Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Clay Aiken, UNICEF and The Search for Solutions

Banda Aceh, Indonesia, March 2005.

Up Close 2007 | UNICEF

Yahoo! and UNICEF are joining forces to save children's lives. Support UNICEF's life-saving work by answering a question. Watch videos to learn more about UNICEF and sign up to help.

Om Tuesday, January 30, 2007, Yahoo and UNICEF launched a public awareness campaign for Child Survival 2007. Nine UNICEF Ambassadors, starting with Clay Aiken, are asking a series of questions concerning promoting the health and safety of children worldwide.

Every day until February 9, the UNICEF Ambassadors will pose a question in one video and be featured in two additional videos, including interviews from various locations and a video essay of their field trips. Links to all of the ambassadors' pages are included at the end of this blog.

Tomorrow, Thursday, February 1, Clay will appear on ABC's "Good Morning America" to discuss his experiences with UNICEF.

Here is Clay's question:

The questions are open ended and brought on a variety of responses --- more than 5400 in Clay's case.

Here is my response --- what's yours?


Thanks for all you do to raise awareness, change attitudes and change behavior for the benefit of children, here in the United States (through your work with The Bubel/Aiken Foundation, Ronald McDonald House Charities, President’s Committee for People With Intellectual Disabilities, United States Marines Toys for Tots, Read Across America, Disney Teacher Awards) and across the world (with UNICEF and World Children’s Day).

It’s refreshing to see that you kept your promise to make a difference and not just be a “useless celebrity.”

To your question:

I have been involved with civil rights, human rights and women’s rights since my teens and, more recently, with children’s rights.

All of it began with having a glimmer of light turn into a lightning bolt moment, with learning about a concern and resolving to do something about it. It was never just a tear-inducing moment: I needed to know the facts and I needed to see why it was important for me to care.

I’ve worked in feature film, television and documentary film and one thing I’ve learned about communicating an issue is that it is better to show than to tell.

A recitation of dry statistics reaches no one. It’s not about survival rates, it is about real children, some in regions where our own families originated.

Make it personal.

Show us the need.

Northern Uganda, May 2005.

Personalize the issue by showing the children in the context of the situations they face: PSAs, podcasts, streaming internet content, news broadcasts, TV and theatrical movies, documentary films are all effective ways of informing the public. Reach out to people like me, media professionals, to volunteer our time and effort.

Use your voice. From the Concert for Bangladesh to Live Aid to Farm Aid to the Amnesty International concerts to the Bridge School Benefits, musicians like you have raised their voices for the cause. Through a series of benefit concerts, millions can be raised and earmarked for the most pressing needs, or for programs that will build stronger communities (supplying water pumps, building schools, establishing clinics.) Some will come just for the music; others will find reason to make a lifelong commitment to change.

Education. both here and abroad. There is no “there.” just one interdependent planet earth, where a drop of compassion can become a river of hope --- or a seed of discontent can yield a very bitter harvest.

Then show us the results.

Many people want and need to know that the money they give yields real results. What happened to that boy who lost his family in the tsunami? Where is the girl who was rescued from the rebel forces of the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda? How are the siblings who lost their home in the Pakistan earthquake faring? By providing updates on past emergency campaigns, donors can be reassured that their money is going to affect real change in the lives of children, change that helps them to become self-sufficient adults..

I know that UNICEF gives aid to children in Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas, in 156 developing countries, regardless of race, religion, or gender --- that is their mandate. I know that there are other organizations that serve children both here and abroad. I think it is up to each individual to decide which organization best fits their desire to give: each serves a valuable purpose, as long as those who run it are scrupulously honest and every single dime possible goes to programs, not overhead. For me, UNICEF has an outstanding record of success.

I’ve given a lot of thought about the complicated scenarios behind some of the pressing problems of child survival. It takes a lot not to get discouraged, resigned to it all or completely cynical, because sometimes the situations seem intractable.

Too often, there is a rush to assign blame. I think a search for reasons is more useful, because only then can solutions be considered.


I cannot blame a child for earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, crop failure or drought.

I cannot blame a child for being caught in the tides of war and sectarian violence.

I cannot blame a child for his or her parents’ lack of education, or even for an adult’s foolishness or ineptitude when that is the case.

I cannot blame a child for governmental corruption or political posturing.

I cannot blame a child for being under the long shadow of colonialism and imperialism.

Each and every one of those problems requires a solution that might take a generation or more to solve.

The lives of children can be saved today… for just a few pennies, in many cases.

If I skip one café mocha and blueberry scone a week, I could save $5. In ten weeks, that would be enough for UNICEF to immunize three kids for life against six deadly diseases.

If I give up going to one concert or ballgame, with ticket, parking, snack and souvenir program or t-shirt, I could give $100. With that money, UNICEF can provide 17 families with insecticide-treated bed nets to protect them from malaria, or provide wool blankets for 32 children.

If I give up two outings a year, I can donate the $190 for UNICEF to provide 80 children and two teachers with an emergency school-in-a-box kit — “a ready-made educational solution packed in a lockable metal box, containing equipment such as pencils, erasers, exercise books, writing slates, scissors, carrier bags, marker pens, posters, registers and blackboard equipment.”

If I cut down on my gasoline bill by carpooling or using public transportation, I could save $400 in six months. With that money, UNICEF can inoculate more than 500 children against tetanus.

If I decide to wait another season to replace my old wardrobe, I could give $1000. With that money, UNICEF can provide a pump to supply clean water to a whole village, or large storage tanks for clean water storage.

If I take a less expensive vacation locally rather than a luxury vacation, I could give $3000 or more. UNICEF can provide tents for four families with that money.

Both at home and abroad, I hope all who are able will do something to help advance the changes that can bring about a healthier and more peaceful world.

“He who saves one life, saves the world entire.”

I guess I’ll let the change start with me.

Here is some footage from Clay's field trip to Uganda, May 2005:

All of the UNICEF Ambassador pages will be available through Friday, February 9.

Here are the links to view the videos and to answer the questions:

January, 30: Clay Aiken

January 31: Alyssa Milano

February 1: Danny Glover

February 2: Lucy Liu

February 5: Laurence Fishburne

February 6: Téa Leoni

February 7: Marcus Samuelsson

February 8: India.Arie

February 9: Elton Brand

For every child
Health, Education, Equality, Protection

Please visit UNICEF USA or UNICEF International to see how you can help.

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Corabeth said...

Thank you Berk for putting everything in perspective once again.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, berkeley. That was inspiring and beautifully written. Thank you for taking the time to share your ideas/thoughts/feelings with others here at the ConClayve.

I like what you wrote. Let it begin with me. Right here. Right now.

(anntherese54 - aka: anonymous!)

lizzybutts said...

Thanks Berk. You always know just what to say. It begins with me.

andee said...

Your entry is so inspiring. I really hope Clay reads it!

Good job!

Anonymous said...

Berkely, once again you have given me so much to think about. I can so easily make one or more of the changes you suggested and put that money to better use knowing that I am changing someone's life for the better. Thanks for the words, thanks for the perspective, and thanks for the encouragement.

Pink Armchair said...

This was great, berkeley. I hope Clay reads it. You've given him (and all of us) a lot to think about.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much Berkeley,It looks like you have put a lot of thoughts into this and I salute you for your words ,for your empowerment,and inspirations.You are right, It starts with me. Very compelling statement

I hope everyone from Uniceff and clay reads this.