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Zimbabwe: World Music superstar Femi Kuti brings hope to children

© UNICEF Zimbabwe/2005/Zvomuya
UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Femi Kuti chats with a group of orphaned children

By James Elder

HARARE, Zimbabwe, 7 May 2005 – Pop superstar and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Femi Kuti took time to connect with the children of Zimbabwe during his recent visit as the headline act of Harare’s International Festival of the Arts.

Mr. Kuti spent a day with hundreds of children, reminding them of their own “special ability,” while reiterating his belief that “children should take centre stage in our decision-making.” 

Mr. Kuti’s comments are especially pertinent to Zimbabwe, where an HIV/AIDS pandemic, declining economic performance, drought and depleted social services have all contributed to the world’s fastest rise in child mortality.

According to UNICEF global estimates, mortality among children under five rose more than 50 percent from 1990 to 2003 (reaching 126 deaths per 1000 live births in 2003).

‘The best day of my life’

Mr. Kuti got a first-hand look at the problem. Visiting ‘Streets Ahead’, a drop-in and education centre for street children (funded by the UK’s Department for International Development), the 43-year-old pop superstar met a 15-year-old orphaned girl with baby twins. She had no money and no food, just the clothes on her back, but the meeting with Mr. Kuti gave her renewed hope. Having shared a quiet moment with the man Rolling Stone magazine calls “a maestro of dance, rhythm and melody,” the girl said it was “the best day of my life.”

Femi Kuti, together with his 16-member band, ‘The Positive Force’, is  known as one of the most dynamic and animated performers in the world today. He brings the same passion and integrity to his work for children.

© UNICEF Zimbabwe/2005/Zvomuya
Femi Kuti and his son Made on stage at the Harare International Festival of the Arts

“The streets are no place for African children,” said Mr. Kuti, who still lives in one of the harshest suburbs of Lagos, Nigeria. “And yet as AIDS kills more and more Zimbabwean parents, their children are forced onto the streets. I know that life. I continue to see that life across this continent and we all must do more to see it stop.”

‘There is hope, but you have to look for it’

Despite having one of the world’s worst rates of HIV/AIDS prevalence, the highest rise in child mortality of any nation, and a number of street children that has doubled in the past five years, Zimbabwe receives just a fraction of donor funding compared to other countries in the region.

“There is no excuse for letting the children of this country suffer so dramatically without working harder to find solutions for helping them,” said Mr. Kuti. “We need more projects like these,” he added, referring to ‘Streets Ahead’.

Mr. Kuti also travelled to the outskirts of Harare, where water shortages have forced children to walk miles to get clean water. There he visited a project for some of the country’s 1.3 million orphans. The ‘Mavambo project’ seeks to keep orphans in school, while providing them with shelter, food and counselling.

“These are the most vulnerable children on this continent,” said Mr. Kuti, “and yet look at them – they are smart, they are still in school, they do theatre, they paint like Picasso, and if nurtured have limitless potential. These children are the ultimate example of what we can do when we support those most at risk.”

Having donated videos, art works and some musical instruments to the two projects he visited, Mr. Kuti was asked by a group of street children to write a message for them on the wall of their centre. He wrote: “There is hope, but you have to look for it.”



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