Championing for children in the Dominican Republic with UNICEF

March 26, 2012
Adriann Raschdorf-Nelson is a New York JFK-based international flight attendant and Champion for Children for UNICEF's Change for Good Program on American Airlines. When I began "coming through the aisle with a white-and-blue UNICEF bag" on my international American Airlines flights to collect donations from customers for UNICEF's Change for Good program on American Airlines, I never thought I would see firsthand exactly where the money I collected each trip would go. I was thrilled and honored to be selected as one of four "Champions for Children" flight attendant volunteers chosen to attend a site visit with UNICEF this year to the Dominican Republic. Last year, Champions voted on where a portion of the funds collected would go, and it was decided to help protect vulnerable children from exploitation and child trafficking in the Dominican Republic. The DR is one of the countries where the number of children being sexually exploited has skyrocketed alarmingly. As a mom, the idea that children are subjected to this was heart-rending.

Champions for Children visit UNICEF's programs in the Dominican Republic. | © Ricardo Piantini H.

You look out the plane window on descent and see pristine beaches, an aqua sea, white sand and find it hard to believe that such beauty coexists where children find themselves in such dire straits. We had a briefing first thing, and the UNICEF staff was amazingly informative. I 'knew' about UNICEF, or thought I did—what we learned that very first day was eye-opening. UNICEF is guided by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and everything they work for is based on basic, fundamental rights of children—including the right to play, the right to food and health, and the right to be protected from abuse. On this trip I met and saw firsthand the incredible dedication of people who have devoted their life's work to doing exactly that—promoting and protecting the rights of children. UNICEF sees a broken vase and does not just spread glue on it for a quick fix. They painstakingly glue it back together piece by piece by empowering the children and training volunteers to save children, one child at a time. We visited Boca Chica, a beach resort destination where there is crystal-clear water and fine, white sand—a family-friendly vacation spot during the day, while at night, child prostitution is rampant. We sat down with Caminante Educational Project, and I was blown away by the hope and energy these people have. Volunteers go out onto the beach and identify potential young victims; they bring them together to a safe place where they can learn a trade and get help with schoolwork so they can either stay in school or go back to school. Graduates of the program stay and help others. These children will have a future.

Adriann Raschdorf-Nelson saw firsthand how some of the funds she and other employees collect from generous American Airlines customers through UNICEF’s Change for Good program on American Airlines are benefiting children. | © Ricardo Piantini H.

We did so much on this trip. We visited baby-friendly hospitals where UNICEF works to protect newborns from getting HIV from their mothers. We saw 'late birth-registry' centers where babies, toddlers, and adolescents who were not previously registered now were, giving them an identity, which provides them access to food stamps, an education, and other critical services. We met with Pastoral Materno Infantil volunteers who teach pregnant adolescents about their bodies and how to care for their babies using booklets and pamphlets—all furnished by UNICEF so these volunteers can track the newborn during the first, critical years of their lives. The reach of UNICEF is extensive. Knowing that I was a part of collecting the money that goes to fund these lifesaving programs is incredibly gratifying. Other American Airlines employees can get that same sense of gratification by becoming a Champion for Children, and travelers flying American Airlines internationally or Admirals Club members can help by making a donation. I will continue to bring that blue-and-white Change for Good bag through the aisles on my trips so UNICEF can continue gluing societies together, protecting the most vulnerable, one piece at a time.