Martin Beltran is a New York JFK-based international flight attendant and volunteer Champion for Children for UNICEF’s Change for Good Program on American Airlines. As an educator, a proud uncle of six nieces and nephews, and as a JFK-based International Purser-Champion for Children, I was honored to represent the 2,700 registered volunteers at American Airlines during my first UNICEF field visit. For years, I have been collecting donations from American Airlines customers through Change for Good, a global UNICEF program that converts travelers’ contributions of foreign currency into lifesaving services for the world’s children. In April, during a trip to Brazil with three of my colleagues, I finally got the chance to see the profound impact these donations are making.
American Airlines International Purser Martin A. Beltran on a UNICEF field visit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in April 2013. Beltran participates in UNICEF’s Change for Good program by volunteering to collect contributions from generous American Airlines customers. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Fund for UNICEFI have been to Brazil many times, on vacation and as a working crew member. But, going with UNICEF, I saw Brazil in a whole new way. And witnessing first-hand what UNICEF does gave me a full understanding of the importance of my role as a Champion for Children. Once in Rio de Janeiro, we were welcomed by the UNICEF Brazil team and briefed on the UNICEF initiatives we would see during the visit. On day two, we visited programs in the communities of Penha and Borel, where I met a group of pregnant women. I was able to participate in a workshop on the rights of pregnant women and their babies and had the opportunity to hear the women’s concerns, worries and needs. I also learned how UNICEF is empowering pregnant women. We also visited a school in Tijuca, where we met local schoolchildren. It brought back memories of my years as an elementary school teacher and reminded me about the importance of investing in early education as the key for success. The children were brimming with questions — about my job, the countries I had visited, the languages I speak, my background and why I am a Champion for Children. And I had questions for them — about their school, their favorite subjects, their community and life in Brazil. It was wonderful to spend time with these children. At the same school, we met with a group of adolescents. They shared their dreams and hopes and talked about their role in society and how they want the rest of the world to see them: as youth who are in school, involved with their communities, and eager to make a positive difference. On day three, we went to a community called Prazeres. The Brazilian government, the private sector and UNICEF have joined forces to educate and engage youth to address issues that are specific to their communities. The youth I met cited sanitation, clean water, infrastructure, landslides and floods as their major concerns. They told us how they are using digital technology to assist them in dealing with problems that need immediate attention. As an educator, I was impressed by their sense of responsibility in gathering data, identifying risk and sharing the information to advocate for policy, change and action. I am a strong believer that education is power. My mother raised six children and taught us the importance of staying in school and expanding our education. I have to thank UNICEF for providing me with this learning experience. The skills, tools and techniques I have acquired through this field visit to Brazil will enable me to educate others about Change for Good, Champions for Children and UNICEF. To learn about how you can get involved, visit www.unicefusa.org/changeforgood.