Aviation Editor, Sydney
It was not his reason for taking the trip to Addis Ababa during a break from his job as an Emirates Airbus A330/340 captain, but it was to change his life.
“I was always interested historically in Ethiopia and went there just out of interest on a day off,” Mr Hucker said.
“In those days, Emirates didn’t fly there, so I went with Ethiopian Airlines in a 737, which was an experience in itself. I loved the country, but I saw a lot of children on the street and, being a father, it really touched me.
“Through a series of events, I ended up working for an orphanage and saw kids basically pass away from AIDS.
Retro antiviral drugs were available, but they couldn’t afford the $20 a month. “I thought, ‘Wow, here I am living in Dubai and flying around the world and just down the road, a four-hour flight, this is going on’. ’’
Now working for Tigerair Australia and based in Victoria, Mr Hucker is chief executive of Beyond the Orphanage, a charity he founded to help some of the nation’s 4.5 million orphans, 800,000 of whom have lost both parents to AIDS.
Initially, his focus was on the orphanage, but that work highlighted the challenges of institutionalising children and he believed there must be a better way of doing things. “I set about looking for experts throughout the world to help develop a model, because as a pilot my skills are quite specialised,’’ he said.
“And from that we developed the Beyond the Orphanage model … where each child basically grows up in a family home, not an institution.
“The organisation will look after that child in conjunction with the family, the community and the government.’’
The charity, registered in 2007, finances the children’s keep, healthcare and education to degree or diploma standard.
Many have gone on to good jobs or started businesses.
Mr Hucker is now offering aviation industry members a chance to support the charity and grab some time in a simulator.
The RAAF has donated an hour in a Hawk lead-in fighter simulator under the guidance of air force officers while Ansett Aviation Training is offering two hours in an A320 simulator guided by Mr Hucker.
Flights from capital city airports to Melbourne or Sydney are included, with the prizes to be drawn on December 20 (details at www.beyondtheorphanage.org).
Mr Hucker returns to Ethiopia four times a year and has seen encouraging signs in the country, with rising infrastructure investment, mainly from China, and antiviral drugs now available free.
“There is still huge poverty, huge challenges with the children,’’ he said. “The development is a double-edged sword, because with it comes with some challenges, but there’s definitely an improving trend.’’