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UNICEF Spain Ambassador and NBA star Pau Gasol visits children in Ethiopia

© UNICEF Ethiopia/2010/Fernández
Pau Gasol gives ready-to-use therapeutic food to a baby who is being treated for severe acute malnutrition at a UNICEF-supported centre in Boricha, Ethiopia.

By Indrias Getachew and Raquel Fernandez

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, 26 July 2010 – Los Angeles Lakers basketball star and UNICEF Spain Ambassador Pau Gasol has just spent a week visiting UNICEF-supported education, nutrition and child protection programmes in Ethiopia – and sharing his time with children who live under very difficult conditions here.

“This trip has been the confirmation that many kids in the world, millions of kids, need our help,” he said.

Right to education

In the South Omo Bena Tsemay community in southern Ethiopia, Mr. Gasol witnessed the challenges that pastoral children face in their daily lives. In the village of Buko, he visited the construction site of one school supported by Schools for Africa, an international fundraising campaign of UNICEF, the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the Hamburg Society for the Promotion of Democracy and International Law.

© UNICEF Ethiopia/2010/Fernández
NBA star and UNICEF Spain Ambassador Pau Gasol meets with local children during his visit to UNICEF-supported health, education and protection programmes in Ethiopia.

The campaign works to provide access to education for millions of out-of-school children.

"Unfortunately, there are many kids that have to work at an early age to bring home some money so the family can have something to eat and can survive," said Mr. Gasol. "It's crucial that we continue to fight for the rights of the children, for the right to receive an education."

Monitoring growth

Mr. Gasol also had an opportunity to learn about the Community Based Nutrition Programme, through which community members work on measures to prevent and treat malnutrition – a major factor contributing to child mortality in Ethiopia.

© UNICEF Ethiopia/2010/Fernández
In Addis Ababa, Pau Gasol and the Ethiopian athlete Haile Gebrselassie play basketball, using mobility cycles, with children living with disabilities.

Under the programme, two trained community health workers closely monitor the growth of children under the age of two in each community. In addition, monthly community forums provide parents information on nutrition, hygiene, breastfeeding and other child-care topics.

In one of the most emotional moments of his trip, Mr. Gasol met a year-old baby who had lost his mother and was now in the care of his grandmother. The visiting UNICEF Ambassador smeared his finger with some ready-to-use therapeutic food – which is provided to children suffering from severe acute malnutrition – and slowly fed the baby.

Help for families

Mr. Gasol later visited the shores of Lake Awassa, where many children work in fish-cleaning. He ended his trip in Addis Ababa, where he joined the Ethiopian athlete Haile Gebrselassie in a game of basketball, using hand-propelled mobility cycles, along with a group of children living with disabilities.

© UNICEF Ethiopia/2010/Fernández
UNICEF Spain Ambassador Pau Gasol with a young boy duing ghis visit to communities in Ethiopia.

"The most promising thing was to see how UNICEF is working in many of these communities,” he said at the end of his visit, emphasizing the importance of helping families give their children a chance to receive an education.

The National Basketball Association player has been a UNICEF Spain Ambassador since 2003. Since then, he has supported various awareness and fundraising campaigns, and has travelled to various countries to see UNICEF’s work in the field.



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