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Seeing the Impact Firsthand: Two United Airlines Employees Share Their Trip to South Africa With Rise Against Hunger

By Kimberly Chiu & Cathy Innocenti on May 2, 2024

Editor’s Note: Since 2017, United Airlines has partnered with Rise Against Hunger in the work to end global hunger by packaging more than 2.7 million meals and providing additional support through donations and donated miles through their Miles on a Mission program. We had the opportunity in March 2024 to travel with 10 United employees on an impact trip to South Africa for them to see firsthand the impact they’ve helped create. We are so grateful for United’s support and honored to have two of the trip participants share about their time in South Africa below.

This is a story of how United Airlines assembled a team from across different parts of the United States and sent them to the other side of the world to make an impact. Drawn from diverse backgrounds, departments and positions, 10 United employees, including both of us — Kim Chiu, Assistant Manager, AO Projects and Executions for LAX, and Cathy Innocenti, Director of Human Resources for EWR/IAD — united under a common trait: genuine servant hearts. Our mission? Travel to Johannesburg, South Africa, and witness firsthand the impact of Rise Against Hunger meals and programs.

We had the privilege of representing our hubs, with Kim coming from Los Angeles International Airport and Cathy hailing from Newark Liberty International Airport, on this transformative journey with Rise Against Hunger. All of the participants on this trip are involved in planning and organizing United’s meal packaging events with Rise Against Hunger that take place across the United States each year. It was an honor to be invited to see firsthand the impact of our service events. Most of us had never met before, but over the six days in Johannesburg, we formed friendships and bonds from our shared experience. 

Throughout our time there, we visited multiple early childhood development (ECD) centers supported by Rise Against Hunger Africa, encountering varying conditions at each. From modest facilities to those lacking basic amenities like flushing toilets, the contrast was stark. Yet, amidst the challenges, there was hope. Rise Against Hunger’s meals allow these centers to save money that would typically be spent on food for the young children and instead redirect the funds toward improving infrastructure and fostering sustainability. 

On our first day, we visited Place of Hope ECD as well as Lakeside Primary School in the Orange Farm Settlement. Between the two locations, we saw Rise Against Hunger meals prepared in a small kitchen, a chicken coop project and two large gardens. The chicken coop and gardens not only provided a source of healthy food for the community but also additional income to continue to support the ECDs as well as training in sustainable farming practices. 

We had the opportunity to get our hands dirty planting spring onions in a newly established hydroponic garden in Soweto. Rise Against Hunger Africa’s partner HyHarvest provides an established market where they sell produce and offer hands-on training to local youth, again teaching skills about growing vegetables, entrepreneurial skills and supporting economic independence.

In the Diepsloot community, we visited two more ECDs to understand the steps to become officially registered with the government to receive financial support. Most of these requirements revolve around having established infrastructure and safety standards. The meals that Rise Against Hunger Africa provides help realize cost savings that can be invested in basic needs like running water, flushing toilets, safety equipment and signage, and secure play areas for the children. 

Both of these ECDs inspired and touched our hearts. The commitment and love the teachers bring to the children was evident to all of us. One of the centers’ teachers nicknamed ‘Mom Lucy’ is highly energetic, and we were all moved by her positive energy and love. She radiated joy while serving the children Rise Against Hunger meals for lunch. We were proud to see how the United Airlines partnership with Rise Against Hunger is positively aiding nourishment for these children and helping to provide a safe place for them to learn and be cared for.

After spending several days seeing Rise Against Hunger programs and learning more about the history and culture of South Africa, we wrapped up the trip by packaging meals. We joined 200 other volunteers to package over 50,000 meals at the Rise Against Hunger Africa warehouse. The energy in the room was amazing and reminded us of the meal packaging events we’ve hosted at our United hubs. 

Upon returning home, many asked if it was sad to see the living conditions we witnessed. While the circumstances were undoubtedly challenging, sadness was not the prevailing emotion. Instead, we were filled with a sense of peace and joy. The children, in particular, captured our hearts. Their curiosity and innocence transcended language barriers, finding delight in simple pleasures like playing with stickers, coloring pictures and playing with bubbles. They radiated love and happiness, cherishing every moment of life. Rather than being disheartened by their circumstances, we were inspired. Their unwavering spirit served as a powerful reminder that joy can be found in the most unexpected places. 

The trip to Johannesburg left us with hearts full of love, compassion and a better understanding of the impact of our partnership with Rise Against Hunger. Although it starts with a meal, those meals are a root system to nourish lives, encourage education, empower communities and ultimately support journeys to better lives. 

We are grateful to have represented United Airlines on this journey. The dedication and support of our colleagues are shaping lives and communities across the world. Together, we can continue to make a meaningful difference — one meal, one smile, at a time.

Would your business or organization like to partner with Rise Against Hunger — like United Airlines does — to help global hunger? Submit your interest here to learn more about partnership opportunities!