Jackie Chan at a press conference announcing his appointment as a UNICEF/UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassador.
PHNOM PENH, April 28 – Newly appointed UNICEF/UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassador Jackie Chan Wednesday wrapped up a busy three-day mission to Cambodia during which he played with HIV-positive children, blew up landmines, met Prime Minister Hun Sen and pledged to do “whatever I can do” to promote the cause of children.
The charismatic and popular action film star, know in Cambodia by his Chinese name, “Chhin Long”, was appointed a Goodwill Ambassador as his mission began on Monday. In his first official act as a Goodwill Ambassador, Chan had lunch with 30 young people affected by HIV/AIDS and visited an exhibit of life-sized self portraits they created to raise awareness on HIV/AIDS issues.
At a packed press conference on Monday afternoon, Chan told journalists he was “very touched” by the exhibit and what the young people had told him of their experiences. “I really want to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS and the discrimination against the victims of HIV/AIDS,” Chan said.
Although the epidemic has slowed in Cambodia, it remains one of the worst affected countries in Asia, with some 2.6 per cent of the population living with HIV/AIDS.
Chan, who has backed numerous charity efforts over the years, said he was fully committed to supporting the work of UNICEF and UNAIDS.
“Let me know whatever I can do, wherever I can go,” Chan said at the press conference. “I promise you I’ll do it.”
Chan had a 45-minute audience with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday morning, during which they discussed the impact of HIV/AIDS and landmines in Cambodia. In the meeting, Chan also raised the issue of traffic accidents and drowning, which now kill more children than landmines in Cambodia each year.
The audience with the Prime Minister was followed by a visit to NYMEO, a local NGO that provides care and support for women and children affected by HIV/AIDS through self help groups at a drop-in centre and in the local community.
On Wednesday, Chan taped a TV spot that promotes condom use to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. The TV spot, being produced by the BBC World Service trust as part of a larger HIV/AIDS and child health media campaign, features Chan and an animated condom character called “Loak Chuoy”. In the spot, Chan introduces Loak Chuoy as “another action hero” and says that “when it comes to HIV, even I need this guy’s help”.
For a public education campaign promoting the use of helmets by motorcyclists, Chen donned a helmet and posed for photographs aboard a motorcycle.
On Tuesday, Chan traveled to Siem Reap, home to Cambodia’s fabled Angkor Wat temple complex, to visit HIV/AIDS and landmine rehabilitation and awareness projects supported by UNICEF. At Wat Themy, a pagoda where Buddhist monks care for orphans and families affected by HIV/AIDS, Chan talked at length with the monks and staff members of Salvation Centre Cambodia, a local NGO, about their work. He also toured the facilities for families affected by HIV/AIDS, and embraced and played with several young children living with HIV/AIDS.
At the Provincial Rehabilitation Centre in Siem Reap, Chan was briefed by Handicap International on the landmine problem in Cambodia and shown how artificial limbs are fitted to landmine victims. Cambodia is home to an estimated 4-6 million landmines and has the highest per capita number of amputees in the world – one of every 350 people. At the centre, Chan looked on as several men and women who had lost limbs due to landmine explosions were trained how to walk, climb stairs and balance themselves on their new prosthesis.
At Preah Daek elementary school just outside the city of Siem Reap, Chan and an enthusiastic crowd of several hundred children watched as a small group of schoolchildren presented short and amusing skits aimed at building awareness of landmines and how to avoid injury from them.
One of the skits featured a big boy beating up a much smaller boy, who unexpectedly ran up to Chan and begged for his assistance. Chan happily began acting in the skit, telling the smaller boy he could teach him martial arts, but that “martial arts are only to protect yourself, not for fighting”. He told the bigger boy that “I can teach you to be stronger, but when you are strong you must use your strength only to help those that are weaker, and not for fighting”.
A couple of kilometers from the school, Chan inspected examples of the various kinds of landmines and UXOs (unexploded ordinance) that have been unearthed in Siem Reap and other heavily mined provinces in the northwest of the country. Then, with the assistance of a demining team from the Cambodia Mine Action Committee (CMAC), he pushed the detonator for the controlled destruction of one anti-tank and six anti-personnel mines. The force of the explosion sent dirt and debris more than 50 meters into the air, surprising nearly everyone, including Chan.
Despite temperatures that exceeded 41 degrees Celsius (106 degrees Fahrenheit), the ever-energetic Chan led his team and a pack of steadily wilting journalists on visits to Siem Reap’s ancient Bayon and Angkor Wat temples. At Angkor Wat, Chan accommodated photo requests from dozens of people – as he did throughout the entire mission – and soon had a couple of hundred tourists tagging along as he toured the temple galleries.
Chan may be making a return visit to Cambodia in the near future. During Monday’s press conference, he said half jokingly that he was thinking about putting together a script related the landmine problem in Cambodia. The possibility of his doing a film in Cambodia was also raised in the meeting with the Prime Minister, who suggested that the film focus on Cambodia’s “hidden killers” – HIV/AIDS and landmines – and offered Chan his government’s assistance and cooperation.
For further information, please contact:
Mark Thomas, UNICEF Cambodia, (855 23) 426 214 (ext. 206) Patrick McCormick, UNICEF EAPRO: 662 356 9407, 661 906 0813 Dominique De Santis, UNAIDS, Geneva, (41 22) 791 4509