Audrey Hepburn

Thursday, April 27, 1989

About this Event

Some remarks about the feelings of helplessness and desperation when viewing the world's misery on television. An alleviation of that feeling through participation in UNICEF and/or similar organizations. Effects of the burden of debt on the poor to become even poorer. What agencies like UNICEF can do. The speaker's role to inform, and to create awareness of the needs of children. Many anecdotes and illustrative examples of the need for the advocacy for children; what UNICEF has done for them; what can be done through donations to UNICEF. A growing consensus that the burden of debt must be lifted to a degree where the developing countries can cope with debt repayment, to the point where their economies can grow out of their overwhelming indebtedness and set them on the road to recovery and real development. The widening concern for children. Children as our most vital resource. UNICEF's mandate humanitarian, not charitable. What we can and cannot do.

For the Children

Introduction: Miss Hepburn, Mr. Wolders, Reverend Sir, Honoured guests, Past Presidents, members and friends of The Empire Club of Canada: We wanted to end our Empire Club season "With a Beautiful Memory." van Straubenzee's got it -I think he's got it - by George he's got it. "Wouldn't it be luverly," I thought- "I'm just an ordinary man." And "She's just a country mouse from Lausanne - and she says animals are much more reasonable than people."

"Her face is perfectly funny. The bones are good," Mr. Astaire said "when he got finished with her, she would look like a tree:' "Her modesty appeals to us too and, yes, she fills the air with smiles".

"Thursdays are normally gruesome" Certainly today in Ottawa but not here.

"She's like holding springtime in your arms".

What this meeting is all about is empathicalism - the most sensible approach to true understanding and peace of mind. Do you know what the word empathy means? It goes beyond sympathy. Sympathy is to understand what someone feels. Empathy is to project your imagination so you actually feel what the other person is feeling. To put yourself in the other person's place.

It's wonderful, it's marvelous, that you should care for the children - it's made your life so admirable. "The Lord above made man to help his neighbour and man was made to help support his children." "You've been such a good sport."

So, Audrey, to use the words of Jo Stockton in Funny Face: "I hope you feel like expressing yourself now. It's a form of release:" "We opened the cocoon but it wasn't a butterfly that emerged, it was a bird of paradise." "She's quite a common girl." She'd say: "He's off his jump he is." "She's a right to be here - as right as you."

And Audrey and Robert: "Two drifters off to see the world, there's such a lot to see," such as the Sudan. "We're after the same rainbows and waitin' round the bend, my Huckleberry friend, Moon River and me."

"She's too thin and her ears stick out and her teeth are crooked and her neck is much too long. She's the girl in the afternoon." She'd ask: "Is he the world's champion blind man?" "People shouldn't say mean things." "You should see your face," he said. "Why, what's the matter with it?" she replied. "Nothing - it's lovely" he answered.

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you Liza Doolittle -Jo Stockton - Sister Luke - Natasha - Joanna - Holly Golightly - Sabrina - Princess Anne, and, as you will soon realize, most important of all, UNICEF's Goodwill Ambassador, Audrey Hepburn.

Audrey Hepburn

How can I possibly thank you enough? Dear Tony, you did write to us a year ago and I have had a year to get nervous but also to look forward to this wonderful occasion and I am so grateful. I also feel very honoured to join a list of extraordinary speakers and thank you for piping me into battle, UNICEF's battle against the suffering of children.

I must say that up until a year ago, before I was given the great privilege of becoming a volunteer for UNICEF, I used to be overwhelmed by a sense of desperation and helplessness when watching television and reading about the misery of the developing world's children and their mothers where 60 per cent of the populations of most countries live below the poverty level. And by that I mean no water, no sanitation, no electricity, no primary health care, no education. If I feel less helpless today, it is because I have seen what is being done by ~ UNICEF and many other marvellous organizations and agencies, by the churches, by governments and most of all, with very little help, by people themselves.

The effects of the monstrous burden of debt has made the poor even poorer and has fallen most heavily on the neediest, and those whom it has damaged the most have been women and children. We must do more about the alarming state in which the children in the developing world are only just surviving, especially when we know that the finances needed are minimal compared to the global expenditure of this world; when we know that less than half of one per cent of today's world economy would be the total required to eradicate the worst aspects of poverty and would meet their basic human needs over the next 10 years. In other words, there is no deficit in human resources.


The deficit is in human will.

The question I am most frequently asked is: "What do you really do for UNICEF?" Clearly, my task is to inform, to create awareness of the needs of children. To fully understand the problems of the state of the world's children, it would be nice to be an expert on education, economics, politics, religions, traditions and cultures. I am none of these things, but I am a mother.

