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With Greater Purpose

Operation Impact

Yacht Aid Global is a nonprofit dedicated to mobilising the yachting industry for disaster relief and recovery, humanitarian aid, and conversation efforts across the globe. And, as one of Yacht Aid Global’s coalition partners, Y.CO sponsors its team members to help create impact in the places that need it most.

It’s a bright, warm June day in Suceava, a town of 85,000 inhabitants in northeastern Romania. Volunteers are packing sterilising equipment, saline solution and children’s medicines into boxes, some already marked on the front with an address: Mariupol State Hospital. Others are helping to prepare for a blood drive at the local blood bank. A few miles away, on the outskirts of town, more volunteers lend a hand in one of the town’s temporary refugee camps, dedicated to providing displaced Ukrainians with a place to sleep, as well as three meals a day.

Suceava was once the capital of the Principality of Moldavia, and later a bustling commercial border town under the administration of the Hapsburg Empire. Its strategic location at the crossroads of Central and Eastern Europe has put Suceava on the global map since the Middle Ages. But while Suceava County also happens to border Ukraine to the north and is home to one of the major border crossings between Ukraine and Romania, it is now – to the 40,000 Ukrainian refugees who have arrived there since the start of the Russia-Ukraine war – more significant than ever.

Of these 40,000 people, mostly women, children and the elderly, 5,000 have been granted temporary residence and protection in Suceava City itself. Such a rapid influx of displaced people, requires, of course, an equally rapid influx of volunteers to support them. Many of these volunteers are Romanian – devoting their time and resources to help the Ukrainian people, alongside working their regular jobs. Others have come from further afield as part of different initiatives. One of these initiatives is Operation Soni, run by Yacht Aid Global. And three of Operations Soni’s volunteers, in the summer of 2023, were Y.CO team members Ines Hager, India Cumming, Lizi Jukes.

From funding, to hands-on team member involvement, to whole yacht and yacht crew disaster response, work with Yacht Aid Global can be as varied as it is vital.

“When I first received the email about the chance to participate in Operation Soni, it was an instant decision for me,” says Yacht Charter Coordinator India Cumming. “I knew I wanted to go out to Suceava and help in whatever way I was able.” Soon India and her three teammates were making their respective journeys from London or Monaco to the northeast of Romania, hoping to make their own small but significant contribution to the lives of Ukrainians. But not knowing, exactly, what to expect.

As it turned out, every day in Suceava was different – sometimes challenging, sometimes rewarding, but no two hours were the same. One day was spent packing kits containing food, toiletries and clean clothes for Ukrainian refugees, another organising deliveries of medicine back to the under-siege cities they had left behind. A third day was spent helping Ukrainian children to learn English, by watching and sharing thoughts on presentations the children had compiled about their hometown.

“The optimism and resilience of these kids was extraordinary,” says Online Content Manager Ines Hager. “If a child was from Dnipro, they weren’t dwelling on missile attacks. They were proudly showing us pictures of places they loved, like the ice cream stall they went to with their brothers, and telling us how excited they were to go home.”

There were challenging moments, certainly. The most challenging perhaps being the morning they first arrived at Suceava’s main refugee camp and faced the stark reality of just how many people had had to leave everything they knew behind them. But there were also moments of happiness, and even joy.

“One of the most memorable afternoons was spent dancing and painting with residents at a local care home for adults with disabilities, as part of a fair to celebrate their creative talents,” says Lizi Jukes, from the Charter Accounts team. “Everyone had a lot of fun.” Ines also describes the radiant smiles on the faces of the children in the camp when the Operation Soni team arrived with a truckload of toys. “I gave a boy a ball”, she says, “and I’ll never forget the way he just beamed at me, before skipping away to go and play with it.” For India, one of her most memorable moments was seeing the joyful reaction of the women to a delivery of hairbrushes and hairbands. “Helpful little things, like the ability to suddenly tie your child’s hair in a ponytail, were often the ones that made all the difference.”

“I gave a boy a ball, and I’ll never forget the way he just beamed at me, before skipping away to go and play with it.”

Ines Hager

Perhaps the thing that moved the three Y.CO team members the most, however, was the kindness and collaboration shown by the people of Romania. “Their generosity was unending, and completely without agenda”, says India. “They worked together to give their time, their care, and their resources, with nothing much of their own in the first place.” This collective culture of kindness inspired the Y.CO team greatly, and brought them closer together. “Each night, we’d have dinner together and share stories from the day,” says Lizi. “We’d discuss what we found hard, what made us smile, or what improvements we could make the next day.” And while they began the week as teammates from two different Y.CO offices, they came home as friends.

Operation Soni is just one way in which Y.CO is supporting the vital work of Yacht Aid Global, and just one example of how it is now committed to sponsoring team members to take time away from their day job to volunteer on the ground. Different yachts in the Y.CO fleet, and the crews that keep those yachts moving, can also participate in these programmes, and Y.CO’s Yacht Management team has received specialist training from Yacht Aid Global to be able to coordinate this.

From funding, to hands-on team member involvement, to whole yacht and yacht crew disaster response, work with Yacht Aid Global can be as varied as it is vital. Other recent Yacht Aid Global initiatives have included Operation Swimway, focused on conserving critical migration corridors for sharks, manta rays, whales and sea turtles in French Polynesia, and Operation Viti, providing sustainable clean drinking water and build-back-better programs in Fiji.

So far, Yacht Aid Global has engaged 300+ yachts across 250+ projects over 25+ countries in timely, agenda-free initiatives, of which Operation Soni was just one of many. And in the coming months and years, there will be more opportunities for Y.CO team members to get involved. Opportunities to help provide aid, alleviate suffering, save lives and protect the environment. Opportunities to help turn the notion of purposeful yachting from an industry ideal, to a reality we can all be a part of.