71 years ago today, UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) was created by the United Nation’s General Assembly. Its purpose was to provide emergency food, clothing and health care to the children in countries that had been devastated in World War Two.
UNICEF is headquartered in New York City and now provides long-term humanitarian and developmental assistance to children and mothers in developing countries.
The following short history of UNICEF can be found on their web page.
- 1946 – Food to Europe… After World War II, European children face famine and disease. UNICEF is created in December 1946 by the United Nations to provide food, clothing and health care to them.
- 1953 – UNICEF becomes a permanent part of the UN…The UN General Assembly extends UNICEF’s mandate indefinitely. UNICEF begins a successful global campaign against yaws, a disfiguring disease affecting millions of children, and one that can be cured with penicillin.
- 1954 – Danny Kaye…The movie star Danny Kaye becomes UNICEF’s “Ambassador at Large.” His film, Assignment Children, about UNICEF’s work in Asia, is seen by more that 100 million people.
- 1965 – Nobel Peace Prize…UNICEF is awarded the 1965 Nobel Peace Prize “for the promotion of brotherhood among nations.”
- 2004 – Clay Aiken…UNICEF approached Clay after hearing about his involvement with his own charity.
Oct. 19, 2007, Blair Soden of ABC news wrote an article titled “How Involved Are Celebrity Charity Activists, and Do They Have Ulterior Motives?” The article was popular because there were some celebrities that were trying to get some publicity by saying they were involved in charity work.
Blair wrote a lot of positive information about Clay and how he became involved in UNICEF. The following is some of the article from SODEN. It really helped people understand what the UNICEF Ambassadors do and how they work within the tight rules and regulations of UNICEF.
Celebrities’ association with humanitarian aid organizations is nothing new. Danny Kaye was one of the first actors to join a charitable organization when he was named a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) in 1954. The comedian paved the way for other entertainers, among them Audrey Hepburn, Sarah Jessica Parker, David Beckham and Clay Aiken.
Lisa Szarkowski, who heads the ambassador program for Unicef said:
“Celebrities have the ear and attention of the public,” said Szarkowski. “They tend to command more attention than talking heads from our organization.”
Attention that leads to big bucks. Aiken asked fans to donate money to Unicef to help the children in Lebanon and raised more than $75,000 in 24 hours.
It’s not easy to be selected as a Unicef ambassador. The group sets high standards for celebrities to live up to.
“In terms of becoming an ambassador, it’s definitely a process,” said Szarkowski. “We like to work with people who are committed to the cause and the mission and to align themselves with us for the long term.”
Aiken made the cut when he was named a Unicef ambassador in 2004. The organization approached Aiken after hearing of his involvement with his own charity, the Bubel/Aiken foundation that helps young people with special needs.
Aiken said he felt obligated to help those in need.
“One of the most important responsibilities that you have if you’re answering to the public is that you try to use that position in a way that serves the people you’re trying to entertain,” said Aiken. “I think you have a responsibility when you realize you have kids watching you. … You can set an example to have kids doing drugs, or you can set an example to have kids helping their communities or their world.”
Despite some common misconceptions, celebrity representatives don’t just jet set off for a photo-op; they prepare for months before taking a trip.
“We prepare them pretty well,” said Szarkowski. “People don’t become ambassadors or supporters of ours unless they go through a process of learning about us and engaging with us.”
Celebrities sit through classes to learn about Unicef and all the various issues that threaten children’s survival around the world.
“We study as much as we possibly can before we go,” said Aiken. “And I study after I go, because I want to be an expert on it. I think it’s a disservice to the country you’re going to and the children you’re trying to help if you don’t know what’s going on and can’t speak knowledgably about your experience.’
Aiken said the preparation is necessary in order to meet with health ministers and other officials on these trips.
“It wouldn’t behoove anyone if we just went in to take pictures and came back,” said Aiken. “The goal of all these visits and the reason we sit through extremely long sessions sometimes is so when we come back we know what we’re talking about.”
Aiken didn’t know what to expect during his first visit to Uganda. He walked into the minimalist community center, where he expected nobody to know his name. Suddenly, he was greeted with bows from the crowd.
“When we walked in, they kept calling me your excellency,” laughed Aiken. “I think both visits we’ve been on there have been misconceptions about how important I am.”
All joking aside, no matter how famous — or infamous — a celebrity is, celebrity support is essential.
But with so many problem areas across the globe, how do celebrities decide which country they want to visit? For most, the decision is made based on where the greatest need is at that time.
“The celebrities we work with want to go where they can be most helpful,” said Szarkowski. “We’re fortunate to have that caliber of people who basically say to us, ‘Tell me where you want me to go.'”
In her eight years at Unicef, she said she’s never had a celebrity refuse to go where they were asked to go. And the places they’re asked to go certainly don’t come with luxe accommodations.
“It’s usually a tent somewhere.That’s our standard accommodation,” said Szarkowski.
Aiken and others pay their own way when they travel on behalf of Unicef. However, once they reach their destination, they don’t have the need for many expenses. Most nights they’re sleeping in tents on the ground.
In addition to the bare bones travel accommodations, celebrities must cope with extremely dangerous situations. In order to avoid conflict, Prendergast said every minute detail of the trip must be mapped out.
“These trips have to be planned very well to ensure maximum impact and security,” said Prendergast.
Aiken cautions, a focus on one organization or charity is important to the public.
“I get requests from every organization to come and do this or that,” said Aiken. “It’s not that I don’t have a passion for kids with cancer, because I do. I feel like you can dilute your message if you talk about too many things.”
“I look to Angelina Jolie as a prime example of someone who is doing an amazing job,” said Aiken. “She really has a passion and she goes in and makes a point to educate herself about what’s going on and that’s the only way to do it.”
Congratulations to UNICEF on your first 71 years.
You have made the world a better place for all children.
You were really smart when you chose Clay Aiken as an Ambassador.