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Aviation Charity With 50-Year Legacy Nominated for Nobel Peace Prize
Imagine yourself as a guest in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Your host is the Shuar tribe, and your home away from home is the rain forest. Such are the circumstances that have confronted Douglas Clements, 62, director of NBAA Member organization Wings of Hope.
Wings of Hope is a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize. The St. Louis-based organization, which dates back to 1962, was previously knighted by Pope Benedict in 2008 and has been the recipient of the United Nations Humanitarian of the Year Award, the World Trade Center Global Ambassador Award and the Presbyterian Global Peacemaker Award.
Using Aircraft to Assist a Million People Worldwide
The organization's first task, undertaken in its founding year, was restoring and donating a Cessna 337 in-line twin to a Kenyan nurse caring for sick mothers and children in nomad camps.
Fifty years later, they've restored and delivered planes to 155 bases of operation around the world to facilitate healthcare for people in those regions, including in the United States. Overseas, the organization's donated fleet includes Piper Aztecs, Navajos, Chieftains, Cherokee 6 airplanes, and Cessna 205, 207, 336, and 337 aircraft. They also fly Cessna 182, 206 and 207 aircraft here in the U.S.
Wings of Hope coordinates medical care at no cost to patients in need, provides transportation for emergency and non-emergency procedures and also promotes the interests of overseas populations.
Their programs focus on how-to things, like starting and running a business, transitioning to sustainable farming practices and building infrastructure. For example, in the case of one indigenous population in the Ecuadoran Amazon infringed upon by oil drilling and clear cutting in the rain forest, Wings of Hope is teaching individuals how to promote their interests on the world scene.
Since its founding, the all-volunteer organization has recruited 3,000 participants worldwide and over 600 in the United States. Since Clements took the helm in 1997, they've established a formal development department (comprised of 11 people), have seen their annual budget grow from $3 million to $36 million a year (more than half is from in-kind donations), have formalized their field operations, expanded into 45 countries and are now assisting over one million people worldwide. They've never had a fatal accident, and are the largest and oldest aviation charity.
A Jack-of-All Trades, an Airplane and a Passion to Help
Clements flies lean-of-peak to the office six days a week in a 1958 Cessna Skyhawk 172. "Lean-of-peak operations reduce aircraft emissions by a minimum of 10 percent," he said. "A lot of older aviation people don't like it because 50, 60 years ago, the gasoline would run too hot, but we have much better fuel, now. We lean to right at the leanest mixture possible. Typically, we easily take our engines to 20-40-percent past TBO."
Clements is the retired President of Republic Industries who grew up a jack-of-all-trades, thank to hands-on guidance from his dad, Otto, a base supervisor at Scott Air Force base, and his mom, Viola, the head nurse at St. Mary's Hospital in East Saint Louis.
After Clements's dad taught him how to build an airplane, Clements got his pilot's license. At 16, he'd fly from St. Louis to cities like Paducah, IN, Kansas City and Chicago, where he'd check out the downtowns, land, catch a bus and find what he just saw from the air.
His parents lived through the Great Depression and wanted their kids to be resourceful. So they required the children to start working at 13 years of age, and had them find new jobs every several months. Clements was a rest-room, cistern and crawl-space cleaner, a hospital orderly, a shoe-shine boy, a factory worker, a donut maker, a short-order cook, a salesman and an ambulance attendant. He also sold newspapers, painted addresses on curbs and, later, served as a bush pilot for the World Health Organization. It was through this work that he first met volunteers with Wings of Hope.
"Here at Wings of Hope, I get to use so many of these skill sets," said Clements. "For example, we had a tribal group in Ecuador, three villages of Kichua (Quechua), who thought the tribe would be pretty good at making brooms. So I sat down with them over six months and taught them how to write a business plan - and all about machinery, carpentry, organization, finance, sales and marketing. Today, they bring in around $1,000 a month from that business, to pay for things like medicines."
Photos courtesy of Wings of Hope.