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Celebrities Promote Humanitarian Causes

VOA News - April 20, 2009

Movie stars, models and musicians can often command the media's attention when they promote charitable or environmental causes. Angelina Jolie, Bono, Leonardo Di Caprio are just some of the A-list celebrities lending their famous faces to humanitarian issues, third world debt and climate change.

For many years, singers and song-writers have come together to draw the world's attention to famine and poverty in Africa.

The famous 1985 song 'We Are The World' was a number one hit - but it also contributed to a debate about the role of celebrity-humanitarians and whether the money they raised reached those who needed it most.

Celebrities help humanize issue

Peter Kessler of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says so-called celebrity diplomats help to humanize an issue, and to reach people when political campaigns often fail to do so.
"As we saw with Princess Diana when she first held the hand of an AIDS victim, it's spreading that message that these people are safe," Kessler said. "They're not a threat. They're threatened. And you can also reach out to them in your own way. You don't have to be a VIP celebrity."

Di Caprio's focus: climate change

Actor Leonardo di Caprio's cause of choice is climate change. His documentary, The 11th Hour, gave him what he says he was searching for: the opportunity to gain a sense of purpose.

"And you know, for me, watching the cultural understanding of the issue now is, in itself, encouraging," di Caprio said.

Baroness Caroline Cox, a member of the House of Lords, is one of Britain's prominent humanitarians. She has spent decades traveling to raise awareness of the poor and oppressed in countries like Burma, Uganda and East Timor. She says she is accountable for every cent of her charity's $650,000 budget but questions some of the other efforts.

"I would just like a little bit more knowledge, transparency, accountability as to where a lot of that money goes and what proportion really gets down to the dying child," she said. "I know with our little organization what a huge difference we can make with a little bit of money. I'd like to know where the big budgets go."

Affleck works with UN on Congo refugees

Actor Ben Affleck and former Congolese refugee Rose Mapendo at the launch of the 'Gimme Shelter' campaign in New York
Actor Ben Affleck and former Congolese refugee Rose Mapendo at the launch of the "Gimme Shelter" campaign in New York
Actor Ben Affleck put together a campaign film for the U.N. about the refugee crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo late last year.

He persuaded the Rolling Stones to donate the rights to the song 'Gimme Shelter.'

Farrow raises awareness about Sudan

Actress Mia Farrow has become a career celebrity diplomat. She traveled to refugee camps in Sudan more than a dozen times and told VOA in 2007 the situation there was desperate.

"I think they're cauldrons of misery, frustration, rage, rampant disease," she said.

Farrow successfully lobbied film director Stephen Spielberg to quit the job of artistic director at the Beijing Olympics. She claimed China was funding Sudan's civil war in exchange for oil.

"I think when the celebrities become engaged in areas of great need, it has one great advantage. It does put that need and those people on the agenda of international concern," she said. "It raises awareness. That is good."

Almost a quarter of a century after the song 'We Are The World,'many celebrities are still working to help the a world where the U.N. Children's Fund UNICEF says poverty still causes the deaths of up to 30,000 children each day.

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