“Will you be tasting wine or chilling by the pool when you are done working?” asks a passenger. We’re on our way to Cape Town, South Africa. “Not this time,” I reply. I feel my chest puffing up with pride and my voice dropping a few octaves as I add: “I’ll be doing some renovations for Wings of Support.”
“DIY? You? I hope you come home with all ten fingers!” – that was one of the more enthusiastic responses I got when I shared my plans with family and friends. Much like the passenger, they too wanted to know what I was going to do.
The answer proves to be: mixing cement to anchor a pole for a canopy at a little school. I’ve never done this before, but it certainly makes a nice change from flight safety demonstrations and serving meals.
Schools, orphanages and clinics
Wings of Support (WoS) is a charity founded by KLM staff, supporting hundreds of projects worldwide, providing schools, orphanages and clinics with funds and goods. WoS was established by a KLM captain in 1998 and has blossomed into an organisation with 80 employees, hundreds of volunteers and thousands of donors. I myself hooked up with the foundation in August 2006, when I first began carrying clothing and goods on my trips to Africa, South America and Asia. Nowadays, I handle communications for WoS.
DIY Trip to Cape Town
DIY trips are a big hit among WoS donors and volunteers. This year no fewer than 140 cabin attendants applied for 30 DIY spots available to them. In addition to these cabin attendants, the project teams include cockpit crew, retired employees and family members. They all pay their own way. And many of them are novices.
Painting, welding and woodwork
We’re all wondering whether we have the required skills to get the job done. But we needn’t worry because there’s a lot of paintwork to be done – outer walls, decks and gates. Or we can help with the cleaning or assist with minor repairs, like fixing beds and toys. And then there are the real handymen and women who can weld goalposts, make cupboards or fix the plumbing.
And me? I just mix my cement and put up the pole, together with a colleague who I’ve only known for a couple of hours. When we’re finished, I grab my camera and make photos of the other members of the DIY Team. As we chat, I discover they’re from Engineering & Maintenance, Cargo, IT, Operations Control and Ground Services. They’re not the kind of people I meet daily as a cabin attendant, which adds to the fun. The DIY trip and Wings of Support create a mutual bond between us.
The kids at the orphanage and school are absolutely thrilled when they get the full attention of team members on a break. But who’s entertaining who? At peak hour, more than 50 handymen and women were working away. And many hands make light work – as the proverb goes. By the afternoon, the walls have been whitewashed and decorated with drawings, the vegetable patch is looking good and the entrance has been transformed into a garden by the most creative team members. And we still have the traditional barbecue to look forward to!
In between chores, we play with the kids. During their school break, they get their nails polished and faces painted, they place with streamers and balloons, and they want to see the photos I’ve taken. At the end of the day, my DIY trip is over and I see just how useful this work is. The coordinator sums it up succinctly: “You’ve done six years’ work in six hours. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts.” His eyes glisten as he smiles, and many team members also have tears in their eyes. As I take aim with my camera and see the many happy people around me, I am overjoyed to have had this opportunity.
And to those who had any doubts: I typed this blog with all ten fingers.
If you want more information or if you’d like to get involved, visit www.wingsofsupport.org.