Making a difference

Making a difference

Just last September, a group of SN cabin and cockpit crew visited a number of medical centres and schools in Sierra Leone, accompanied by UNICEF Belgium’s Executive Director, Christian Wiener.

Outside of the capital Freetown, Sierra Leone is a dismal place for the majority of the country’s children… such was Christian Wiener’s conclusion after the extensive visit he made in 2005. As UNICEF Belgium’s Executive Director he was used to dealing with children in difficult conditions, but the state in which he found some of Sierra Leone’s youth affected him deeply and left him realising the situation demanded immediate action.

This year however his return visit just a couple of months ago was a more joyous occasion. Accompanied by a delegation of SN cabin and cockpit crew, Christian’s visit to medical centres, village schools and former child-labour sites was an occasion for celebration among the young hosts, and for hope and satisfaction within the European delegation.

“Last year I visited a river-bed area north of the capital” explained Wiener, “and there I witnessed the condition of countless children, some as young as eight years of age, spending their days from dawn-till-dusk knee-deep in the muddy river banks looking for diamonds.

“It wasn’t their river, of course,” he continued, “so those who found the odd stone would have to bring it to the manager or owner of the stretch, and usually they would exchange it in return for a day or two’s rations of food. This was how they spent their days trying to find a way to avoid going hungry”.

This year, however, Wiener said that the pressure UNICEF had brought to bear amongst government officials, concessionaires and landowners on the subject had clearly resulted in a fruitful outcome. “There were no mud-stained children anymore”, he said, “they were gone – it was only adults”. It was just one of the successes of the trip.

Elsewhere, SN crew visited a number of medical centres and schools in the Kono and Bombali districts, as part of an initiative led by cabin-crew members Dominique Neils and Guy Van Schoonbeek. Here the crew distributed toys among the children while UNICEF members reviewed vitamin and food supplement programmes.

“One of the real problems in Sierra Leone is lack of proper nutrition” explained Christian Wiener, “Not malnutrition – because famine isn’t an issue in this country – but lack of correct nutrition for growing children, which can have equally fatal consequences. Here UNICEF is active in supporting and supplying vitamin and food supplement programmes”.

Continuing on the theme of hope and new beginnings, both the SN and the UNICEF teams inaugurated a number of new village schools during the visit, including a ‘keys of the school’ ceremony at which SN Captain Patrick Lurtine was the locals’ guest of honour.

Giving your support to UNICEF’s worldwide fight on behalf of children is, of course, a matter of individual choice – and most of us are more than ready to chip in. Despite this, it’s amazing how many of us genuinely intend to donate money to this important work, and yet we never seem to get around to finding five minutes to fill in the form and put it in the post. But there are other ways to donate to UNICEF, and they don’t even require a signature. Wedding anniversary coming up and you already have enough coffee percolators, dinner sets, ties, socks and corkscrews to last a lifetime? Simply say to your friends that if they wish to give you a present, you’d prefer them to donate a small sum to UNICEF on your behalf. Or, if you’re a member of a sports club, why not organise a club tournament for the UNICEF Cup and donate the proceeds? There are lots of ways you can help us help the children of the world. It just needs a little imagination. Check our website at for info.