Q&A with Gary Valenciano, UNICEF National Ambassador
1. Why did you decide to join UNICEF?
Before all the other children's organizations existed, I was already aware of UNICEF. Though not totally knowledgeable about it back then, I knew it stood for something I could see myself being a part of. And then the first offer came in the early 90's to do a fund raising campaign and concert for UNICEF and immediately I agreed. I had already done a number of fund raisers for and with UNICEF prior to my becoming officially a part of this family.
It was in 1997/98 when the invite came in for me to represent UNICEF as its Ambassador for the Philippines. Being a father, I had the burden for the cause of children's rights, and I wanted to contribute in any way in order to reach out especially to the Filipino children in remote areas. I have no regrets, just a vision that one day through the recruitment of more Champions for Children (donors) and sharing the mission of the group to them, we could touch the hearts and change the lives of other children and make the world a better place for them to live in.
2. What is the most memorable/ touching experience you've had since you joined UNICEF Philippines?
There are many events and people I have met in areas that have either been struck with a calamity (Leyte, Albay) or areas wherein poverty has pushed families to abuse their own children. I can't possibly pinpoint and say that one experience has been the most memorable because all the experiences had what it took to change a person from deep within.
Let me just name a few however that have left an impact in me. My trip to the Mountain Province, where all the children prepared an open air program for the afternoon only to have the rains pour down. Though their presentation was cancelled due to the heavy rain, it didn't dampen anyone's spirit. We found out we couldn't head back to our hotel because of a landslide so we had to stay a little longer and so we set up the same sound system in a much smaller classroom type room wherein we fit all 60 or so children inside. The rain poured but the music began and I ended up singing about eight songs for these children and their guardians. It was a very intimate and meaningful moment with these mountain folk.
Another event I will not forget is my trip to the Bicol region after the landslides from Mt. Mayon (due to Typhoon Reming) devastated many communities and took many lives. Then there were those moments when I met young people who had come in conflict with the law and other young girls who had been abused and yet they would continue to show their excitement in meeting a television personality that they would perform their utmost best from the moment I stepped down from the car to the time I said goodbye.
Eastern Samar, Kidapawan North Cotabato, Cebu, Baseco Tondo, Sitio Avocado, Davao, Ginsaugon Leyte, daycare centers in Manila and Baguio City--all these places have stories untold and stories that need to be heard.
3. What do you enjoy most about your work with UNICEF Philippines?
It's the excitement in knowing that somehow you are leaving a lasting mark in these children that they perhaps will never forget. It's planting good seed on good soil that you know will eventually produce good fruit. It's also encouraging to know and see how others get involved once they see the impact it has on the children.
But nothing will ever beat meeting many of the children and talking to them face to face. Talk about brightening up one's world. You may say many things to help them learn and know that you're there for them and all they have to do is smile and that's it ... your day is made.
4. What's your thank you message for the donors or “Champions” of UNICEF Philippines.
I am privileged and honored to be an ambassador for UNICEF. However, the need is great and the huge goals that UNICEF wants to achieve can only be fulfilled with the support of many more like you who would want to catch the vision of a better life for every Filipino child. A chance to a better education, a better home, better health conditions, a better family. It is because of many souls like you who have realized that if you have a heart for children you have the potential to champion their causes. To be their Champ!
I personally would like to thank all those who have made that step, that commitment, that decision to be a Champion for Children. You may never experience what I have gone through with these children but it was never meant to be based on our experiences but about what we can make these children experience--living life to the fullest and best way possible. Can this be done? My friends, if we continue, I know we will see our efforts bear fruit. I encourage you to encourage others to become Champions for Children as well.
Thank you for joining us in this major endeavor. Thank you for believing in what UNICEF stands for. Thank you for having children in your hearts and making that step in becoming a champion for them. Your contribution will probably impact their lives forever. May blessings beyond what you can contain be poured out upon you and your whole household.