There is, unhappily, a need for great advocacy for children - children haunted by undernourishment, disease and death, and you don't have to be a financial whiz to look into so many little faces with diseased, glazed eyes to know that this is the result of critical malnutrition, one of the worst symptoms of which is Vitamin A deficiency that causes corneal lesions resulting in partial or total blindness followed within a few weeks by death. Every year there are as many as 500,000 such cases in countries like Indonesia, Bangladesh, India, the Philippines, Ethiopia. Today there are in fact millions of children at risk of going blind. Little wonder that I and many other UNICEF volunteers travel the world to raise funds before it is too late, but also to raise awareness and to combat a different kind of darkness - a darkness people find themselves in through lack of information on how easy it is to reach out and help these children.

I have known UNICEF a long time. For, almost 45 years ago, I was one of the tens of thousands of starving children in war ravaged Europe to receive aid from UNICEF immediately after our liberation that freed us from hunger, repression and constant violence, when we were reduced to near total poverty as is the developing world today. For it is poverty that is at the root of all their suffering - the not having - not having the means to help themselves. That is what UNICEF is all about, helping people to help themselves. Giving them the aid to develop, thereby allowing them to become self-reliant and live in dignity.

Unlike droughts or floods or earthquakes, the tragedy of poverty cannot easily be captured by the media and brought to the attention of the world-wide public. It is happening not in any one particular place, but in slums and shanties and neglected rural communities across two continents. It is happening not at any one particular time, but over long years of increasing poverty which have not been featured in the nightly news but which have changed the lives of many millions of people, and it is happening not because of any one visible cause, but because of an unfolding economic drama in which the industrialized nations play a leading part. It is spreading human misery and hardship on a scale and of a severity unprecedented in the post-war era. In Africa, for instance, in spite of national reforms, improved weather conditions and a surge of their agricultural output, all their hard earned gains have been undermined by international economic trends and a drastic fall in commodity prices. They '. are now compelled to return four times as much money as they were loaned, but the poorest sectors of society in the developing world are also suffering as a result of the tremendous inequality in the distribution of land and of other productive resources. The terrible consequences of social injustice.

UNICEF's business is children, not the workings of the international economy. In it's every-day work in over 100 developing nations UNICEF is brought up against a face of today's international economic problems which is not seen in the corridors of financial power, not reflected in the statistics of debtservice ratios, not seated at the conference tables of debt negotiations. It is in the face of a child. It is the young child whose growing mind and body is susceptible to permanent damage from even temporary deprivation. The human brain and body are formed within the first five years of life and there is no second chance. It is the young child whose individual development today and whose social contribution tomorrrow are being shaped by the economics of now. It is the young child who is paying the highest of all prices.

We cannot therefore ignore the economic issues which for so many millions of the world's poorest families have made the 1980s into a decade of despair. Three years ago, Tanzania's president, Julius Nyerere, asked the question: "Must we starve our children to pay our debts?" Today the heaviest burden of a decade of frenzied borrowing is falling not on the military or on those foreign bank accounts or on those who conceived the years of waste but on the poor who are having to do without the bare necessities. On the women who do not have enough food to maintain their health, on the infants whose minds and bodies are being stunted because of untreated illnesses and malnutrition and on children who are being denied their only opportunity ever to go to school, and when the impact becomes visible in rising death rates among children, then what has happened is simply an outrage against a large section of humanity. Nothing can justify it.

The consensus now beginning to take shape is that the burden of debt must be lifted to a degree where the developing countries can cope with debt repayment, to the point where their economies can grow out of their overwhelming indebtedness and set them on the road to recovery and real development.

This year brings a glimmer of hope. Regional tensions between superpowers appear to be lessening. Progress in peace and disarmament may at last be being made. Several of the long-running armed conflicts in the world appear to be coming to an end. China is increasingly engaging in the world economy, the Soviet Union is showing more interest in working with multi-national organizations, much of Asia is making steady economic progress, world population growth is beginning to be brought under control, change is everywhere. And if at this time there is the vision to use this opportunity creatively to see a brave new world and to dare to reach for it, then there is a real possibility over the next 10 years to begin to come to grips with a triad of fundamental problems which '" threaten mankind - the presence and the threat of war, the - deterioration of our environment and the persistence of the - worst aspects of absolute poverty.

In many countries there now appears to be a widening concern for children, a growing alliance among political leaders, the press, the professional bodies and the private voluntary organizations in both developing and industrialized nations. Many of the great social changes of modern history - the abolition of slavery, the ending of colonial war, the isolation of apartheid, the increasing concern for the environment or the growing recognition of the rights of women - have begun with rhetorical commitment which has eventually turned into action. In the 1990s it may at last be the turn of the child, and our dream for an international summit for children and a ratification of the convention for the rights of a child could become a reality.

