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Martin Bell - Back on the Frontline
As an experienced former BBC
reporter, Martin Bell OBE, has witnessed first-hand death and despair in
war-torn countries across the globe.Now, as a Unicef ambassador, he is
trying to do something about it.
Martin Bell writes for Rotary
about what he has seen, and how Rotarians can help.
became a Unicef ambassador in June 2001, the countries I’ve visited have
invariably been the ones where the cruise ships don’t go, either because they
are war-torn or landlocked – or both.
Unicef visits have taken me to Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, Iraq, South Sudan
and the Democratic Republic of Congo – all still torn by conflict.
conflict in Syria has now entered its seventh year. Out of a population of 22
million in Syria, around 11 million – a half – have been forced from their
homes by the fighting. It is one of the great humanitarian calamities of our
time and it is a crisis that hits children hardest.
“After six years of war, nearly
six million children
are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance inside Syria.”
six years of war, nearly six million children are in urgent need of
humanitarian assistance inside Syria – 12 times more than in 2012. Over 2.3
million children are now living as refugees.
this year, I travelled with Unicef to Lebanon, a country I last visited in 1973
during its own civil war. One in four of the population of Lebanon is now a
people, many of them children, are not living in refugee camps but informal
settlements that have sprung up across the country. Too many children there are
working to survive and so cannot attend school. I met eight and nine-year-olds
who were totally illiterate.
Children with dreams of home
children I met dreamed of a return to the homeland many have not seen or cannot
remember. The role of Unicef is to work with its partners to ensure all
children have access to education and healthcare, as well as campaign to
protect children from things like underage marriage, the risk of which has
increased since the conflict began.
is one country where Unicef’s intervention, day by day, is making a real impact
on the lives of children.
spoke to the headmaster of a school which teaches mainly Lebanese children in
the morning and Syrian refugee children in the afternoon. I asked him what
difference the funding from Unicef had made. “Without Unicef”, he said, “We
would not be able to do what we are doing.”
is donations from the public and organisations like Rotary that fund this work
and mean Unicef can respond immediately and help them to rebuild their lives in
the long term.
“Too many children are working
to survive and cannot attend school.
I met eight and nine-year-olds who were totally illiterate.”
realities of life for these children are there to see – but our perception of
them is not as clear as it used to be. This struck me throughout all my travels
for Unicef – I didn’t meet any journalists in any of them – with the exception
of Peter Greste of the BBC and later Al-Jazeera. Foreign news – especially from
zones of conflict – is expensive and dangerous to cover. The result has been a
we depend on such organisations as Unicef, not just to help the afflicted, but
to inform us all and to be prime witnesses of what is going on in the unquiet
corners of the world.
do it either through the work of their ambassadors or by helping journalists to
access to such places as Somalia, Yemen and South Sudan – emergencies which
otherwise would be completely unreported.
Martin Bell talks with children during a recent visit to Lebanon
a Unicef ambassador is not so different from being a TV reporter. It is a
matter of bearing witness – or, if you like, journalism with a purpose.
Certainly it is the best job I ever had.
Lebanon, I met an old Unicef friend, Luciano, an Italian whom I had previously
encountered in Goma in the eastern Congo. I asked him what should we be doing?
He said: “Help us by raising money, obviously.”
beyond that, we should counter what seems to be a rising xenophobia, and a
growing feeling in Europe that the plight of refugees is none of our business.
In an interconnected world, it is all of our business – both in terms of our
national interests and our security, and in terms of our common humanity.
this is the reason the UK’s aid programme is such a fantastic promise from our
country to the world’s children.
“Unicef and Rotary always have
been and will be international.
Since 1988, the relationship between these two organisations
has raised over £27 million for children worldwide.”
aid prevents people dying, gives children an education, keeps the vulnerable
from the hands of those to plan to exploit and abuse them, and helps millions
fleeing the brutality of war.
this help, the next generation can go from being the most vulnerable to having
a chance to flourish. UK aid helps ensure Britain is great and good to the
world and we should take great pride in it.
and Rotary always have been and will be international. Since 1988, the
relationship between these two organisations has raised over £27 million for
clubs in Great Britain and Ireland have regularly responded to emergencies,
allowing Unicef to provide aid to children immediately.
last year, Rotary Great Britain and Ireland members raised vital funds that
supplied Syrian children with clothing and blankets to survive sub-zero
agencies like Unicef, Rotary supports life-saving causes. Its interventions
have an enduring impact and Rotary can and should be proud of them. It has
chosen to make a difference, because that is what Rotary does.
find out how you can support Unicef’s work for children, visit unicef.uk/rotary
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published in Rotary, the official magazine of Rotary in Great
Britain and Ireland. Find out more at www.rotarygbi.org