Text Only Skip to content
Skip header navigation.
Skip sub-section linksSTLCC Home » Faces of STLCC » Wildwood Campus » STLCC Student Realizes Dream of Working with Orphans and Airplanes

Faces of STLCC

Wildwood Campus

STLCC Student Realizes Dream of Working with Orphans and Airplanes

Elsa Klarich

What is a girl from West St. Louis County doing in Tanzania? Ask Elsa Klarich, and she’ll tell you that she’s doing exactly what God has intended.

From a young age, Elsa wanted to help orphans. When she was 17, she asked her mother if she could fly airplanes. At the time, most people didn’t understand how those goals were compatible.“Everyone kind of kidded me about my plans. But I’m doing it now. I’m working with orphans and airplanes!”

Elsa now spends her days landing a Cessna 206 on the fields of Tanzania’s most remote areas to bring mobile health clinics to the people there. She also administers children’s vaccines and basic medical care under the supervision of the doctors that are with her on the flights.

She began volunteering at 6 years old, and took her first humanitarian trip to Panama at 14 years old. A year later, she spent a month in South Africa and Botswana. She’s also taken annual trips to Central America through Global Expeditions, an organization that sends teens on short term mission trips all over the world.

At 17 years old, she started taking classes at St. Louis Community College-Wildwood as a dual-enrolled student, which allowed her to finish her high school degree and get a jumpstart on her college career. “It was an awesome program. I got all of my pre-requisites done. It was a huge blessing to have that experience and then get to transfer all my credits to another school.”

She went on to Liberty University in Virginia, where she studied aeronautics with a specialization in unmanned aerial vehicles, and also got her pilot’s license. She spent summers when she was home from college as an office volunteer with Wings of Hope, a humanitarian organization based out of Spirit Airport in Chesterfield, MO. Wings of Hope delivers humanitarian programs to the impoverished to achieve a more peaceful world.

The perfect opportunity to combine her skills, her philanthropic desire and her experience came in 2012. Flying Medical Service offered her a position as an interim administrator for six months in Arusha, Tanzania.She jumped at the chance. Those six months quickly turned into a year and a half. And once she professed an interest in flying, she started logging hours in the sky with her boss and her administrative position gradually morphed into a pilot’s job.After a short break home this summer, she returned to Tanzania for another one and a half years.

“I had training in field landings when I got my pilot’s license, but it’s different here and really site-specific. I had to land on each airstrip three times before I could do it on my own. UIn Tanzania, we buzz the airstrips first to move the animals away. I’m always looking at the bushes for animals and dogs that could run onto the field when I’m landing.And donkey holes.We have to look out for holes where the wheel could get stuck,” she explained.

The group conducts between two and five clinics a day three times a week. The flights are short; only about a half hour, but it would take two days to drive the same distance because of the poor condition of the roads, especially in the rainy season.

“I love Africa. I have a heart for the people of Tanzania. It takes a piece of your heart. I have probably thought about Africa every day since I first went there when I was 15,” Elsa exclaimed.“There’s so much beauty.And the Masai culture is very intricate and there’s a lot to know.”

Elsa explained that some of the cultural norms are very different, but there are common threads too. “At one of the clinics, I heard all these kids arguing. And when I walked over, they had these giant bugs. They were fighting over the bugs just like kids that I used to babysit fought over toys. In some ways, people are people everywhere.”

The Masai children are often surprised at how young Elsa is when she gets off the plane. She sees many of the same children from week to week, and is trying to learn their names. “After the girls see me, they tell me they want to become pilots too,” she said. “It’s very dear.”

“Some things make me sad because I see so many needs I want to help more. Education is a huge need. So is food and water,” Elsa said. “I’ve learned you can live without electricity, but without water is a lot harder.”

“I’m exposed to hardship on a day to day basis. I’m surrounded by poverty.I’ve seen life and death, things that could have been prevented.I’ve had the experience of trying to get a mother to the hospital before she delivered a breech baby.But there’s still love, warmth and family. It boils down to what’s essential in life. I’ve learned how important it is to be joyful even in the hardest situation and to be deliberate about how you want to improve, change and choose what you find delight in.”

One of the things that she delights in is the camaraderie among the staff who works on the clinics. “We all live, eat and work together. The group is teachers, pilots and volunteers from all over the world, and we have done some fun things together.” One fond memory is a safari trip, when she woke up in a tent to the sounds of hippos all around her.

Although it is hard to live away from her family in a far away place, it gives Elsa a sense of purpose. “I’m a huge proponent of going out in the world and making a difference,” she said. “I’ve become more independent. I can go out in the world and not be scared. And I want to use my wisdom to help people find joy in life, without being scared.”

When Elsa returns from Tanzania, she hopes to pursue graduate work in either social work or development and also get her mechanic license so she can work on planes.She would also like to explore the possibility working with unmanned aerial vehicles to drop food and medical supplies.“There’s all kinds of really interesting work that can be done with UAVs. I want to stay on the humanitarian side.”

To learn more about Elsa’s African mission, visit http://elsaklarich.blogspot.com/