Human Rights Awards Reception - Spotlight! on Nancy Rivard
By Christina M. Hansen, UNA-NCA VP of Programs and Human Rights Committee member
UNA-NCA will be holding their Annual Human Rights Awards Reception this year on Thursday, December 7th and is pleased to present this year’s Perdita Huston Award to Nancy Rivard, the founder and President of Airline Ambassadors International. We are pleased to shine a light on Ms. Rivard’s amazing work in support of human rights.
UNA-NCA: Can you tell us a little about yourself and what motivated you to create Airline Ambassadors International?
NR: When my dad died suddenly at age 54, it was a wakeup call for me. I was a supervisor of flight attendants at American Airlines and climbing the corporate ladder. It prompted me to take a step backwards professionally to take a step towards my soul.
I returned to a flight attendant position to embark on a deep and profound search for meaning that lasted 7 years and took me all over the world. I had the idea that flight attendants could bring love into action by directly helping vulnerable children, inspiring the traveling public to do the same.
I could only get two flight attendants to join me on our first mission to Bosnia... The next month I escorted a child back to Cali, Colombia who had received donated surgery in the U.S. Flight attendants began to ask me to put them on my "list," and by 1995 we had 500 names on the "list" and started a nonprofit corporation in the office of the late Congressman Tom Lantos.
UNA-NCA: UNA-NCA supporters are avid travelers; what are some things we should be aware of when we travel, and what should we do if we think we see an individual who may be at-risk of being trafficked?
NR: All of us who travel frequently should be aware that human trafficking is the fastest growing critical industry and that according to the 2017 report from the ILO and Walk Free Foundation, there are estimated to be over 40M trafficking victims. Traffickers move their victims frequently and often use the speed and convenience of commercial air travel. Travelers can pay attention to children and notice who they are traveling with. Does the young person seem frightened, ashamed, or nervous? Are they under the control of a traveling companion? Are they unsure of their destination? Do they have wounds or bruises? If something doesn’t seem right, it is the traveler's duty to report it to law enforcement. They may be wrong, but this action can save a life.
UNA-NCA: What should we know about human trafficking survivors?
NR: We work with survivors for all our trainings, which makes the issue come alive, and helps trainees understand that this can happen to anyone, young, old, male, female, etc. They are lured in by promises of romance, a better life, or through threats (force, fraud, or coercion) by someone willing to exploit them for profit. Many times trafficking victims do not realize they are a victim, and will not or can't self-identify. Some say the lifespan of a person that enters into this "life" averages about 7 years; but even if a person is rescued, the psychological scars can remain a lifetime. This is why we need to "see" them and be willing to recognize and report potential trafficking situations as soon as possible.
UNA-NCA: Your organization does so much to help vulnerable people, especially children. Can you tell us more about your humanitarian and medical programs?
NR: Every month our teams volunteer their time to escort children to the U.S. for donated medical care. We have been able to provide 3000 of these life changing journeys so far. We also hand deliver food, clothing, school supplies, hygiene items and more to children in children's homes or orphanages worldwide every month and have helped 500,000 children in 62 countries. We make a long-term commitment to children at our projects and have been successful in getting all 75 children at our Philippines project sponsored and are working on this for kids in Haiti as well. AAI also aids disaster relief. We have moved 47 entire airplanes of aid and hand delivered $60 million worth of humanitarian assistance directly to children and families.
UNA-NCA: How has your partnership with the United Nations affected your work?
NR: The United Nations conference series such as the Earth Summit, Social Summit, Human Rights, Women's Summit, and Habitat 11 helped to shape my understanding that global solutions were needed for the problems we face as humanity. AAI is honored to be affiliated with the United Nations Department of Information and also the Economic and Social Council. We maintain UN Representatives in New York and participate at meetings and conferences there. As an ECOSOC NGO, we were able to call a Side Event at the recent Commission on Crime Prevention Global Meeting of UNODC, drawing global attention to our work in the prevention of human trafficking resulting in an MOU with UNODC. We also measure our effectiveness each year based on the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations.
UNA-NCA: Which of the new Global Goals, as they relate to Human Rights, is most important to you personally and why?
NR: In the past few years Airline Ambassadors work has expanded with the prevention of human trafficking, the most important human rights issue of our time. SDG's, 8.7, 5.2 and 16.2 relate to this specifically,
- 8.7 Decent work and economic growth: “Take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms.” We have taken the initiative to reach out to CEO's of the travel industry to provide jobs for trafficking victims as a way to support Goal 8.7
- 5.2 Gender Equality: “Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation.” We provide education to vulnerable young women on our missions as a way to support Goal 5.2
- 16.2 Peace, justice and institutions: “End abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children.” We have tirelessly advocated in governmental, non-governmental and private sector entities on the prevention of trafficking in support of Goal 16.2.
AAI supports all of these goals as human rights is the basis of all our efforts.
UNA-NCA: You are being honored with the Perdita Huston Award, named after a woman who dedicated her life to supporting the rights of women and girls around the world. How has your work helped promote gender equality?
NR: The empowerment of girls has been pivotal to our work and still is as we strive to bring human rights, education, job training, and support for women and girls to each of the projects we support. Gender equality is a core principle of what our work is about.
UNA-NCA: Eleanor Roosevelt once said that unless human rights have meaning locally, they have little meaning anywhere, and that "without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world." What are your reflections on that, and on what that means for action and prioritizing action?
NR: I think Eleanor Roosevelt was a brilliant and inspired visionary and agree with her entirely that we have to "walk our talk"- have the courage to speak out for injustices we see in our own neighborhood, or, as a flight attendant, to report a potential trafficking case on an airplane. Many individuals, governments and companies think it is easier to close our eyes, and not get involved, not make waves, but in the long run that does not serve us, or our world. As the late Tom Lantos said "The veneer of civilization is paper thin, we are its guardians, and we can never rest."
UNA-NCA: In your opinion, what has been your greatest impact on trafficking and humanitarian issues and human rights?
NR: No doubt our selfless humanitarian flying angels have made a difference in the lives of countless children through our medical escort and humanitarian programs. AAI gives ordinary people a chance to match their unique skills and interests to world. We have the children's pictures in our wallet, we communicate with them, and love them. It meets a need for them by helping to provide the physical things they need, but they meet a need in us too, giving us a chance to express our fundamental kindness, compassion, and generosity.
Recently our work advocating for human trafficking awareness is more about educating airport/airline personnel. We saw an opportunity to make a difference that would impact thousands of victims and we knew we had to take a stand. I do believe our efforts helped in the passage of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2016, requiring that flight attendants be trained on human trafficking. It was an important victory.