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Tom Hiddleston’s Guinea field diary: Back in London

– Copied from UNICEF UK Blog: http://blogs.unicef.org.uk/ Great blog for varying types of news from social sector.
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So that’s it.

I’m back in London. I am back in my home. Back amid the hustle and the bustle. Back amid the humdrum and the mayhem and the madness. Back to running water and the warmth of central heating. Back to a bed without a mosquito net. Back to food in the fridge and food in the cupboard and food around the corner in the supermarket.

I’ve seen things I have never seen before.

When I started writing this blog, I talked of life in Guinea as a “jigsaw puzzle, one where the pieces keep moving or changing shape, which in turn alters the picture. You might be looking at it from a different angle, or at a different time of day”. On my first night, Julien had suggested an idea of reality in Guinea as “open to interpretation”. In so many respects, that is true of all life. The view always changes with the viewer. That’s the law of relativity.

Here’s what’s not open to interpretation. Every year in the world more than two million children die of hunger. It shouldn’t be like this. Children in Guinea start life at a severe disadvantage. Those that are malnourished may survive in the end. If they are caught in time. If their mothers respond to symptoms early enough; if they make it to the centre de santé, which is often miles away; if they respond to the therapeutic peanut paste, and special therapeutic feeding milk. If their parents are able to grow crops and feed them with enough nutritious foods so they can keep healthy. If they win the fight against malaria. If they live near a good school. If they can get work. If their parents can protect them from exploitation by the military. If they are lucky. Previously malnourished children can make it. It sounds paradoxical to say it, but they are the lucky ones.

Malnourished children grow up at a disadvantage. They will be physically smaller, possibly with diminished intellectual capacity. Their brains and bodies won’t develop in the same way. Of course, there is always a chance that through hard work, education, training, and strength of will any individual can and will progress to great achievement. But these children start so far behind. The race of life – the race for life – is infinitely longer and infinitely harder. Every day there are challenges to their survival and development. Context is important. I’ve been privileged enough to have seen that context at first hand. They live in the middle of nowhere. There is no water. There is poor sanitation. There is a shortage of food. There is lack of education. Conditions are inconceivably hard: they are incredible, until you have seen them with your own eyes, until you have lived in their midst, even for the shortest while.

Before my visit to Guinea, I knew that global hunger and malnutrition was a problem. But the issue was only academic in my mind. When you’ve seen malnourished children with your own eyes and their disadvantaged start in life, a moral imperative compels you to act and becomes impossible to ignore.

In the west, we take our simplest privileges for granted. Many have said this before me; and many will say it after me. It’s still true. In the very poorest regions of West Africa you can forget about a nice shower or warm bath at the end of a long day. About flushing the loo, or even having a loo to flush. You can forget about turning on a tap. About dashing round to the shop to buy newspapers, a bar of chocolate and some washing powder. In Guinea, people walk 15 miles to the river to wash their clothes. Washing your clothes takes all morning. You don’t just ‘put a wash on’.

I am no saviour. I’m absolutely the last person on the planet who can practically help. I don’t know how to make the different types of therapeutic feeding milk. I’m no chemist. I’m no doctor. I’m no engineer. I can’t manufacture polio vaccines or organise their transportation to the health centres in Saramoussayah or Bissikirima. I can’t build schools, or design drainage systems. I can’t provide the women and children of Mandiana with water.

I’m just an actor. Interestingly, there’s no such thing as an ‘actor’ in Guinea. It simply doesn’t register as an occupation. I heard tell of the ‘griot’: the term used in West Africa to describe the storyteller, the poet, the bard. But at the schools I visited when I asked children what they wanted to be when they grew up the answers were “teacher”, “minister of education”, “plumber”, “electrician”, “carpenter”, “teacher”, “teacher” and “teacher”. Many even said they wanted to work for UNICEF.

The people who are really helping are those on the ground. They are heroic, and mostly if not entirely unsung. Julien Harneis, the resident representative of UNICEF in Guinea and our guide, is a man of extraordinary learning, experience, energy, curiosity and kindness. It’s his job to divide UNICEF’s financial and medical resources and to make sure those plans and policies get real results in the field. It’s his job to coordinate with the Guinean government and local authorities so that advances in both the humanitarian and developmental imperatives of the country rise in parallel. He is helped by Felix Ackebo, his deputy, by women like Michele Akan Badarou, his communications specialist, by Dr Pierre Andou, his nutrition specialist. It’s people like Idrissa Souaré, Chief of the East, and Mariame Kanka Labe Diallo, the directrice professionelle de santé of Saramoussayah, who made such a lasting impression on me. I’ll never forget her face as long as I live. These are the people who are doing the work, day in, day out. This work is not morose or maudlin. It is joyful.

