[VIEWPOINT]Making a better world for children

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[VIEWPOINT]Making a better world for children

Black and white photos taken 60 years ago show Korean children, thin with hunger, waiting for food from relief workers or studying in the woods because their schools were destroyed in the war. That situation is not much different from that of children in poor African countries today. People in advanced European countries who now enjoy economic affluence, also suffered from poverty and hunger as children right after World War II.
Actress Audrey Hepburn, who devoted her later years to helping children in Latin America and Africa as a special ambassador of the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, said she was once a poor child who waited for relief food. The memories of her childhood, she said, moved her later on to help children facing hardships.
Since it was urgent to extend help to children without food and shelter after World War II, the United Nations General Assembly established the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund on Dec. 11, 1946.
The children’s fund was given the duty to provide relief to children in Europe and China. But children in need of help were everywhere in the global village. Therefore, Unicef’s mission has expanded to the whole world, gradually.
During Unicef’s 60 years, the lives of countless numbers of children have been saved.
Children have also gotten medical care and the chance for an education. Among them are children from different regions and cultures, including South Korea, North Korea, African countries and Asian minority tribes living in mountainous regions.
Most Korean people in my generation have the childhood memory of drinking milk distributed by Unicef. For Korean children who suffered from severe poverty after the Korean War, Unicef’s helping hands were warm and gratifying.
In the history of Unicef, South Korea is the only nation to have advanced from being a beneficiary to a donor to the organization. South Korea is one of the most shining achievements in Unicef’s history.
The poor country that once received a huge amount of relief goods has become an affluent country that can raise $14 million in relief funds annually from private contributions to help children in developing countries.
Since becoming a special ambassador to the Korean Committee for Unicef in 1993, I have met children in various countries. Among the places I have visited, the most unforgettable was a refugee camp of people from Somalia. There were so many dying people, it seemed like the eyes of the people there had no more tears left. I had the experience of holding a small child, who was about to die of malnutrition, in my arms. Mysteriously enough, the dying child’s eyes opened and the child smiled brightly.
I could not forget that smile for a long time. I remembered that smile, like a ray of hope, whenever I met children facing hardships in different corners of the world.
No matter the difficulty, children can be changed with the power of love.
We all have the power to bring change.
All people, belonging to all different social strata, from the international community, governments, businesses and civic groups down to children and youths, are protagonists who can bring changes.
In Unicef’s 60-year history, South Korea has become a model country. But there are many problems we must solve in the future.
As Unicef provides relief activities that transcend the barriers of race and national boundaries, our government has to provide international cooperation and aid appropriate to our status as the world’s 11th-largest economic power. In addition, we should adopt the open-mindedness of considering hungry children in remote countries as we give our own children in our own society.
Peter Ustinov, an actor who played the role of the Roman Emperor Nero, said, “It is not time for me to retire. I have a lot of things to do for the children of the world.” At the age of 77, Sir Peter, who served as a special ambassador to the Unicef fund for 35 years, showed a strong desire to work for the children.
Celebrating its anniversary, Unicef renews its pledge, that it will devote itself to working toward “the creation of a world where all children can live well.”

*The writer, an actor, is a special ambassador to the Korean Committee for Unicef.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Ahn Sung-ki

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