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Japan’s Kuroyanagi Pledges Aid for Afghan Children - 2001-07-28

A Japanese celebrity and goodwill ambassador for the U.N. children's agency (UNICEF) is vowing to raise money for thousands of Afghan children suffering from a devastating drought and decades of war. Tetsuko Kuroyanagi's pledge follows a 10-day trip of Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan.

Ms. Kuroyanagi has taken 18 trips to visit children who are suffering around the world. But she says the humanitarian situation for those displaced by war and drought in Afghanistan appears by far the worst. "This time one old woman said 'no hope.' That is the first time I ever heard somebody say 'no hope.' So it impressed me very much," Ms. Kuroyanagi said. "She had just arrived at the camp and she had no tent, no food, no water. She is just sitting on the ground."

The Japanese actress and author spoke at the end of a trip aimed at raising awareness about the humanitarian crisis hitting millions of displaced Afghans.

She visited with thousands of Afghans residing in displacement camps across Afghanistan and in neighboring Pakistan, which is struggling to house more than two million Afghani refugees.

During a tour of Nasir Bagh, a refugee camp in Pakistan's northern frontier, Ms. Kuroyanagi spoke to a refugee child who was blinded by shrapnel. She instructed the girl, nine-year-old Marina, to touch her face. Marina, beaming, told the visitor she is very beautiful.

Ms. Kuroyanagi praised current relief efforts, especially programs aimed at educating Afghan boys and girls in the camps. But she says she was deeply saddened by the plight of Afghan children forced to live in squalid camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan. "For so many years people have been talking about Afghanistan, so people are a little bit tired of talking about Afghanistan," she said. "That, for me, is very sorry for children in Afghanistan because they are suffering."

She says much more aid is needed to improve the conditions for Afghanistan's children, and she says it is her job to make sure people do not forget.

Ms. Kuroyanagi says most refugees she talked to pray for peace and say they hope to soon go home.

She says they generally blame war and drought for their situation and not the Taleban, the religious faction that rules most of Afghanistan under a strict interpretation of Islamic law.