The future of the world lies in the hands of children. It’s an idea planted in our heads and repeatedly encountered in our lifetime and even when we were children ourselves. It’s a daunting responsibility placed at such a vulnerable age when they can’t even fend for themselves.
But the future of children lies in the hands of adults. That’s what gives the newly-declared UNICEF National Goodwill Ambassadors Daphne Osena-Paez and Anne Curtis the impetus to forge on in their mission — to make sure the children are safe, secure and healthy so they can grow up and fill out their roles as the world’s future.
Paez and Curtis were given the recognition and with that the added weight of responsibility as ambassadors for their work regarding the promotion and protection of the rights of Filipino children.
Paez is an advocate for breastfeeding, infant and young child feeding, maternal health and maternal mortality, universal primary education, nutrition and child protection.
Curtis, for her part, supports UNICEF’s various advocacies, including education, Violence Against Children and adolescent health and development.
Lotta Slywander, UNICEF country representative, spoke glowingly about the two ambassadors who now join the likes of Gary Valenciano, David Beckham, Orlando Bloom, Millie Bobby Brown, Jackie Chan, Priyanka Chopra, Ricky Martin, Leo Messi, Liam Neeson, Shakira and Lilly Singh in pushing for children’s welfare.
“I have seen the two ladies that we have now today grow into their role as celebrity ambassadors and have really helped to significantly advance the issues and causes for children in the Philippines,” says Slywander, who explained that UNICEF Goodwill Ambassadors are “well-known personalities who lend their influence for the wellbeing of children, who are willing to do their utmost to mobilize support for them. They are volunteers who demonstrate a high level of commitment to children and to the organization.”
Slywander says Paez has had a long history with UNICEF and was one of the keys to pushing for the “First 1,000 Days” law that stands to benefit millions of mothers and babies in the country. Her passion and deep concern perhaps started when she saw Datu Ali, a seven-month boy who suffered from severe acute malnutrition.
“One of my most gut-wrenching trips was to Maguindanao in 2011, where I met the seven-month old baby Datu Ali, who, despite suffering from severe acute malnutrition, had the most expressive and beautiful eyes. I didn’t know that Filipino children could be exposed to severe, acute malnutrition as these are the images we just saw in the areas that have famine. But because of conflict and environmental issues, he didn’t get the right nutrition that he needed but UNICEF was there with the community-based management of severe acute malnutrition.
He recovered,” says the TV host and producer, entrepreneur and mother of three.
Ali was just one story as Paez paid tribute to everyday heroes making a big difference in the lives of people. “I will always remember Jocelyn, a midwife assigned to a barangay in Saranggani. She was assigned to serve five barangays and at the time Saranggani was still in conflict. And I remember that Jocelyn was riding her motorcycle and she had to pass through different barangays but there was fighting going on, so what happened was through intelligence radio communication, they stopped the fighting and allowed the midwife to pass through because she had an important job of delivering a baby. I remembered that and we even saw the bullet holes from that area. It’s very, very powerful.”
Paez thought deeply about what she wishes for the children. “I wish for all children to be loved and cared for. That every child survives and thrives, learns, is protected from violence and exploitation and lives in a clean and safe environment. I had the privilege of growing up in a loving and nurturing family. I’ve had the benefit of growing up in two countries that even if they are so different in the delivery of services, are both relatively peaceful,” she says.
“My wish is for all Filipino children to have a fair chance in life, to have access to health services and a good education. As members of society we all have a duty and responsibility to always put children first — not just through government or institutional programs but as individuals during our everyday life.”
Paez raises funds for UNICEF Philippines through her flagship project Auction for Action, an art auction that brings together top Filipino artists in design, furniture, art and jewelry for a good cause which is her advocacy for children.
Running for kids
Curtis enabled UNICEF to reach a younger audience and has utilized her stock as actress, model, television host, recording artist and entrepreneur to raise awareness and funds regarding children’s concerns. A major UNICEF donor since 2009 and a celebrity advocate in 2014, her special projects with UNICEF include the Heroes for Children runs to support children’s First 1,000 Days, fundraising through international marathons and a children’s book.
Says Slywander: “The UNICEF brand is something that we have struggled with, sometimes, but it changed. Little did we know that we actually had a hidden gem in our list of major donors, this donor has been quietly donating to UNICEF since 2009. Anne has dramatically helped us reach that divide to young people and bringing a 70-year-old organization to a new and younger audience and who have now the genuine desire to use their voices and help the cause for children.”
Perhaps the most visually-striking sight to show how much Curtis values her UNICEF advocacy is when she runs marathons, not just for fitness and pride, but also to raise fund for the organization and its beneficiaries.
“I was offered a slot in an upcoming marathon but it’s in April so I can’t train for that but I am going to try for the lottery for Berlin. Let’s see if I can get it. I’ve run two marathons so far for UNICEF, that’s London and then New York, so this will be the third one. The goal is to do all six world majors and raise funds too. UNICEF sets up a site for me where they can donate and you can see the goal going up and up and up so it’s really great. I still have to join the lottery for Berlin to see if i get a slot. It doesn’t matter how I place in the marathon as long as I finish it.”
A year after she was named as UNICEF celebrity advocate, Anne visited Leyte province in 2015 in the aftermath of super typhoon “Yolanda” (Haiyan), and Samar province in 2017.
She is also updated on UNICEF’s various programs through briefings with program experts in the areas of education and health and nutrition.
“Working with UNICEF is actually a whole new educational experience for myself and I learned about so many things. For example, about breastfeeding and how important it is and learning about the first 1000 days of the child and actually visiting mothers and their children. It’s a whole new education for myself and it even equips me properly for when the time comes when I’m a mother myself.” she relates.
“I am honored and committed to raising awareness on the issues and rights of children. Children should be our priority and it is our collective responsibility to ensure they have a bright future ahead of them. There is still much more to be done but I believe we all can play our part to bring smiles to children’s faces,” she says.
Paez and Curtis fully understand the weight that being a UNICEF National Goodwill Ambassador bears even with their respective careers.
Says Anne, “I knew from the very beginning that working with UNICEF, my priority would be to serve the Filipino children. It had never been an issue and even with my manager, she has always known that if there is a certain brand for an endorsement that is coming in which I know doesn’t help promote any of the child’s rights when it comes to UNICEF, then it’s an immediate no. I guess I feel very lucky to be working with brands that are all approved by UNICEF and are child-friendly.
Daphne, for her part, says, “I already put limitations on myself with companies that I’m going to work for. Even before I met UNICEF, I have a wholesome image (laughs) so that was never really an issue but I have come across companies and brands that I knew I couldn’t work with in a very professional manner. Luckily, in my work there are other ways for me to earn.”