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Podcast #58: Mia Farrow on visiting the crisis-afflicted Sahel region

'Beyond School Books' – a podcast series on education in emergencies

© UNICEF/NYHQ2012-0062/Asselin
UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow gives a girl a dose of oral polio vaccine at an immunization site in the town of Moundou in Logone Region, Chad.

By Rudina Vojvoda

NEW YORK, USA, 3 May 2012 – Poor harvests, drought and high food prices, combined with increasing insecurity, have pushed the Sahel region into a malnutrition crisis. Some 15 million people in the region are directly affected, including over one million children under age 5 who are expected to suffer from severe acute malnutrition, a life-threatening condition, this year.

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Families are desperately trying to cope; many have sold their livestock, pulled children out of school, and borrowed money. Most are consuming foods of reduced quantity and quality.

UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and internationally acclaimed actress Mia Farrow recently visited a therapeutic feeding center in Mao, Chad, where she met with families and children affected by the crisis. In this instalment of the ‘Beyond School Books’ podcast series, UNICEF podcast moderator Femi Oke spoke with Ms. Farrow about her experiences in Chad and her thoughts on the role of education during emergencies.

Struggling to survive

This is the third time this decade that the Sahel region has been hit by severe drought and a corresponding food crisis. Despite their resilience, families have had little chance to recover from the droughts of 2005 and 2010.

Ms. Farrow said that farmers are doing all they can to survive.

“I would say this to anyone who wants to dismiss hunger and famine in the Sahel: They don’t realize how hard people are trying to survive, how difficult – now impossible – it is to plant in the sand, the bewilderment of people as, again and again, they look at the sky and pray for rain,” said Ms. Farrow.

Children’s future lies in education

In emergency situations like this one, schools play a crucial role in children’s lives, not only by providing a sense of normalcy but also by offering essential services, such as food, shelter, health care, water, sanitation and recreation. Ms. Farrow noted that everywhere she has been in the region she has seen families eager for educational opportunities.

“Every parent, however they might be living – either deep in the bush like in the Central African Republic, or deep in crisis like in the Sahel, or as refugees from Somalia pouring into the Dadaab refugee camp – the parents speak of the value of education. They realize that the future of their children lies in education,” she said.

She added that it was very inspiring to see how ‘bush schools’, in which children gather under temporary structures or in the open air where either a teacher or a parent conducts class, have been established throughout the region, despite the lack of proper infrastructure or presence of conflict. “I never met people who worked harder, who tried harder or who hoped more fervently for their children’s future,” said Ms. Farrow.

Appealing for help

Tens of thousands of children in the Sahel have already been treated for severe acute malnutrition. Much more need assistance is needed, however. UNICEF is appealing for US$120 million to fully and effectively respond to the crisis.

Calling on everyone to help, Ms. Farrow said, “As individuals, don’t be intimidated if you could only give a dollar. These are hard times, but nowhere near as hard as for the people of Sahel.”

Ms. Farrow has been a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador since 2000. She has worked tirelessly to raise money and awareness about the rights of children, particularly those affected by armed conflict.




Actress, activist and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow speaks to podcast moderator Femi Oke about her experiences in drought-hit Chad.

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