In celebration of the 20th anniversary of the partnership between Starwood Hotels & Resorts and UNICEF, Starwood hosted a Check Out for Children Associate Video Challenge in 2015, asking their hotel teams all around Europe, Africa and Middle East to create short videos demonstrating their passion and dedication to UNICEF and the partnership. The winner of the challenge would have the chance to visit a UNICEF project and experience their work first-hand. There were many excellent and creative entries, with the final voting being so close, that Starwood decided to award two winners. Nanji Tyem from the Sheraton Abuja Hotel and Olga Hadzewicz-Kopka from the Hotel Bristol in Warsaw were the lucky ones who then travelled to Djibouti along with Yvonne Kestermann from Starwood’s EAME Global Citizenship team, to find out how the money raised at their hotels and so many other Starwood properties is helping UNICEF to transform children’s lives.
Located in the Horn of Africa, Djibouti is one of the smallest and most dry countries on the planet where 157,000 children live in absolute poverty, and many don’t have access to safe water and sanitation. Without access to clean water and safe sanitation, children can catch waterborne diseases, which can have a devastating effect on their health and education.
The Starwood team landed in Djibouti to see first-hand how UNICEF’s vital water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) projects are changing the lives of children and families in the country. As Yvonne Kestermann said, reflecting on the WASH projects they saw, “the effect that these WASH projects have on a community as a whole is impressive. It means that women and girls don’t have to carry litres of water for several kilometres each day, that hospitals are cleaner and diseases spread less easily, that babies and children have a better chance of surviving, going to school and getting an education… and the positive cycle continues.”
Yvonne, Nanji and Olga all remember a number of highlights from the trip. All three praised the hard work of UNICEF’s staff in the field – as Olga said, “many of UNICEF’s field staff work very hard under challenging conditions to bring about real change for children” and Nanji was ‘moved to tears’ by the water project she saw in As-Eyla, Dikhil district. As-Eyla is in the middle of the desert and clean water is very hard to come by.
The town had a very high number of pregnant women miscarrying, which was very distressing for the women and the wider community. A key reason for this was the lack of access to water, as pregnant women had to walk long distances to collect water and then carry heavy loads home. However this situation was improved when UNICEF intervened; as Nanji said, “UNICEF was able to work with this local community to build a solar energy powered well bringing respite to the people there.” This was just one of many examples of effective UNICEF programmes that Nanji, Olga and Yvonne saw, which cannot happen without the support of fundraisers like the associates at Starwood.
UNICEF’s work in emergencies was also highlighted during the trip. Across the world UNICEF is responding to a number of emergencies at any time, helping children caught up in a crisis get the clean water, nutrition, medical attention and education they urgently need. Olga, Nanji and Yvonne visited Markazi refugee camp with the UNICEF team, which is a camp in northern Djibouti hosting mainly refugees fleeing the ongoing violence in Yemen. On visiting the camp, Olga said she was “impressed to find it so well organised”. Yvonne was also moved by the visit to the camp; she reflected that “the moment I will never forget is the sound I heard when we first arrived in the camp and stepped out of our cars –the happy singing of a group of children. The happiness coming from their voices was such a contrast to what we were seeing in the camp. This reminded me of how resilient children are, even in desperate situations like this, and how it is our duty as adults in this world to protect the happiness of children everywhere.”
UNICEF’s work to protect children in countries like Djibouti across the world ensures they not only survive, but thrive and can only continue with the dedication and commitment of fundraisers like the associates of Starwood Hotels & Resorts. As Nanji said, reflecting on her experiences travelling with UNICEF, “after this trip I see UNICEF as a top notch organisation. I will encourage and drive our teams to support UNICEF. Now I can fully understand how UNICEF uses our donations to provide the enabling environment for children to survive, be healthy, and become great leaders in the future.”
Banner image credit : © UNICEF/UNI181391/Seixas