|Vendela Thommessen visits the village of Manikganj. Bangladesh, 1997.|
Internationally known model and actress, Vendela Thommessen, was named a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador on 8 May 1996. Thommessen’s primary focus is on the vital issue of girls’ education. “I am excited about my new role with UNICEF, which will enable me to speak out to young people on the importance of education and motherhood,” she said on her appointment.
Witnessing UNICEF in action
Thommessen’s active support for UNICEF goes back to 1993, when she took part in a series of events commemorating the Day of the African Child in New York. In 1997, she undertook her first UNICEF mission, to Bangladesh and India, where, she met government officials and visited a wide range of projects, including the Mukhti ashram in New Delhi, a transitory rehabilitation and vocational training centre for children freed from bonded labour.
Thommessen visited Bolivia in 1999 and Nepal in 2002. She participated in the presidential launch of the Basic Health Insurance system in Bolivia, which will help address the problems of child and maternal mortality. Thommessen also visited projects to reduce child malnutrition and promote women’s literacy. In Nepal she focused on girls’ education, visiting a UNICEF-supported project on safe motherhood as well as some child-centred out-of-school programmes.
In between these trips Thommessen has dedicated large amounts of her time to supporting a series of fundraising and advocacy projects for UNICEF in both Europe and the USA.
|Vendela Thommessen plays pat-a-cake' with a girl at a primary school in New Delhi. India, 1997.|
Listening to children
While participating in events surrounding the United Nations Special Session on Children in May 2002, Thommessen talked about her work for UNICEF.
“Listening to children is so important,” she said. “When we listen to children, we often learn that what they want and need is quite different and sometimes more important than the things that adults decide for them. That is why the Special Session for Children is so exciting. The United Nations has decided not just to talk about children but to listen to children. Important changes can happen because of this.
“In Nepal I visited a village where, in two years, school children had persuaded almost the entire community to install latrines. The children explained to the parents how this could help to save lives and they were very successful in getting the message across. It was so impressive.”
Thommessen’s future plans include working closely with the Norwegian committee for UNICEF and the UNICEF office in Nepal, to help raise funds for their work.
Born in Sweden, Thommessen was discovered by the modelling agent Eileen Ford at the age of 13. After graduating from school she moved to Italy to pursue a highly successful international modelling career, representing Elizabeth Arden and Revlon, among others. In June 1997, she made her feature-film debut, appearing with Arnold Schwarzenegger as ‘Mrs. Freeze’ in Batman and Robin. She has also played a cameo role in the Disney remake of The Parent Trap and made guest appearances in several television series, including Murphy Brown, The Larry Sanders Show and The Muppet Show.