|© UNICEF HQ/2007/Berkwitz|
|Executive Director Ann M. Veneman accepted a commemorative plaque on behalf of UNICEF’s more than 8,000 staff members from the Minister of Foreign and Political Affairs of San Marino, H.E. Fiorenzo Stolfi.|
By Kun Li
NEW YORK, USA, 2 February 2007 – The Republic of San Marino last night honoured UNICEF for being a leading advocate for children over the past 60 years.
Through the San Marino Permanent Mission to the United Nations, the world's oldest republic also paid tribute to a Belizean children’s group known as My Neighbours and Me, which received the San Marino-UNICEF Award in recognition of its extraordinary work in one of the many poor areas of Belize City.
The event, held at the Pierre Hotel in New York City, was hosted by H.E. Mr. and Mrs. Fiorenzo Stolfi, Minister of Foreign and Political Affairs of San Marino, and H.E. Daniele D. Bodini, Permanent Representative to the United Nations. UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman accepted a commemorative plaque on behalf of the organization’s more than 8,000 staff members worldwide.
Ms. Veneman noted that children make up a significant percentage of the world’s hungry, homeless, illiterate, exploited and displaced – placing them at the heart of the Millennium Development Goals. She went on to acknowledge the dedication of UNICEF’s staff and the work of its partner, My Neighbours and Me, in helping to protect Belizean children against crime, violence, drugs and the spread of HIV/AIDS.
|© UNICEF Belize/2007/Kun Li|
|Children gather at the headquarters of My Neighbours and Me, which provided safe space and learning opportunities for disadvantaged children in the South-Side area of Belize City.|
Choosing to make a difference
Founded two years ago by brothers Herbert and Ashman Wiltshire, then 18 and 13, My Neighbours and Me provides safe space and positive developmental opportunities for disadvantaged children throughout their community.
“My neighbourhood is neither scenic nor developed, and is indeed a centralized area of poverty and crime,” Herbert said, explaining the thinking behind the group’s creation. “Children growing up here are rarely exposed to productive activities. There are a lot of teen pregnancies, guns and violence.
“So we had a choice: following others into drugs and crimes, turning to sex as a way of making money or trying to make a difference.”
Recreation and education
With UNICEF’s support and inspiration from the ‘Xchange’ programme, an adolescent protection network operating throughout the Caribbean region, the brothers formed My Neighbours and Me right in their own small backyard. Having started out with just a few children, the group has now grown to more than 50 participants.
|© UNICEF Belize/2007/Kun Li|
|Children sharpen their dancing skills on a simple stage built by the Wiltshire brothers – Herbert, 20, and Ashman, 18 – founders of My Neighbours and Me.|
Every Saturday, children of all ages – some trekking long distances – gather at the Wiltshire home to participate in recreational and educational activities such as karaoke, dancing, drawing and learning how to use computers.
“Our backyard has become a safe congregating area for the neighbourhood children,” said Ashman. “We are making sure that the children not only find joy and laughter here, but are also connected to a trusted person, with whom they can talk about abuse and sexual exploitation, the pressure of having sex or doing crimes, and discuss how to protection themselves from diseases such as HIV.”
‘Beyond our neighbourhood’
As the winner of the San Marino-UNICEF Award, My Neighbours and Me has received $20,000 to help carry on their work. Through a video presentation shown at last night’s event, the children thanked the UN Mission and people of San Marino for their generosity.
“With your support, we can continue our work, reach more children and expand My Neighbours and Me beyond our neighbourhood,” said the group.
“They are an inspiration in a Belize undermined by deep poverty and disparities,” said UNICEF Representative in Belize Rana Flowers, whose office has been working with the children for the past two years. “When we work with young people, we are inspired by a drive to see their rights respected, to see them as meaningful actors in bringing about real change.
“But it is only when you really engage with them, stand back so that they can pick up the reins, that you see what they are really capable of – their energy and commitment, passion and responsibility,” continued Ms. Flowers. “And the results they achieve are simply stunning.”
To learn more or support My Neighbours and Me, please e-mail email@example.com.