The SAS Christmas Flight
Tine Christiansen is a flight attendant with SAS. Even though she’s on maternity leave, she is currently selling pins, cards and other products at a stall in the SAS crew premises at Oslo Gardermoen Airport. The proceeds go to the SAS Christmas Flight, an aid campaign run by SAS employees.
The Christmas Flight has been taking off every December since 1985, during which time SAS aircraft have carried food, equipment and medicine to children and families in Poland, Latvia and Estonia.
“I went on a flight to Tallinn where many people receive help,” Christiansen says. “It was an experience I’ll never forget. I saw where everything we had collected went and what it meant to the people there. It made me determined to get even more involved.”
The first SAS Christmas Flight went to Gdansk in Poland. After that, it was Latvia for four years, while between 2003 and 2016 the flight brought aid to Tallinn in Estonia, where, just over an hour’s flying time from Oslo, many families struggle with poverty and social problems.
The Peeteli Orphanage in Tallinn has distributed the items on the SAS Christmas Flight to 500 vulnerable local children and families. But now the center can stand on its own two feet.
“Our friends in Tallinn have now made good progress towards becoming self-sufficient,” says pilot and head of the SAS Christmas Flight, Finn-Jørgen Steen. “They have developed a good working relationship with the Estonian authorities and the orphanage is now one of the best run in Tallinn. Together with other charities, our contribution has helped them along the way. With their acceptance, we’re now concluding our aid work in Tallinn.”
So this year the SAS Christmas Flight is heading to Latvia. The SAS aid campaign has been working closely with two organizations there whose work is based on the same principles as the Peeteli Orphanage in Estonia. These are Hope 4 Children, based in Bolderaja, a 15-minute drive north of Riga, and Hope 4 Families, in Ogre, around 40 minutes southeast of Riga. “These organizations help children and young people with their schoolwork, hygiene and hot meals,” Steen says. “This helps give people a sense of security and hope, so they are better equipped to avoid falling into the trap of drunkenness and criminality.”
Around 35–40 children are associated with the center in Bolderaja, while 180– 200 children are associated with the organization in Ogre, where there are more challenges.
“They haven’t got a permanent base to work from,” Steen continues. “But they’ve now used financial donations to buy a former local authority orphanage. A SAS employee got in touch with a large kitchen supplier here in Norway that has donated a kitchen for the new center in Ogre, which means they will now be able to serve the children hot meals which is so important. Many other donors have contributed with blankets and other equipment that is needed in a home.”
The aim is for the building to be a day center for children in need. They also plan to build apartments for families in urgent need of accommodation.
When the flight takes off, plenty of crew members are also needed onboard. One volunteer is steward Bjørn Wettre Holthe, a familiar face as a dance instructor on the Norwegian TV version of Strictly Come Dancing.
“What’s so special about this campaign is that we can see the good it does,” Holthe says. “Last year, for instance, we met a former drug addict who had received help at the day center in Tallinn. He’s now been able to open a center himself where he helps others with drinking problems, which we’re also supporting. The SAS Christmas Flight helps people to help themselves. Providing help when children are young is something we see as important. Many things have improved in these countries, only an hour away by air, but some people still fall through the gaps and don’t get the help they need.”
Text: Inga Ragnhild Holst