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At a glance: Japan

UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Tetsuko Kuroyanagi celebrates 25 years of service

© UNICEF Japan/2009
Goodwill Ambassador Tetsuko Kuroyanagi receives a commemorative plaque from UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Saad Houry.

TOKYO, Japan, 20 May 2009 – With tributes, accolades and video messages from UNICEF’s leadership and a host of dignitaries, Goodwill Ambassador Tetsuko Kuroyanagi recently celebrated a quarter-century of dedicated service to UNICEF and the world’s children.

Ms. Kuroyanagi’s work was feted in a commemorative ceremony attended by senior Japanese Government officials, parliamentarians and members of the diplomatic corps.

Also in attendance were representatives from UN agencies, non-governmental organizations, the Japan Committee for UNICEF, academia and the media, along with her friends and a UNICEF delegation led by Deputy Executive Director Saad Houry.

Witness to painful realities

“I want to thank UNICEF for having given me the opportunity to serve as a Goodwill Ambassador for all these years,” Ms. Kuroyanagi said during the ceremony.

“I could have been solely an actress and celebrity, but going on missions for UNICEF every year gave me the chance to meet children around the world – children who were recruited as child soldiers, children who were starving to death and young girls who were raped during conflicts. It was very painful to see their realities.” 

Then, with tears in her eyes, she added: “I wonder how they are now. With them deep in my heart, I must continue my work.”

Ms. Kuroyanagi ended her address with an appeal to the Government of Japan to continue its support for children and to address the global impact of the H1N1 influenza virus.

Seeing the world through a child’s eyes
Ms. Kuroyanagi was appointed as an international Goodwill Ambassador in 1984, having been recommended to then-UNICEF Executive Director James P. Grant by Sadako Ogata, former UNICEF Executive Board Chairperson, former UN High Commissioner for Refugees and currently President of Japan International Cooperation Agency, who also spoke at the Tokyo ceremony.

Reading Ms. Kuroyanagi’s childhood memoir, ‘Totto-chan: The Little Girl at the Window’, the late Mr. Grant had been convinced that she was someone who could see the world through a child’s eyes and be an effective advocate for children. Today, she is UNICEF’s longest-serving Goodwill Ambassador – and she remains active.

Since 1984, Ms. Kuroyanagi has been visiting one to two countries every year, including Afghanistan, where girls and women faced harsh treatment under the Taliban; Rwanda, where the genocide left deep psychological scars in children; and Indonesia, whose Aceh province was devastated by the Indian Ocean tsunami.

At the end of this week, she will be travelling on her 29th mission, this time to Nepal.

Unwavering commitment to children
“Thanks to Tetsuko’s extraordinary efforts, UNICEF is the most recognized UN agency in Japan,” said the Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs, Hon. Nobuhide Minorikawa. “Hand-in-hand with Tetsuko, Japan should extend as much assistance as possible to the world and contribute to the achievement of Millennium Development Goals.”

© UNICEF Japan/2009
Tetsuko Kuroyanagi with the commemorative plaque from UNICEF marking her 25 years of service to the world’s children.

In a video message, Executive Director Veneman thanked Ms. Kuroyanagi for her service, commitment and courage in helping to make the world a better place for children.

The President of the Japan Parliamentary League for UNICEF, Hon. Sadakazu Tanigaki, stated during the ceremony: “Since the League was established in 1988, only four years after Tetsuko’s appointment as UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, she has been always a role model for us in pushing the agenda forward for children.”

And Mr. Houry shared one of Ms. Kuroyanagi’s anecdotes from her very first visit as a Goodwill Ambassador, to Tanzania.

“You were struck by the silence of the children – the silence of children too exhausted from malnutrition to make any sound, and the silence of children dying without complaining, due to their unquestioning trust in adults,” he recalled. “In today’s world, far too many children are still dying silently, away from the world’s cameras and attention. Please continue breaking that silence and speaking out like no other person can.”



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