"I can testify to what UNICEF means to children, because I was among those who received food and medical relief right after World War II," said actress Audrey Hepburn on her appointment as a Goodwill Ambassador in 1989. "I have a long-lasting gratitude and trust for what UNICEF does." As a result of her work for UNICEF over subsequent years, that gratitude is mutual.
On a mission
Soon after becoming a UNICEF ambassador, Hepburn went on a mission to Ethiopia, where years of drought and civil strife had caused terrible famine. After visiting UNICEF emergency operations, she talked about the projects to the media in the United States, Canada and Europe over several weeks, giving as many as 15 interviews a day. It set a precedent for her commitment to the organization.
In the years that followed, Hepburn made a series of UNICEF field trips, visiting a polio vaccine project in Turkey, training programmes for women in Venezuela, projects for children living and working on the street in Ecuador, projects to provide drinking water in Guatemala and Honduras and radio literacy projects in El Salvador. She saw schools in Bangladesh, projects for impoverished children in Thailand, nutrition projects in Viet Nam and camps for displaced children in Sudan.
Hepburn also worked tirelessly for UNICEF when not making field trips. She testified before the US Congress, took part in the World Summit for Children, launched UNICEF's State of the World's Children reports, hosted Danny Kaye International Children's Award ceremonies, designed fundraising cards, participated in benefit concert tours and gave many speeches and interviews promoting UNICEF's work.
Hepburn received the United States' highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in December 1992. During that year, though ill with cancer, she had continued her work for UNICEF, travelling to Somalia, Kenya, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, France and the United States.
Audrey Hepburn was born on 4 May 1929 in Brussels, Belgium. Her father was an English banker and her mother a Dutch baroness. She studied ballet, but a small part in a French film led the French writer Colette to ask her to play the title role in Gigi, which Collette had adapted for Broadway. The same year, Hepburn landed the starring role in the movie Roman Holiday, with Gregory Peck, the first of a long list of American movie classics in which she starred.
Towards the end of the 1960s Hepburn retired from films to devote herself to family life, emerging only for a handful of films in the 1970s and 1980s. She devoted the final years of her life to UNICEF.
"She knew better than anyone else that the recompense for such work lies in the eyes of those in need of succour," Sir Peter Ustinov wrote in the European. "It is they who bring it home, in all its simplicity, that such work is worthwhile."
Audrey Hepburn died at her home in Switzerland on 20 January 1993.