MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/23 July) – A Talaandig Lumad from Talakag town in Bukidnon flew to Rio de Janeiro Monday night, but not before receiving shabby treatment from the ground crew of KLM Airlines who refused to board her on the flight to the Brazilian capital via Amsterdam.
Good Exchanges (Goodx) and Cartwheel Foundation, her sponsors for the trip, said Arjean Marie Belco, 18, had been stranded in Kuala Lumpur since Saturday without receiving immediate action from KLM. She arrived in Kuala Lumpur on July 20 aboard a different airline from the Philippines, and was scheduled to leave on the same day for Rio de Janeiro.
“We are happy to share that Arjean finally boarded her flight bound for Amsterdam en route to Rio on the late evening of July 22,” Goodx.org said on its Facebook page on Tuesday morning.
The World Youth Day, an annual gathering of young Catholics, is scheduled from July 23 to 28, 2013.
Goodx said Belco went through immigration in Malaysia without incident. At the KLM check-in counter, however, a certain Mr. Shawa and other airline employees told Belco they were not allowing her to board the plane.
Shawa and his fellow employees, according to Goodx, considered Belco “not ready to travel” even if the latter provided them the necessary documents.
“Arjean was denied her right to travel. This could also be perceived as a possible case of discrimination based on appearance, gender, ethnicity, nationality, age or social status,” Goodxorg said in its post.
She told her sponsors she was asked, “Why is your passport so new?” “Your ticket is too cheap” “Your ticket was just purchased yesterday” “Why flying through Malaysia if there are flights from the Philippines?” and “How much money you have?”
Belco explained that it was her first trip abroad and that she is a travel scholar to the youth event in Brazil.
Goodx and Cartwheel Foundation, who identified Belco as their travel scholar immediately launched a campaign through social media to raise support for the stranded delegate.
Goodx cited that the ticket to fly to Rio through Malaysia was purchased as it was approximately $1,000 cheaper than KLM’s Manila to Rio flight. It said any non-profit organization will want to save money.
“The trip was being planned for a long time and we luckily found a more affordable option to make her trip possible,” it added.
Belco had presented a bank statement from Cartwheel Foundation and a pocket money of $100 and P3,370 for emergency or meal expenses before her connecting flights to Brazil.
Arrangements for her stay with a host family in Brazil, a usual practice for World Youth Day participants, have been made.
She recalled that KLM staffers denied her request for them to contact her sponsors in the Philippines. She also showed her enrolment paper at the Pamulaan College and the University of South Eastern Philippines, among other documents, to no avail.
Goodx said there was no reason to deny Belco to fly to Brazil since Filipinos need no visa to travel to that country if they stay there for 90 days or less. Netherlands requires no transit visa, it added.
Shawa told the staff of Goodx over the phone to “just buy another ticket” and “was laughing while listening to our side.”
Aside from the need for a new ticket, the denial caused Belco’s sponsors to shed extra cost for the hotel in Kuala Lumpur. KLM did not cover the additional expense.
Goodx and Cartwheel thanked those who extended support for Belco during her ordeal.
“Thank you to everyone for speaking up for Arjean. Your personal calls and inquiries, tweets, posts, shares, ‘likes’, emails, text and private messages have helped her immensely,” they added.
The post did not mention how they overcame the problem but noted that Luis Petzhold of Goodx went to Malaysia, met with a KLM official there and “discussed ways for KLM to move in the right direction.”
Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij N.V., known by its initials KLM, is the flag carrier airline of the Netherlands.
Belco is a daughter of a peasant couple in Tinaytayan, San Miguel, Talakag. She has five siblings.
A scholar at the Pamulaan Center for Indigenous Peoples’ Education in Davao City, Belco said she dreams of becoming “a successful professional teacher someday. I want to (raise) my community and family from poverty, to live with courage and to discover the true value of life.” (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)