As an American Airlines flight attendant volunteer Champion for Children, I recently travelled to southern Colombia with other Champions to some of the UNICEF programs our Change for Good collections support.
We visited two rural schools which were part of UNICEF’s “Environmental Protection Schools” program which consists of 18 schools in the rural zones of the Department of Cauca. The overall objective is to generate sustainability for healthy environments in the areas of water, sanitation and environmental protection.
Cauca has the second highest poverty level in Colombia and is the fifth region with the greatest level of inequality. The schools we visited initially did not have basic hygiene products like soap, toilet paper, taps and wash basins; even urinals used to be shared between boys and girls. Additionally, there was no adequate system for the disposal of solid waste nor an educational program to educate and encourage the very simple practice of hand washing with soap and water to stay healthy.
Thanks to UNICEF, school environmental and sanitation infrastructures have improved, and hand washing strategies have been established. This gave me a deeper appreciation of the tremendous work UNICEF.
We also visited UNICEF programs supporting the promotion of sexual and reproductive rights as well as the prevention of teenage pregnancy and HIV/AIDS among the most disadvantaged and vulnerable adolescents and young people in primarily indigenous communities. We saw youth increase their capacity for genuine participation in initiatives that are designed to prevent early pregnancies, the transmission of HIV/AIDS and consumption of psychoactive substances.
On the last day, we visited young people living with HIV/AIDS. The emotional connection from being among those children is a testimony to the work we all do and means we cannot give up! They choose to live in dignity. They live a life of poverty and struggle every day, but they rise up anyway. Despite those conditions they showed us their sincere appreciation for our support, shared their meals with us, showcased their arts, their innovations, their talents and skills and gave us their all. We parted holding in our hearts their dreams of a better tomorrow.
The field visit helped me develop a fuller picture of the context of why we are collecting donations and how every donation is making a difference to the children we are supporting.
To learn more or get involved, please visit www.unicefusa.org/changeforgood.