GHANAIAN CHIEF Nana Odapagayan Ekumfi I - also known as Newcastle University's structural engineering professor John Knapton - will be driving a double decker bus to the village where he is a chief this August.
Knapton will drive the bus to Ekumfi-Atakwa in Ghana so that school children from surrounding villages can get to a library. The library was built by Newcastle University students in 1997 and was, in part, funded by the ICE's development charity, the Telford Challenge. Knapton was made village chief three years ago for the building work he and his students had carried out.
Knapton and three of his academic colleagues, Kate Eldon, Matt Newman and Sean Wilkinson have all been trained as bus drivers in preparation for the 4,000-mile drive departing from Newcastle in mid-August. The two and a half week journey will take them via Plymouth, Santander, Gibraltar, Rabat, Marrakesh, Casablanca, Nouakchott, Dakar, Timbuktoo, Ouagadougou, Tamali and Kumasi.
Before taking up the challenge, Knapton will take the bus to schools in the North East to highlight civil engineering. 'We are trying to get away from the dreadful image that civil engineers are boring people,' said Knapton.
'We are here to help people in the developing world and solve their problems.'
Today, Knapton is travelling to London to pick up the bus. It has been donated by the Gateshead- based bus company Go-Ahead which has completely refurbished it to ensure there will be no breakdowns. Adventure travel company Madfoundation has donated a Landrover as a support vehicle. Three Royal Engineers will be taking time out of their normal routine of manning Rapier missile batteries to keep a check on the vehicles and help out in case of trouble.
Parts of the journey will involve driving over soft sand and the team is developing special matting which will allow the bus to drive without sinking. There will be a test trial on the sands at Whitley Bay next week. Knapton said 'This isn't a jolly. There will be plenty of hazards along the way.'
The BBC will be going on the journey to make a documentary to be shown on television in the autumn and may make use of hidden cameras so as to ensure some completely candid camera sequences.
Visit John Knapton's website at www.staff.ncl.ac.uk/ john.knapton