Godfrey and I met in Malawi in 2012. He is now the star of a new documentary film by Benjamin Jordan called ‘The Boy Who Flies’ and has just given a speech as part of the very first TED Talks to be held in Malawi. Malawi is one of the world’s poorest nations and literacy levels are still low. Godfrey encourages the children of Malawi to pursue their dreams no matter what challenges they are facing.
Following a dream, Canadian paraglider pilot Benjamin Jordan travels to Malawi to teach children the joys of kite flying. There he meets Godfrey, a young man who has always dreamed of flying but who has never had the means.
The pair tour the country on bikes, building kites with youth while motivating them to follow their dreams. They are destined for Malawi’s highest peak where, after weeks of ground training, the two will attempt to fly down and make Godfrey the first Malawian paraglider pilot.
Observing himself through the eyes of the Malawians, Jordan must come to grips with truths about his own racial and cultural identity while Godfrey is required to reach deeper into his faith than ever before as he prepares to leap off a mountain, trusting that the paraglider he’s been carrying will carry him in return.
1) Tell us a bit about yourself?
I am 24 years old and I grew up in a village called Malora, 20 km west of Blantyre, Malawi. I’ve always been a dreamer.
I am from a family of five children, 3 sisters and 1 younger brother. Before my young brother was born, I was under the majority rule of my sisters and they liked to tease me. This still hasn’t stopped, especially with the fact that I speak freely of my dreams.
My favourite dish is; Nsima (the staple, starchy Malawian food ) with mice (known as the African sausage) and vegetables. I like reading books, building and flying kites, hiking and I have an interest to learn to swim and become a Paragliding Instructor.
2) Who are what inspires you?
Since I was a young boy, I had a dream to fly like a bird. The dream was inspired by my uncle who was a pilot and also one of the first black men to fly an aeroplane in Malawi. He inspired me to want to fly at a very young age and I have lived with that dream ever since! When I was young about 5 years old, he would take me to an airfield and I would see airplanes. He would bring me flying magazines, I would flip the pages and enjoy looking at them without understanding any English words. His encouraging words still move with me.
He would always tell me ‘Ndizotheka’, a Chichewa (the national language of Malawi) word which means IT IS POSSIBLE! This has become my motto.
Benjamin Jordan has now become a huge source of inspiration to my life. He is a man who follows his dream! In 2009, he flew across Canada with a paraglider!! I would like to do that in Malawi.
3) How did you meet Benjamin?
One day I was travelling along the Chikwawa road in a place called Milare, when I came across a Canadian man who flying kites with children and I went over to speak with him. I must admit that he looked funny and crazy, I had never seen an adult flying a kite before. I learnt that this man was a paraglider who had come to Malawi to share his passion of flying.
4) How did you become ‘The Boy Who Flies’?
I offered to show Benjamin the real Malawi in for him teaching me how to fly.
Together, we took bicycles and rode them from southern Malawi, heading north towards Lake Malawi. Along the route, we stopped in schools and gave talks to the children. All the while Ben trained me on how to control the wing (the parachute) by running with it on the ground. The wing was called ‘The Purple Dragon’.
5) What did you teach and talk about with the children?
We encouraged the children to follow their dreams, and to maintain that mindset as they grow up and learn in school regardless of the challenges faced. I asked them to look above and beyond their present circumstances. After giving them a short motivational talk and asking them to share their dreams with me, I then led them in a kite building workshop where we built kites from sticks, newspapers, garbage and plastics that we collected from outside. Afterwards we could then fly our dream kites outside the school ground!
I do this activity as a way of boosting confidence in the children in addition to connecting my dream to theirs. The kites act as a metaphor for their dreams. In the end, I then demonstrate my huge kite called a paraglider (The Purple Dragon) just to show them how I launch. I have even learnt a new way of actually taking off from the school ground a few meters high by getting 2 boys to tow me on ropes! This demonstrates well the principles of flight to the learners. Through doing that, I have been known as The Boy Who Flies and I love that name!
6) How did the film come about?
Ben had brought a simple video camera with him and he had intentions to attract sponsors and to produce a film after this visit. But the footage we got on that trip was great and when Ben returned to Canada, he started putting the footage together and I helped where I could. Eventually we came up with a one hour true story documentary of our story.
