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UNICEF and AUDI launch ‘Driving Dreams’, a unique project to help thousands of out-of-school children

© UNICEF China/2005/Kang Yafeng
Chinese piano virtuoso and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Lang Lang speaks during the ‘Driving Dreams’ press conference, wearing a string of UNICEF-blue Tibetan beads. The project is designed to bring life-skills and sports activities to some 30,000 out-of-school children in over 150 poor villages across western China.

By Sabine Dolan

BEIJING, China, 16 December 2005 – UNICEF and car manufacturer Audi have launched the ‘Driving Dreams’ project, created to bring life-skills and sports activities to some 30,000 out-of-school children in over 150 poor villages across western China.

Driving Dreams is part of a wider UNICEF strategy in China to develop ‘child-friendly’ schools. As part of the project, Audi will contribute $100,000 to UNICEF’s country programme each year from 2006 to 2010.

Chinese piano virtuoso and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Lang Lang participated in the launch, where he explained his commitment to help children. “Helping China’s children is one of my responsibilities,” said Lang Lang, “this is where I came from and I want to do much more here.”

During the event Lang Lang congratulated Zhang Rong Fa, a 15-year-old boy who was forced to drop out of school 5 years ago when his father died of cancer. His mother and sister abandoned the home soon after and Zhang Rong Fa had to fend for himself. He spent a total of only two years in school and is now living with an uncle, cultivating potatoes and other vegetables on a small strip of land. There are many children like him in China’s rural regions and UNICEF is hoping to reach as many of them as possible through the project.

© UNICEF China/2005/Kang Yafeng
Chinese piano prodigy Lang Lang on stage with 15-year-old Zhang Rong Fa, a special guest at the ceremony. China’s AUDI team met the teenage boy during a field trip to Guizhou to study the issue of out-of-school children.
Lang Lang praised the boy’s strength of character which enabled him to endure such hardship. When asked about his own ‘driving dream’, Zhang Rong Fa answered he wanted to build his own house and be self-sufficient. Audi arranged for the young teenager to come to the press conference and gala evening to share his story with the audience.
UNICEF Representative Dr. Christian Voumard said the project was a first for the agency. “[It’s a] double first for UNICEF in China, since Audi China is the first automobile manufacturer – and the first Beijing Olympics sponsor – to become our program partner.” Mr. Voumard added the agency’s partnership with Audi linked particularly well with the theme of the 2006 State of the World’s Children report; the ‘invisible children’ who the report describes as “out of sight, out of mind and out of reach” are precisely the children UNICEF is trying to reach in China.
© UNICEF China/2005/Kang Yafeng
Lang Lang speaks with UNICEF China Representative Dr Christian Voumard.

Computers into classrooms

Driving Dreams will also provide computers to designated schools as well as learning centers to help address China's internal digital divide. Although China, with over 100 million users, is currently second only to the United States in the number of internet connections, surveys indicate that the majority of the country’s rural population – an estimated 60-65 per cent of China’s population of 1.3 billion– represents less than one per cent of these connections.

As a result, millions of rural children will complete their studies without having had access to computers. This will make it very difficult for them to compete for jobs with the more privileged children from urban areas. These wide – and continually widening – disparities are a source of concern for UNICEF in China.
The launch festivities included an evening gala fundraising event, co-hosted by Lang Lang and attended by celebrities from the worlds of sport, music and entertainment. Items donated by other Beijing Olympics sponsors such as Lenovo, the Bank of China, Omega and Kodak, were auctioned at a dinner held at Beijing’s Audi Forum, where the morning’s press conference took place.



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