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Airline Organizations for the Greater Good

“Do you want food or poop?” my flight attendant friend asked me.

While she is much more accustomed to asking “chicken or beef,” until today, a group of 55 of my airline friends and I had been asking each other the same question during our volunteer week at the Elephant Nature Park near Chiang Mai, Thailand. (For the record, poop and food duties were surprisingly fairly easily split down the middle for preference. I chose food prep.) We spent the week as volunteers, friends and animal lovers to care for elephants rescued from the illegal logging, street begging, trekking and tourist trades, where most of them suffered unspeakable brutality. The practices of elephant training in Thailand, which are at least a century old, are unknown by many tourists and the life’s mission of the sanctuary’s founder, Lek Chailert, is to stop this torture by opening the eyes of the public to what goes into elephant rides and performances.
Our days consisted of hard but rewarding work; I don’t think one of us emerged physically unscathed in some shape or form. We built dams, we shoveled massive piles of elephant dung, we unloaded truck after truck of supplies. We stunk at the end of every day and were grateful for our Chang beers as we swatted mosquitoes away while the sun sank in the sky and we dried our incredibly filthy clothes on a line outside.

Airline employees are indeed a lucky lot in that we have the ability to fly just about anywhere for next to nothing. We can decide one day that we want to be on the beach on the other side of the world and we can actually be there the next. But in times of crisis around the world, it feels good to be able to volunteer and bring supplies and donations to areas that would otherwise be unlikely to see them.

We have many industry groups who use their flight benefits to serve those in need, but the most notable one is Airline Ambassadors International. Airline Ambassadors is a group of airline industry volunteers who, among other projects, bring children to the US from impoverished nations to help them get much needed medical care and help deliver supplies to areas that desperately need them.
They also have been instrumental in spreading the word about human trafficking, and the role we as crew can play in bringing it to an end. In fact, this training recently paid off – Alaska Airlines flight attendant Sheila Fedrick noticed something that wasn’t right with one of her passengers, a teenage girl who seemed an odd match for her older travel companion. Fedrick was able to communicate with the disheveled and confused-looking girl directly and discreetly, which resulted in the her being rescued and her captor arrested.
So as my cuts, bruises and sunburn heal from a moving week of volunteer work, I feel inspired to keep it going. We raised $12,000 for the elephant sanctuary, and also donated clothes and supplies to the park and surrounding village. Travel is so rewarding when you’re able to meet new people and experience other cultures, but even more so when you can help, both at home and abroad.
[Photo: Shutterstock]
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