The Boy Who Flies is an authentic film that tells the story of my dream and the challenges I faced along the way. I put my life on the line in pursuit of my dream, I had to delve deeper into my faith than ever before. I was afraid yet I knew if I didn’t take this chance I would always regret it. On the other hand, the film explains the Malawian culture. You can learn a lot about African life and of Malawi as a country by watching this film! Chances are that when you watch this film and see the beauty of Malawi, a new dream will be born in you to visit this country.
7) Did you and Benjamin always see eye to eye?
I found this white man to be funny and crazy but we didn’t see eye to eye all the time. We spent a lot of time together and he had his views from his culture and I had mine and trying to mix the two, coupled with some slight language barriers sometimes resulted in conflict.
8) What was the most difficult thing when learning to fly – either physically or mentally?
Physically, I was training on a wing that was way too big for my weight and it wasn’t easy to control at all. This was also my longest cycle trip ever (about 700km) and training to control the wing after you have cycled a 100kmis not easy. Mentally, I received a lot of objections from my fellow Malawians. People did not understand what I was trying to do. I had never been exposed to this kind of insult and negativity before. I guess that will always happen when you are doing something that is not the norm.
9) How did you end up doing a Ted Talk?
I have a friend called Humphrey Butler who heard about the Ted Talks happening in Malawi. He contacted me about it and thought I would be interested to do it. I looked at the website and thought wow! This is for people with real ideas. I was contacted by the Ted Talk organisers that my name had been presented to them as one of the people in Malawi worth giving a Talk. I was paralysed with fear because public speaking remains one of my greatest fears! I said to them well, we should meet first before you get too excited. I met them and a few weeks later I was invited officially to give the talk. It was a humbling experience and I should say I was relieved after sharing my story.
10) What have you learnt about yourself whilst learning to fly?
There was a time during my training when I kept practising the wrong way and didn’t want to admit weakness or failure but after I acknowledged it, I improved tremendously. I learnt that it is good to be humble. I’ve learnt to be a more patient man, flying demands patience in moments when you can’t fly as in the weather being too bad for launching. Part of my hardship in learning to control the wing, was just running in any direction without fully considering the wind direction. Discipline is another thing learning to fly has influenced on my daily life activities.
11) What are your dreams for the future?
My dream is to build what I call the School of Dreams, a travelling programme that will engage students in activities that will help identify their dreams, encourage their pursuit and track their progress and in the process fit in fun activities like Kite building and Paragliding. I want to inspire students across Malawi by using my gift of flying.
In Malawi, enrolment in standard one of primary school is very high but it drops tremendously before they seat for their primary school leaving exams and I’m of the opinion that among other things, the education system here lacks inspiring programmes that will leave children with a picture in their mind of what they can be or what life can offer.
I also dream of Malawi national paragliding team! I’m sure it’s time we start engaging in other sporting activities in addition to soccer. Who knows, this sport could place Malawi on the map.
I hope that paragliding will help boost the Tourism sector in Malawi. I dream to offer professional paragliding services like tandem flights to visiting tourists and Malawians and offer employment to Malawians.
12) How can people see your film?
The film is released from 6th July 2013. We are currently raising sponsorship for film festival submissions, distribution costs and promotion. If you’re interested in sponsoring the film, please visit theboywhoflies.com
Thank you Godfrey! Whenever I think there’s something I cannot achieve, I always hear your words in my head – NDIZOTHEKA – It Is Possible!
‘The Boy Who Flies’ reduced me to tears as I watched the film in the shade of our local community centre in our village just outside Blantyre, Malawi. After we watched the film, I was lucky enough to witness one of Godfrey’s motivational talks and kite building workshops. He’s a real inspiration to the children and as you can see from the picture above, they LOVED the workshop.
As Malawi’s only paraglider pilot, Godfrey now supports himself and his family by travelling from school to school, delivering motivational talks to students, encouraging them to follow their dreams.
He is working towards building a permanent structure from which he will host his inspirational curriculum and open Malawi’s first motivational and paragliding school, The School of Dreams, the subject of Jordan’s next documentary.
To find out more please visit www.theboywhoflies.com
UPDATE DECEMBER 2015: My friend Godfrey has now become a pilot, how amazing is that?