Celebrities who act as goodwill ambassadors for the United Nations gathered in New York this week to discuss more effective ways of drawing attention to issues such as children's welfare, development, the devastation of war and the spread of HIV/AIDS. Many of the more than 40 film stars, athletes and other personalities concluded that the world organization needs to be more proficient in getting its message out.
UNICEF, the U.N. International Children's Emergency Fund, began the recruitment of goodwill ambassadors in 1953 with the appointment of actor Danny Kaye. Actors Audrey Hepburn, Peter Ustinov and Harry Belafonte followed.
Scores of high-profile personalities have lent their fame over 50 years to various U.N. agencies. In the grey world of international diplomacy, they have given the organization a touch of glamour as they tour war zones, hospitals, refugee camps and disaster areas.
Not all goodwill ambassadors are equally busy or equally committed, but a level of idealism was apparent in those who attended their first reunion since the United Nations drew up a list of objectives for the new millennium almost two years ago.
American actor Danny Glover said the U.N.'s humanitarian goals often are overshadowed by the political aims of governments. "We chose to be U.N. ambassadors, peace emissaries, youth emissaries, because we believe in the concept of the United Nations, of all people in the world coming together and sitting it out. Also, to find what I believe is the common thread that draws us all together. Often those relationships are forgotten when people have their national interests at stake. We are here to make the United Nations a better place," Mr. Glover said.
British actor Roger Moore, one of the figures cast in film as the British spy James Bond, said goodwill ambassadors, such as he, have to do a better job of advocacy, of bringing attention to the enormous needs of the world's people.
"It is like what I did for 40-50 years, which is make films and go out and sell the films. It is no good producing a new film and not selling it, because nobody knows it is in the cinema. And this is what we have to do. We have to speak as often as possible and as loudly as possible," Mr. Moore said.
Belgian media personality Goedele Liekens, who is a practicing psychologist, has focused her goodwill efforts on the role of women in developing countries. She recently visited Afghanistan.
"If we go into the field, the different issues the U.N. is dealing with, we give it a face. We bring back pictures and documentaries. And so, the problems get a face, and I think that is very important, because, the only way to reach people is through their heart. And that way they will get interested," Mr. Liekens said.
Former Indian tennis star Vijay Amritraj said he never saw his own country as he did when his responsibilities as a goodwill ambassador took him to the site of a natural disaster in western India. He spoke about the children caught up in tragedy, still a glimmer of hope on their faces, as U.N. workers entered the scene.
Much of what goodwill ambassadors witness in their travels, many for the first time in their lives, is what has been wrong with the world for a long time. They concede there may be no quick fixes or easy remedies. But they raise the public consciousness. They raise money for relief work. And their "stardom" allows them to operate without the bureaucratic tangle that handicaps the public relations work of vital U.N. agencies.