They say that anyone who does not believe in miracles is) not a realist. UNICEF performs realistic miracles every day. UNICEF has brought relief everywhere regardless of race, creed, nationality, or political beliefs. They work together with all governments, churches, and other relief agencies. Together with the Catholic church, they have brought wars and civil strife to a standstill for several days to vaccinate children on both sides of the lines by negotiating truces in El Salvador, Uganda, Lebanon, North and South Vietnam. It is not without reason that UNICEF was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1965.

UNICEF has supported the digging of wells, installed thousands of pumps. UNICEF has provided megatons of food and vaccinations. In 1974, only five per cent of the developing world's children were immunized. Today, 60 per cent. They have trained more than half a million health workers, given technical supplies and equipment for 61,500 health centres and on and on and yet, I repeat, 40,000 children still die every day. No national calamity, be it flood or earthquake, has ever claimed as many children's lives. This happens every week, mostly in the silent emergency of easily preventable diseases like polio, tetanus, tuberculosis, measles and, the worst killer of all, dehydration from diarrhoea caused by unclean drinking water and malnutrition. It costs $5 to vaccinate a child for life, six cents will prevent death from dehydration, and 84 cents per year will stop a child from going blind. How is it that governments spend so much on warfare, and bypass the needs of their children, their greatest capital, their only hope for peace.

I must admit to you that the magnitude of the task that UNICEF has undertaken sometimes overwhelms me, and I am saddened and frustrated when I stop to think of what we can't do, like change the world overnight, or when I have to deal with the cynics of this world who argue: "Is it morally right to save the lives of children who will only grow up to more suffering because of poverty due to overpopulation?" Letting children die is not the remedy to overpopulation. Family planning and birth spacing is. Rapid population growth can be---slowed by giving the world's poor a better life, giving them health, education, housing, nutrition, civil rights. These things are not free but available at a cost that developing countries can afford, given the assistance they need. China, Indonesia, Thailand and Mexico have already proven that population can be slowed by working on public health and education and family planning.

The World Bank now forecasts that by the early 90s, the world should reach the historic turning point at which the annual increase in global population begins to decline. It is also true that in no country has the birth rate declined before infant death has declined. In other words, parents can plan to have two children instead of having six in the hopes that two will survive, and that is why UNICEF is also dedicated to educating and informing mothers in child care for it is the mother who is still the best caretaker of her child. UNICEF supports any amount of educational projects for women in the developing countries that relate directly to health and nutrition, sanitation and hygiene, education and literacy.

So, today I speak for those children who cannot speak for themselves; children who are going blind through lack of vitamins, children who are slowly being mutilated by polio, children who are wasting away in so many ways through lack of water; for the estimated 100,000,000 street children in this world who have no choice but to leave home in order to survive, who have absolutely nothing but their courage and their smiles and their dreams; children who have no enemies yet are invariably the first tiny victims of wars that are no longer confined to the battlefield but which are being waged through terror and intimidation and massacre; children who are therefore growing up surrounded by the horrors of violence. I speak for the hundreds of thousands of children that are refugees. In the last few weeks more than 20,000 starving orphan boys have fled from the Sudan into Ethiopia. Many of these boys never make it to safety. They either die of hunger on the way (it sometimes takes them months of walking to reach their destination) or they drown in the river which divides the Sudan from Ethiopia. This has created a heartbreaking phenomenon never seen before - a camp full of small boys. There too UNICEF is present. The task that lies' ahead for UNICEF is ever greater, whether it be repatriating millions of children in Afghanistan or teaching children how to play who have only learned how to kill.

If we are meant to love thy neighbour as thyself, then surely we should love these children as our own. Those thousands of children that died in Ethiopia, did those children have to die to wake the world's conscience to our human obligation towards the child? Should children be asked to pay such a terrible price to awaken the world to the plight of other children? Charles Dickens wrote: "In their little world, in which children have their existence, nothing is so finely perceived and so finely felt as injustice," injustice which we can avoid by giving more of ourselves. Yet we often hesitate in the face of such apocalyptic tragedy-why, when the way and the low-cost means are there to safeguard and protect these children? It is for leaders, parents and young people, young people who have the purity of heart which age sometimes tends to obscure, to remember their own childhood and come to the rescue of those who start life against such heavy odds.--Children are our most vital resource, our hope for the future. Until they can be assured of not only physically surviving the first fragile years of life, but are free of emotional, social and physical abuse, it is impossible to envisage a world that is free of tension and violence. It is up to us to make it possible. It is we who must accept our moral obligation towards the millions of children who live in chronic poverty whether at home or in the streets.

