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Goodwill Ambassador Agnes Chan reflects on visit to Somalia

© UNICEF Japan/2010/Kaneko
UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador for Japan Agnes Chan visits a primary school in Somalia’s Statehouse Camp for displaced people, which was built by UNICEF with support from donor countries including Japan.

TOKYO, JAPAN, 22 March 2010 – UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador for Japan Agnes Chan – a renowned Asian pop singer, doctor of education and television personality – has made more than a dozen trips to Africa, Asia, and the Middle East since she began working with UNICEF Japan in 1998. Alongside her work with UNICEF, Dr. Chan also promotes peace and lobbies on behalf of women and children’s rights.

Dr. Chan started doing volunteer work on children’s rights issues when she was in junior high school in Hong Kong. 
“I’ve liked children all my life,” she said. 

Later, as a mother, she began taking her son to UNICEF events to teach him about helping others, and, in the process, she learned about the importance of protecting children’s rights.

“We’re not doing enough, that’s why the children are suffering,” said Dr. Chan.  “It’s our responsibility to help.”

Back from Somalia, a country like no other

Dr. Chan recently returned from a week-long trip to northwest Somalia, where she tried to draw attention to issues facing women and children there and to the challenges faced by the thousands of internally displaced people living in the country. 
 
During her visit to Hargeisa town, Dr. Chan saw firsthand the situation of children and women living in settlements for displaced persons. At a settlement for more than 16,000 Somalis displaced by conflict, Dr. Chan spoke to mothers about their struggles to survive.  She witnessed the camp’s difficult conditions – poor housing, lack of job opportunities, extreme poverty, malnutrition and lack of basic social services.

“At the camp, I spoke to a 37-year-old mother who fled Mogadishu with her nine children after her house was destroyed by a mortar attack and six of her family members were killed,” Dr. Chan recalled. “She said that her family was lucky to have made it to this camp... but added that life is still very hard.”

© 2010 UNICEF Somalia/Morooka
Dr. Chan with a severely malnourished child at Hargeisa Group Hospital, at the Stabilization Centre supported by UNICEF.

Many challenges

In her 13 overseas visits with UNICEF, Dr. Chan said she had never seen a country like Somalia, where, in addition to fighting and instability, Somali children face many health and educational challenges. 

One in every six children in Somalia is acutely malnourished (global acute malnutrition rate is 16%) - and one in five in central south regions (19%). Dr. Chan was able to witness the effects of malnutrition when she visited a UNICEF-supported Stabilization Centre Programme at the Hargeisa Group Hospital for the treatment of severely malnourished children. 

Dr. Chan also visited a primary school – UNICEF is the sole provider of all text books and schools supplies for primary schools in Somalia. 
 
Another issue highlighted by Dr. Chan during her visit was a practice called Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C), which is common in Somalia. She met with Somali women opposing the practice and heard stories from those who had experienced it.

Impacts on music

Dr. Chan says her visits to war-torn countries like Iraq, Darfur and Somalia have impacted her the most – both as an artist and as a human. She says her UNICEF work has even impacted her music, and many of her lyrics in recent years have been about children and world peace.

“I can hardly write love songs anymore,” she said. “But I think I have a lot of new fans because I sing songs that are very close to their hearts, too.”

Originally from Hong Kong, Agnes Chan earned a Ph.D. in education from Stanford University and has written more than 70 books. Her first song, released when she was 14 years old, has sold more copies than any other in Hong Kong’s music history. She has been a tireless advocate for children, particularly children whose lives have been turned upside down by conflict.

 

 
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