Caryl Stern, President & CEO of UNICEF USA (L) and Ishmael Beah, Spirit of Compassion Award Honoree at the inaugural UNICEF Gala San Francisco at the Ritz Carlton on October 7, 2017 in San Francisco, United States. (Photo by Kelly Sullivan/Getty Images for UNICEF USA)
Last weekend, close to 300 people came together to support the work of UNICEF USA, a humanitarian organization that works to aid thousands of children in 190 countries and territories around the world.
On Saturday, October 7, the Northwest Regional Office of UNICEF USA hosted the inaugural UNICEF Gala at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in San Francisco. With designer Valentino as a lead sponsor, the event celebrated UNICEF’s global mission – children first, and honored UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Ishmael Beah with the Spirit of Compassion Award.
The event included many ways to raise awareness of the challenges children face around the world, such as a virtual reality bar displaying short films of children’s experiences in countries overseas and how UNICEF’s work has impacted them. The event also incorporated a ‘Water Walk’ where attendees carried jugs of water for a short distance.
Worldwide, women and young girls spend 200 million hours each day collecting water, according to the UNICEF website.
This years inaugural event raised close to $500,000 to help UNICEF continue their work providing food, clean water, immunizations and other aid to children around the world.
Honoree Ishmael Beah spoke to his own experience with UNICEF as a young boy.
Beah was first introduced to the organization as a child soldier in Sierra Leone. The work of UNICEF in his country enabled him to obtain a passport as a young boy, escape war in his country, travel to America and speak before the United Nations about his experiences as a young soldier.
“The thing that changed my life was that somebody stopped, at some point, and decided to do something, not for themselves, but for someone else,” said Beah.
“From the person who decided to work for UNICEF and goes into places of war to negotiate with armed groups to release children like me when I was a child; from the family that decided to adopt me,” he continued.
Since Beah’s appointment as UNICEF’s first Advocate for Children Affected by War in 2007, he has worked towards putting children first. As a bestselling author, human rights activist, father and scholar, Beah speaks to young people around the world encouraging them of life’s possibilities.
When writing his first book, “A Long Way Gone, Memoirs of A Boy Soldier”, Beah said, “What was going in my mind was, how do I explain to people how the human spirit suffers, because everybody can relate to that. Everybody has lost something.”
He added, “I try to bring people into a world that is not so familiar to them so that they can find commonality there. Open a small window into reality that may seem so far away but it’s actually not.”
But, he stresses that the work continues.
One in 4 children around the world are severely malnourished, UNICEF USA President and CEO Caryl Stern said.
UNICEF is empowering kids to use their power for good and help others in need.
Through the UNICEF Kids Power program, 200,000 kids in the US have saved 40,000 lives of children living overseas, just by wearing a fitness band and walking 12,500 steps each day.
This season, UNICEF will also host the Trick or Treat Campaign, where children will collect funds to help those affected by disasters in the US, Mexico and Puerto Rico.
For more information about UNICEF and their different programs, visit UNICEF.org.