A Kiwi hot air balloon pilot entrepreneur has launched his ‘Flying High’ project in spectacular style this week, marking the start of a New Zealand-wide tour promoting the importance of education, innovation and sustainability to Year 5-11 students at low decile and rural schools.

Andrew Parker, 37, took to the skies at Maromaku and Oturu Schools in Northland, providing rides to 120 children as part of an interactive education programme. His next stop today is Rawene Primary in the Hokianga.

‘Flying High’ is the brainchild of Andrew, former owner of the Hamilton-based Kiwi Balloon Company and the director and visionary behind the global Flying High For Kids (FHFK) not-for-profit project.

FHFK combined Parker’s passion for flying and desire to highlight the importance of accessible education for children around the world. His epic five-year adventure began in 2014 and by 2019 he had flown his balloon at schools and events in 87 countries, many of them third-world or developing nations. Working with various international children’s organisations like UNICEF, he reached more than 60,000 children, achieved international media coverage, and became Number 1 on Lonely Planet’s ‘Epic Journeys around the World 2017’.

Parker’s new Kiwi-based project follows a similar theme. He hopes to use his hot air balloon and powerful stories of his adventures as an interactive way for children to create a personal connection between careers and STEAM learning (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics), hopefully inspiring and empowering them to join the next generation of sustainable innovators.

“The New Zealand government has identified STEAM subjects as being important for the future of the country and it’s predicted that almost all future jobs will require some STEAM knowledge,” said Parker.

“However Māori, Pasifika and rural schools in particular are under-represented in the uptake of STEAM careers.

“Making learning more accessible and creating pathways for future job security are key to changing that dynamic so I wanted to see how I could use my skills and experience to help. My career choices have been unconventional but sustainable innovation and STEAM learning have really helped me. I’ve followed my childhood dream and worked hard to make it a reality so I’m hoping I can encourage others to do so too.”

To help guide the project and develop a wrap-around programme to increase STEAM uptake in low decile and rural schools, Parker formed a Trust and brought in six board members to seek their expertise in Mātauranga Māori, environment, education, science and finance.

The six-month NZ School Roadshow aims to reach 30 schools and more than 6,000 students. The team is also planning school holiday events for young people in the Taranaki region, in co-operation with Sustainable Taranaki, and will participate in Hamilton’s Balloons Over Waikato which attracts 130,000 people annually.

More Flying High initiatives are set to roll out in time. These include collaborating with education providers, businesses and government to further research and promote sustainable innovation and STEAM learning and showcasing the work of sustainably innovative companies, people and community groups.

Parker said he’d been “brewing” a project involving education, innovation and sustainability for a while as a way of giving something back to his own country.

“I was working overseas when COVID hit and came home just before lockdown to be with my family. That’s when I started fully focusing on fleshing out a New Zealand-based Flying High project – I really want to help Kiwi kids create a stronger, more sustainable future for themselves and their communities.

“I love getting kids to think creatively about environmentally sustainable living and how they can be part of the solution. My research into making a hot air balloon more sustainable starts a conversation about personal changes they can make in their everyday lives and ends up talking about the activities they love the most and what they might like to do as a future career.”

Parker is not waiting for funding to start his new project, he’s using the funds from the sale of his truck that he drove around the world in to start his new venture.

“Sometimes you have to put your money where your mouth is,” Parker says, “I’ve been so busy with the preparation of the project that I haven’t had a lot of time to seek funds. Given the hugely positive response by schools, I believe there’s a need for a project like this and I’m a firm believer in less talking, more doing.”

For more information about Andrew, the project and the schools involved, visit www.flyinghighproject.com. Andrew and his support crew will post updates on Instagram (flyinghighprojectnz) and Facebook www.facebook.com/flyinghighproject as they travel New Zealand.

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