructor, took charge of getting the cadets into shape for the rigours to come ... with Saturday runs and gym sessions. But that couldn’t prepare them for the culture shock.
“You have not experienced true poverty until you have seen and witnessed the life that these people lead,” says Daisy. “Or see the smile on a child’s face when you give them something as simple as a balloon.”
Andy admits: “We saw many sights we had only ever seen on TV.
“It is only when you’re on the ground amidst it, you realise the poverty and life the local people live. Our lottery number came up being born British. We are told our work has changed people’s lives and probably saved many of the children we have seen.”
Wearing hoodies designed by local cadet Ft Sgt Mark Atkins, they also worked at a village school, harvested water, by installing guttering and water butts, at a medical centre, before joining Ghanaian cadets going village to village in the Tolon-Kumbungo region of northern Ghana. “We should achieve at least 20 gold (Duke of Edinburgh) awards from this expedition,” says Andy.
Cadets became honorary members of local tribes and the star turn at Ghana’s most talked-up football match since the World Cup, an English cadet 11 taking on a local combined cadet and youth side, in a 120,000 seater stadium.
Having been turned down by Blackpool FC, cadets played in Fleetwood Town kit, later donated to their host’s youth side, and gave Man Utd football kit and a signed picture of Sir Alex Ferguson to community leader Moses, a Man United fan.
It must have spurred on the Ghanaians, who at half time switched cadets and reserves to semi-professional first team players – who thrashed Blackpool 5-1 ...