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Paul van Vliet, performance artist and UNICEF ambassador in the Netherlands

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© UNICEF the Netherlands
Paul van Vliet is a well-known theatre performer in the Netherlands. He has been an ambassador for UNICEF since 1992. He now devotes himself full-time to his work for UNICEF.

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Taking to the stage for the children’s sake

 “A crazy man with a mop of white hair”—that’s how UNICEF Ambassador and cabaret artist Paul vanVliet thinks he was regarded by the Bangladeshi children who met him during his recent visits to the slums of Dhaka. The very same man was on stage three evenings a week in the Netherlands for many months during 2002, to raise funds for the children living in those slums, in order to improve their general situation and to provide opportunities for education.

 ‘The audience is treated to two hours of entertainment, and with the proceeds from the ticket sales, those children can go to school for two hours a day. These are my two main motivating reasons,’ Mr van Vliet says, one month after returning from Bangladesh and a few weeks before his next round of performances begins.

Mr van Vliet has been working as an ambassador for UNICEF for the last 10 years. In the course of his work he visits international UNICEF projects, gives interviews, accepts cheques on behalf of UNICEF and takes part in national and local activities and fund-raising campaigns.

Paul van Vliet himself came up with the idea to dedicate all his theatre shows for a three-year period to UNICEF. It is a gesture straight from the heart.

“My shows reflect how children inspire me. I travelled to Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, to see how things are there, but also to feel it and to smell it. Children as young as six are compelled to work, sometimes for 14 hours a day. UNICEF supports the schools project which allows those children to go to school for two hours a day. It is a visibly successful project. In the initial stage, 1,000 children were participating, and now there are 35,000. Going to school is the highlight of their day. In Bangladesh, they are just as keen to get to school as Dutch children are to get out of school at the end of the day,” explains Paul van Vliet.
“The images of such a journey stay with you. I can still picture it all, and smell it all. When I’m sitting here in my beautiful garden, it’s as if Bangladesh is waltzing past me. But I don’t just think about it, I need to act as well,” he says.

Mr van Vliet explains that he does not want to moralize during his theatre performances, but he does work a little of the UNICEF philosophy into the performance. “No sermons! People need to make up their own minds. I can only give them a few ideas and thoughts. I do tell them how the money will be used. Other than that, there are lots of laughs – a typical Van Vliet show with a mix of old and new material, characters, songs and serious moments.”