Then there is Pauline Llorca and Louise O’Shea, indefatigable, inspirational and ceaselessly kind, and their team at UNICEF UK in London, who work so tirelessly and with such passion to promote, develop, and implement UNICEF’s policies and programmes all over the world. It is to them that I owe an eternal debt of gratitude. It is they who allowed me the privilege of visiting Guinea. They made it possible.

What I learned in Guinea is that we are all responsible for the state of our world. The world – and the system by which we trade, share, cooperate and conflict – is clearly not working. We are only as strong as our weakest members. UNICEF is run at every level by strong, relentlessly energetic, deeply capable people who use that strength, energy and capability to help those who need it most: the weakest, most disadvantaged women and children of our world. All I can do now is help make people aware of what is happening, of what they are doing. That is all that I can do. For now.

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Celebrities Volunteering and Giving Back – Angelina Jolie

Celebrities Volunteering and Giving Back – Angelina Jolie

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Angelina Jolie

In the movie, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Mrs. Smith reluctantly reveals to her husband Mr. Smith that she lied about being in the Peace Corp. Visibly annoyed, Mr. Smith flares up and shouts, “I really liked that about you!” Off screen, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt seem to be the happiest couple in Hollywood although Angelina is not working for Peace Corp. In fact, she is doing so much more in reality. Aside from adopting a daughter from Ethiopia and giving birth to another in Namibia, both Brad and Angelina have spent some serious time and money on causes in Africa.

1. What inspired Angelina Jolie

When Angelina Jolie was in Cambodia to film “Tom Raider” she wasn’t just off raiding tombs and spending time with her little boy Maddox. Her interest in humanitarian affairs piqued during her stay in Cambodia. In an attempt to gather information on international trouble spot, Angelina contacted the United Nations High Commissioner. They set up a meeting and she decided to visit refugee camps around the world—an 18-day mission to Sierra Leone and Tanzania. Faced with the gruesome scene she witnessed, she said, “I was shocked by what I saw” In the end, she covered all costs related to her missions and shared the same rudimentary working and living conditions as UNHCR field staff on all of her visit.

2. As a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador

On 2001, Jolie was appointed as a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador at UNHCR headquarter in Geneva. Reflecting on her time spent with humanitarian field workers on her mission, she spoke, “We cannot close ourselves off to information and ignore the fact that millions of people are out there suffering. Honestly, I want to help. I don’t believe I feel differently from other people. I think we all want justice and equality, a chance for a life with meaning. All of us would like to believe that if we were in a bad situation, someone would help us.”

Ever since, Jolie has interrupted her busy schedule to be on field missions around the world. She represented UNHCR and the High Commissioner at the diplomatic level and engaged with others on global displacement issues. Not only did she facilitate solutions for people in need of help, she actively participated in the mission to visit refugees in more than 30 countries. She even volunteered to visit areas that are at war. Here is a list of some places she visited.

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  • 2004 – Darfur region of Sudan during the Darfur conflict
  • 2007 – Chad during its civil war
  • 2007, 2009 – Iraq during the Second Gulf War
  • 2008, 2011 – Afghanistan during the ongoing war
  • 2011 – Lybia during the Libyan revolution

3. What is she up to now?

After more than a decade of working as a Goodwill Ambassador, Jolie was promoted to the rank of Special Envoy of high Commissioner Antonio Guterres on April 17, 2012. As her new position, she represents the organization at the diplomatic level and will facilitate long-term solutions for large-scale crisis. “This is an exceptional position reflecting an exceptional role she has played for us,” said a UNHCR spokesman.

Jolie also uses her public profile to promote humanitarian causes through the mass media. Her book, Notes from My Travels, which was published with her film Beyond Borders is only a fraction of her works. Overtime, Jolie became more and more involved in her promotion of humanitarian causes, especially on a political level. She was an invited speaker at the World Economic Forum in Davos and also met with members of Congress to spread her thoughts.

In addition, she established several charitable organizations. In 2003, she founded the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation, which dedicates to community development and environmental conservation in Cambodia’s northwestern province. After three years, she partnered with the global Health committee to establish the Maddox Chivan Children’s Center–a daycare facility for children affected by HIV. That same year, she and Pitt founded the Jolie-Pitt Foundation to aid humanitarian causes worldwide. In 2008, she collaborated with Microsoft Coporation to establish Kids in Need of Defense, a pro bono movement of law firms, corporate law departments, NGOs and volunteers committed to providing legal counsel to unaccompanied immigrant children in the U.S. Finally, in 2010, she established the Jolie Legal Fellows Programme, which recruits lawyers to support governmental child protection efforts in Haiti.

It’s hard for me to doubt Jolie’s genuineness when it comes to volunteering and promoting humanitarian causes. What do you think? Are you inspired? Or are you still doubtful?

Please share your thoughts about her work with us.