CHICAGO — Because it has helped provide relief in such highly publicized catastrophic events as the tsunami in Japan and earthquake in Haiti, AIRLINK is primarily recognized for its work in disaster relief. However, some of AIRLINK’s most important work is completed when there’s no disaster at all in service of ongoing humanitarian needs.
“While disaster relief is a key component of the AIRLINK program, much of our overall scope of activities involves the ongoing transport of developmental aid workers,” said Bob Brown, CEO of AIRLINK. “Activities such as assisting with the alleviation of poor living conditions in emergent regions of the world or helping people prepare for natural disasters occur on a continuum with emergency relief efforts. The assistance that AIRLINK has been providing in this area is at least as important as what we do when a disaster strikes.”
In fact, AIRLINK’s non-disaster-related efforts are becoming an increasingly larger portion of its operations. From January through August of this year alone, AIRLINK has matched nearly triple the amount of flights for developmental aid purposes that it matched over the same period in 2011, with a total of twenty-five developmental flights matched as compared to nine that moved sixty-five passengers as compared to forty passengers, respectively.
Since its inception, AIRLINK’s free web-based matching service has been connecting humanitarian charities and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) that have a need to transport passengers or cargo for developmental aid work with airlines that have excess capacity and can provide this transportation free or at a low cost. While an airline using AIRLINK to provide as little as one free round trip ticket may not sound very significant, it can have a profound impact on the efforts of a not-for-profit NGO that depends largely on charitable donations and volunteers.
In April of this year, Etihad Airways utilized the AIRLINK program to respond to a need posted by the Unity Project, a resilience building learning system that prepares young people to lead productive lives as members of the global community. The Unity Project was requesting transportation for its director, John Woodall, to Nairobi to meet with UNICEF partners and begin working with former child soldiers in Nairobi, Uganda. The Project’s mission in this region is to facilitate these individuals’ reintegration, resilient skill building, training leading to livelihoods and service projects in their communities.
Via AIRLINK, Etihad donated air travel for the Unity Project director’s trip, which resulted in the launch of the Project in the three most important secondary schools in northern Uganda: the Rachele School, which has the highest percentage of former child soldiers in the country; the Barlonyo Technical School, located at the site of the worst massacre of the war; and St. Katherine’s School, which has the greatest percentage of formerly abducted girls.
“None of these developments would have been possible without the assistance received from AIRLINK,” said John Woodall, MD, Founder & Director of the Unity Project. “We were overwhelmed by the enthusiastic expressions of hope in the people there who, for the first time, are seeing a way out of the despair, disunity and poverty that has paralyzed the region. I hope that AIRLINK staff and airline partners such as Etihad will take great satisfaction knowing that their work and generosity have made such a positive impact.”
In addition to the launch of the Unity Project at these schools, headway was also made in a number of social enterprises designed to create economic opportunities in the region and generate a process of sustainable development. Plans were also advanced to engage the affected youths in district-wide service activities to help eradicate malaria, replant trees and improve water quality and sanitation.
As part of its efforts during non-disaster periods, AIRLINK encourages airlines to respond to NGO requests for non-emergency developmental aid flights, which best utilize member airlines’ excess capacity. While providing assistance to AIRLINK’s NGO members for their charitable efforts, the airlines donating such flights also benefit through a deeper, more direct involvement in their corporate social responsibility programs as well as a means of streamlining those programs.