UNICEF is a humanitarian institution, not a charitable organization. It deals in development, not in welfare, giving handouts to those waiting with their hands outstretched. On my travels to Ethiopia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Central America, Mexico and the Sudan, I have seen no outstretched hands, only a silent dignity and a longing to help themselves - given the chance. UNICEF's mandate is to protect every child against famine, thirst, sickness, abuse and death. But today we are dealing with an even more ominous threat, man's inhumanity to man, the dark side of humanity - selfishness, avarice, aggression, which is polluting our skies and our \oceans, destroying our forests and extinguishing thousands of beautiful animals. Are our children next?

That is what UNICEF is up against. It is no longer enough to vaccinate our children, to give them food and water, and only treat the symptoms of man's tendency to destroy, to destroy everything we hold dear, everything life depends on, the very air we breathe, the earth that sustains us and, most precious of all, our children. Whether it be famine in Ethiopia, excruciating poverty in Guatemala and Honduras, civil strife in El Salvador, or the ethnic massacre in the Sudan, I saw but one glaring truth. These are not natural disasters, but man-made tragedies for which there is only one man-made solution, peace, and that is what the United Nations has long understood, and has worked tirelessly toward for many long years. They have achieved the first giant step by negotiating corridors of peace in the Sudan along which 115,000 tons of provisions are now being transported which must reach their destination before the rains come, thereby hoping to avoid the repeat of the 250,000 deaths through starvation that occurred last year. The Sudan, this enormous country, the largest in Africa, where one of the most brutal civil wars ever known to mankind is being waged, where virtually all the population has been uprooted and displaced in fear of four threats, all of them deadly - the government troops, the rebels, hostile enemy tribes and famine.

I saw hundreds of thousands of men and women and children in camps, both in the government north and in the rebel-held south. Camps and now overcrowded towns where hundreds of newcomers arrive every day after months of walking. Many die on the way, phantoms carrying their sick transparent babies, but reaching their destination, urged on by the one human quality which is the last to die, hope. Even if this mammoth operation Life-Line Sudan were only to achieve half its goal due to the countless odds it is up against in a vast country with no infrastructure, few roads to speak of and no communication system, it will have succeeded. Not only in saving thousands of lives, but together with the government, the rebels, the brave, tireless NGO's, pilots, truck drivers, loaders and operation officers, it will have given the Sudan hope, and the United Nations will have proven that only through corridors of tranquillity can children be saved, and only through peace can man survive.

There is so much we cannot do. We cannot give the children back their parents, but we can return to them the most basic of human rights, the right to health, to tenderness, to life. Thank you.

The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Maureen Sabia; President, Maureen Sabia International Ltd., corporate lawyer and Director of the Empire Club of Canada.

The kind of magic spun by a wide-eyed Princess in Rome, by Holly Golightly, Sabrina, the thin girl, or indeed Sister Luke has enchanted us all. But their magic, powerful as it is, fades somewhat beside the enchanting reality of Miss Audrey Hepburn.

Miss Hepburn personifies what are in today's topsy-turvy world some rare, but to me, cherished virtues. We have heard today from a woman of passionate commitment, a woman determined to make a difference. Miss Hepburn makes a difference in so many ways. Possessed of polished grace, and utterly simple elegance, and displaying a graciousness of manner that is breathtaking in its impact, she has carefully cultivated an individuality which we would do well to emulate. Not for her, the lack of discipline so unfortunately accepted as the norm today. But there's more, much more. We have had the great good fortune today of hearing from a woman who could rest content in being one of the most acclaimed actresses of our time, but, driven by a fierce determination to make a difference, has dedicated herself selflessly to pursuing a punishing schedule in order to help the world's suffering children. Why? Because as she herself puts it: "The suffering of children is unbearable to me," and how vividly she brings before us the plight of the children for whom she works so tirelessly.

Audrey, you have said many times how difficult you find speaking in public, how nervous you feel when about to do so. Yet today, in this highly respected forum, with this long lineage of very distinguished speakers, you have delivered a thrilling and memorable address, one which will long be remembered as one of the highlights of the Empire Club's venerable history. And certainly it will never be denied that you have been the most sparkling presence we have had with us in many a long day.

You leave us this afternoon with a vivid understanding of what the poet meant when he described the glow that remains when the entertainment is finished. Thank you for being with us, for giving some of us the privilege of knowing you a little, for encouraging our understanding of your very important work, and for being the elegant thin girl we so admire.