Editor's note updated, 7:35 a.m., Feb. 17: All those inquiring how to help, please visit the Web site of Airline Ambassadors International.
Nancy Rivard is the president and founder of Airline Ambassadors International and the subject of tonight's story, which you've already read about from correspondent Kerry Sanders and producer Mario Garcia. We invited her to blog about her organization for viewers who may interested in helping her make a difference.
In 1993, I delivered my first bag of aid to a refugee camp in Croatia. From this singular act spawned Airline Ambassadors International (AAI). Over the last decade, our members have been at the forefront of a growing movement called "voluntourism." Voluntourism offers a way for caring individuals to become positively involved in the global community by traveling To make a difference. Our members have traveled the globe, helping to lift children and communities out of poverty and, in the process, create lasting bonds of friendship and kindness throughout the world.
It was great to have Kerry and the NBC team join us on this trip to visit orphanages and projects we support in El Salvador ...as usual, everyone fell in love with the kids! Besides the hygiene, school and newborn kits, shoes and soccer balls, we also delivered the complete priority wish list requested by the CIPI orphanage director -- a new TV and DVD player, and furniture for the facility... and by the time we left... we had transformed the place with artwork!
Our team included artists, singers, corporate managers, airline personnel, a nurse, and caring individuals, each of whom contributed something special in his or her own way. Even 7-year-old Adam Mogilnicki brought cards and pictures from his first grade class. When asked what he thought of the experience, little Adam exclaimed, "I'm ready to go again and help more children!"
Going on an Airline Ambassadors trip can teach you a lot about yourself and, especially, about the differences that exist amongst the peoples of the world. Most importantly, however, is this lesson: although we might come from different cultures, we all share in the human condition and we all can help each other in ways we had never imagined. uth Matranga tied all our feelings together when she shared, "We are not only here to serve others, but it is in the self-forgetting that one finds contentment."
A couple of weeks before the trip, I met a burn victim who had fallen into a pot of boiling water. AAI had arranged for Jose to be flown to the U.S. for medical treatment. However, on the last day of the trip, we discovered that Jose’s situation had become critical. Over the next 24 hours, we were able to work some magic – Shriners Hospital in Boston would take Jose, the Ministry of Foreign Relations expedited his passport and visa, American Airlines offered tickets, and USAirways and JetBlue each offered an airplane. When the planes didn’t pan out due to FAA regulations and Jose’s condition, Shriner’s helped manifest $32,000 to provide an air ambulance and the Chief of the National Police offered a helicopter from the hospital to the airport. Sadly, after everything had suddenly come together, Jose passed away before he could be transported. However, Jose’s legacy will live on, as Airline Ambassadors is now creating a Children’s Emergency fund and has called upon airlines to contribute augment mileage programs (like AA's Miles for Kids in Need) to help children like Jose in the future.
From AAI's staff of international travel experts to our local in-country contacts, we are dedicated to serving the less fortunate amongst us while maintaining a safe and rewarding trip for our members. We handle the logistics of the trip so that you are free to interact with the local community, helping the children and learning about the culture and about humanity. In addition to these AAI branded trips, which range in style and comfort, we also provide aid and logistics for individual AAI member-led trips so you can have the widest possible range of choices. So we urge you to find what is right for you and join us on personal mission of "Turning Compassion Into Action."
Photo captions: Top, Nancy shares a smile with orphans in Croatia. Bottom, Nancy joins Jose Rivas' family at the hospital.