Unicef – Ensure a brighter future for all children

As UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, international singer and songwriter Katy Perry visited Madagascar in 2013 to bring attention to the situation of children in the tropical island country, one of the poorest in the world and still recovering from a political crisis that began in 2009. UNICEF has an extensive network on the ground in the country and works with government and social agencies to promote child protection and survival.

“I am grateful to UNICEF for giving me the opportunity to see first-hand how their programs make a real difference in children’s lives. Support for UNICEF is saving children, I am a witness to it.”

On her first visit in support of UNICEF, Perry saw a full range of programs, from education, nutrition, health and child protection, to water, sanitation and hygiene.

“In less than one week in Madagascar, I went from crowded city slums to the most remote villages and my eyes were widely opened by the incredible need for a healthy life—nutrition, sanitation, and protection  against rape and abuse—which UNICEF are stepping in to help provide,” Perry said.

Protecting the most vulnerable

Beginning her trip in a slum area of the capital Antananarivo, she visited a child protection center and met abused and abandoned children and young mothers receiving support and counseling.

More than three out of four children in Madagascar live in extreme poverty, making them vulnerable to exploitation.

While visiting the UNICEF-supported centre, Katy also spoke with community health workers, teachers and government workers about the challenges they face living in a country where 81 per cent of the population lives in poverty.

Tackling malnutrition

In the tiny village of Androranga Vola, Katy learned from community health workers how children are treated for malnutrition. She also attended a class held for mothers, which educates them on the nutritional benefits of exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life.

“I learned about new ways these women can include vitamins in their diet,” she said. “UNICEF provides supplements to help with the child’s immunity. There’s really a lot of education going on here.”

Malnutrition contributes to nearly half of all child deaths, making education like this especially important for the Malagasy people. It’s estimated that one in every two children in Madagascar suffers from chronic malnutrition.

Education is critical

Most international donors have frozen development aid to Madagascar following the 2009 crisis, forcing the government to make drastic cuts in public spending, and resulting in large parts of the population not having access to basic health care and primary education.

“An education is an incredible opportunity here. I visited a very remote community, where children and teachers walk for 45 minutes just to get to school. This is a testament to how appreciative they are about their education,” said Perry in the UNICEF-supported primary school in the village of Ampihaonana.

Schooling rates in Madagascar are alarmingly low. Only three children out of every 10 who start primary school complete the cycle. UNICEF and national school authorities are working to improve the situation through school construction and providing learning materials, training for teachers and supporting community action plans for education.

Reaching youth to change lives

It is the situation of children like those in Madagascar that Katy’s putting in the spotlight through her work as UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. She’s focusing her outreach especially on children and adolescents who are most vulnerable, including those living in severe poverty, affected by violence, abuse, and neglect, and in emergency and conflict situations.

“I believe young people have the power to change their own lives, with our help,” said Perry. “Through my work with UNICEF I’m committed to doing everything I can to help children and adolescents who come from such different backgrounds but want the same thing: a brighter future.”

With one of the most followed Twitter accounts and more than 76 million Facebook likes, Katy is a powerful force online and she plans to continue to lend her voice and her social media platforms to promote issues that children are facing around the world.