Andrew Parker and his hot air balloon are on a mission. They have undertaken to traverse the globe in an effort to educate others in cultural diversity and to raise awareness of children’s rights to education and to call attention to the lack thereof. Mr. Parker, a New Zealander, created an initiative in 2013 called Flying High for Kids, uses his hot air balloon to raise funds in efforts to improve conditions for children in underdeveloped regions. Parker’s balloon, which he uses his truck to transport has flown to over 70 different countries and has a UNICEF logo emblazoned on its facade and is tethered at the schools and non-profit functions he travels to in it.
He tethers it in these locations in the hope that it will inspire donations to UNICEF. It additionally serves as a makeshift postal service carrying letters from children in the countries he visits to others throughout the world, fostering communications amongst the children.
According to the Flying High for Kids website their goals are in to engage children and communities to “… shine light on and encourage discussion of children’s rights all around the world, engage children in cultural exchange and understanding by way of international postcard swap, bring joy to those visited, especially those who have never seen a balloon before, dare children to follow their dreams… No matter where they come from.”
Andrew says he has always had an interest in flying and has been piloting hot air balloons for a number of years now. His interest in hot air balloons piqued when he was only 6 years old and by age 13, he was a member of his local hot air ballooning club. Andrew obtained his commercial balloon pilot license at the age of 19 and by age 20, owned and operated his own ballooning business in Europe.
His interest in committing his time and efforts in a global pursuit of a cause began in his early teens. He endeavored to find a way to combine his passion for hot air balloon flight with pursuance of doing something to shed light on inadequacies regarding children’s access to educational opportunities. He says, “I had the idea of flying for a cause back in my early teens and it has stayed with me ever since. I started planning in 2010 and it was a dream come true when the project began. I’ve flown balloons in many countries but I’ve never had the chance to do something on this scale. It is a chance for me to share my passion for ballooning and inspire kids to follow their dreams. Many of the kids we meet have never seen a hot air balloon before and it brings me a lot of satisfaction to see the smiles on their faces.”
This past year Parker has traveled through numerous countries and across continents having visited Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia while in Arica most recently. Subsequently, he plans to visit South America next year and will then send his balloon to Colombia to engage in his efforts to raise awareness among communities there.
Parker and his team have reached out to an estimated 20,000 children throughout the world and while in the countries he and his team meet with community leaders, teachers, and children to establish a cohesive network amongst them all in efforts to push forward with the goals of the initiative.