UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Danny Glover highlights children's rights in Colombia
By M.P. Nunan
Cartagena, Colombia, 23 November 2011 - In Colombia’s historic walled city of Cartagena, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Danny Glover is taking a horse and carriage ride.
His driver, Armando Franco, is more than just a driver. He’s taking part in “I Am the Wall,” a project by the non-governmental organization, the Renacer Foundation, supported by UNICEF.
Drawing its inspiration from the city’s ramparts, Mr. Franco and others—including beachside vendors and shopkeepers—have been trained to spot any signs of the commercial sexual exploitation or abuse of children, and if they see them, to alert the authorities. In many cases, arrests, based on tips by “I Am the Wall” participants, have resulted in the successful convictions of sex-crime perpetrators.
“Just from the vantage point of driving around this city, you really understand the value of him and others like him in really putting a dent in this whole sex trade,” says Mr. Glover. “He’s vital to it, essential to it.”
Sex tourism “is beginning to fade away,” Mr. Franco says. “And since we’ve been working for a few years now, we see it seldom. The bad guys spread the word around.”
Private enterprise support
A world-renowned actor and humanitarian, Mr. Glover has been a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador since 2004. He recently spent three days in Colombia to lend his voice to UNICEF’s call for private enterprise to support the welfare of the country’s children.
“There are two Colombias,” says UNICEF Representative in Colombia Miriam de Figueroa. “There is the one that has been prosperous. The one that has been growing, in terms of economics. But also we have the other Colombia, the one that shows tremendous inequities within each population and within the Afro-descendants, the indigenous the ones that live in the rural areas in the country.”
That inequity, combined with ethnic divisions and Colombia’s lingering civil conflict, has led to the formation of armed groups, criminal syndicates and drug-trafficking networks which actively try to recruit young people.
And that’s one of the reasons Mr. Glover chose to lend his support.
“And certainly here, in Colombia, a middle-income country, there are many ways in which we want various communities to embrace the work around children, with a spirit of responsibility,” Mr. Glover says.
On-stage in a sports facility in the city of Medellin, Mr. Glover stands before an audience of 300 young athletes and hundreds of others rapt with attention. He’s opening Colombia’s first national tournament in “Golombiao.”
“I and my partners with UNICEF welcome the opportunity to be with you to kick off, to begin this game of peace with the most popular sport in the world – soccer!” Mr. Glover says.
Promoting understanding through sport
There is no score-keeping in “Golombiao.” Rather, the players rate themselves and each other on their ability to play soccer while adhering to seven principles, including freedom of expression, non-violence and gender-equality.
The eight-player teams must be evenly divided between boys and girls. And a girl must score the first goal for each team. At the end of the game, the players determine which team should be declared the winner.
“Golombiao” player Lenin Esteban Garcia, 19, says he hasn’t been directly pressured by any armed groups to join them, but friends are another matter.
“My friends have said it’s good to join them, they give you money and all that,” Garcia says. “But in my spirit, I know that it’s not right, so I’m not joining those groups. I’m staying with my studies.”
Closing his visit, Mr. Glover also attended the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding by UNICEF’s de Figueroa and Colombia’s Head of the Social Sector, Samuel Azout. The "Signature of the Strategic Plan on Social Responsibility and Children, as a Public/ Private Commitment,” reaffirms UNICEF’s and the government’s commitment with support of the private enterprise to support the welfare of children.