UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Tetsuko Kuroyanagi visits children affected by disasters and armed conflict in the Philippines
UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Tetsuko Kuroyanagi travelled to Tacloban and Cotabato in the Philippines to listen to voices of children and their families affected by Typhoon Haiyan and the prolonged insurgency in Mindanao. Since her appointment as the first UNICEF International Goodwill Ambassador from Asia in 1984, this is her 31st official visit as a UNICEF Ambassador.
Ms. Tetsuko visited a UNICEF-supported child-friendly space (CFS) in Abucay Bunkhouse, Tacloban. The CFS, a decorated tent which gives children the chance to play safely, helps affected children cope with the trauma, and promote their psychosocial recovery. Mary Kate Ashley Lisgus, 11 years old, tells Ms. Kuroyanagi she lost some of her loved ones, all her possessions and went hungry after the typhoon. She said "I love to play, decorate the tent and join art and prayer activities." She lives in the bunkhouse with her parents and two young siblings. Ms. Kuroyanagi visited her room, and met her mother. "I want to be a teacher someday to help all children to finish school," said Mary.
At sunset, Ms. Kuroyanagi visited a family who receives USD100 grant every month from the UNICEF-supported Unconditional Cash Transfer (UCT). The UCT helps vulnerable families buy food, medicines, school supplies and tools to rebuild their homes. Some families use the money to invest in livestock and small business, preventing the further fall into poverty and vulnerability and initiating a longer-term recovery.
Antonia told Ms. Kuroyanagi that she allots the money for food, school supplies and house repair, and she also used the cash to buy a small pedicab (pedal bike taxi) for her husband. "I observed the effectiveness of the UCT. The money not only helps children to survive and go to school, but also empowers the vulnerable families to be more resilient," said Ms. Kuroyanagi.
Ms. Kuroyanagi also traveled to Cotabato City to meet children, teachers, parents and community members of J. Marquez Elementary School (JMES). As JMES is located in the congested residential area beside the Rio Grande River, it is prone to natural disasters, such as flooding, fire and earthquake. The school is also located in an area where conflict incidents frequently occur.
The students explained to Ms. Kuroyanagi about the school's child-centered Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) efforts, such as an early warning system, interactive DRR education, and a relocation learning site with flexible curriculum during disasters and conflicts.
School Principal Ms. Mergie Benedicto said, "We protect children and provide education during emergencies. Both DRR and peace education is integrated in the curriculum, and enforced in the school policies. Through collaborating with community stakeholders, the school has been able to maintain its status as a 'Zone of Peace'."
On the last day at Tacloban, Ms. Kuroyanagi had a press conference to wrap up her eight-day visit to the Philippines. Thanking global communities for their generous support for children in the Philippines through UNICEF, "While I could see many promising signs of recovery in the devastated area, the impact by Haiyan is more than I could have imagined in Japan. Traumatized children have been on their feet, but need long-term support." said Ms. Kuroyanagi. "I witnessed UNICEF could deliver results for children, such as bringing back more than half a million children to schools, providing safe water to more than a million people, and supporting unconditional cash transfer to 10,000 of the most vulnerable families."
"I also learned a very important thing from children in Cotabato. They hold up an index finger to long for peace instead of making a V-sign for victory, because they believe the world must unite its strength as one to attain and promote peace and prosperity," said Ms. Kuroyanagi.
At the end of her press conference, Ms. Kuroyanagi concluded "As a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, I want to show Japanese people how people can still manage to smile even in such very challenging situations, and how contributions from international communities have supported those children and empowered the most vulnerable people."
Her visit will be broadcasted in a 1.5-hour special TV programme as well as in her daily talk show, which is viewed by more than 3 million people every day.
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Ms. Kuroyanagi has been one of Japan's best-known actresses and most popular television personalities to date. Her daily television talk show "Tetsuko's Room", having celebrated its 38th anniversary in 2014, received the most prestigious award Kikuchi-Kan Award given to outstanding artists and programs in Japan.
She is also a writer of many books, including the widely-read Totto-chan's Children, a reportage on her UNICEF field visits. Her childhood memoir Totto-chan: The Little Girl at the Window has sold more than 7.5 million copies in Japanese and is still Japan's biggest bestseller. Translations of this book have been published in 33 countries.
The international success of Totto-chan: The Little Girl at the Window led to her appointment as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 1984, when the late James Grant, former Executive Director of UNICEF who read the book contacted Tetsuko.
Since her appointment in 1984, she has visited around 30 countries as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador accompanied by the media, including: Tanzania (1984), Niger (1985), India (1986), Mozambique (1987), Vietnam and Cambodia (1988), Angola (1989), Bangladesh (1990), Iraq (1991), Ethiopia (1992), Sudan (1993), Rwanda and Zaire (1994), Haiti (1995), Former Yugoslavia (1996), Mauritania (1997), Uganda (1998), Kosovo, Albania and Macedonia (1999), Liberia (2000), Afghanistan (2001 and 2002), Somalia (2002), Sierra Leone (2003), Democratic, Republic of Congo (2004), Ache in Indonesia (2005), Côte d’Ivoire (2006), Angola (2007), Cambodia (2008), Nepal (2009), Haiti (2011), tsunami-affected areas in Tohoku, Japan (2011), and South Sudan (2013).