Orlando Bloom Meets Syria's Refugee Children
World Development Award-winning actor and UNICEF ambassador Orlando Bloom opens up about his mission to ensure every child is happy, healthy and educated.
Mediaplanet: How did you get involved with UNICEF?
Orlando Bloom: Although I was appointed a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 2009, I supported UNICEF for many years before that. My first UNICEF field visit was in 2007 when I traveled to Nepal to visit the remote western districts of Kaski and Chitwan, two of the poorest areas of Nepal. I was able to see how UNICEF’s education programs and water and sanitation programs benefit local families and make a real difference in their lives. For instance, I still remember the smiles of local residents when they finally had access to clean and safe water without having to walk for miles.
Whatever I decide to do, whether it’s to be a part of an organization or brand or anything I do, it’s because I've had an experience with them, and that first experience for me was me going to Nepal and being in the field and witnessing UNICEF’s work in real time, making a better world for children.
Meeting these children and seeing how UNICEF’s work makes such a positive, long lasting impact on them, playing with these children, listening to their stories and seeing them laugh, it’s a great feeling and that was my motivation to keep working with UNICEF.
MP: What motivates you to advocate for the rights of children?
OB: The children themselves. I've been fortunate to be able to spend some time visiting children with UNICEF—most recently in Jordan but also in South Africa, Nepal and Russia. Seeing the work UNICEF does on the frontlines as well as behind the scenes is very rewarding. With that and with the resilience of the children, you cannot help but feel inspired and motivated to travel and show your support.
It has been my privilege to witness firsthand the life-altering work UNICEF does all over the world—whether saving lives through water and sanitation programs in Nepal, to seeing kids go to school who would have never had that chance because of conflict, or empowering women to take development into their own hands. It's important work that changes lives and I feel very fortunate to be a part of the UNICEF family.
MP: What are some ways that your work with UNICEF has changed the way you view our world?
OB: It has definitely given me a sense of humility and a feeling of how the human family is connected and share responsibility for each other. I cannot help but put myself in the shoes of the children and families I meet and think, "what would I want the world to do if that was me and my family." This was especially the case when speaking with Syrian families whose lives have been so drastically disrupted due to no fault of their own. Before the war, these families had lives most of us can relate to. Parents had jobs and their kids went to school and got to play. Now, in the Za’atari refugee camp, families live in tents and tiny caravans in a harsh desert area with freezing temperatures in the winter and extreme heat in the summer. I heard so many similar stories of loss, deprivation, frustration, anxiety and always the longing for peace and to go home – it’s heartbreaking.
As a result of this war, a whole generation of Syrian children has been unable to attend school, their lives shaped by violence, grief and displacement. This is perhaps the most dooming consequence of this terrible war – a lost generation of Syrian children. This is no longer a story I just read in the papers or watch on T.V. The facts and figures now have faces and names.
MP: Can you describe a highly impactful aspect of your trip to Jordan?
OB: When I traveled to Jordan, I met children who had either missed years of schooling or had never been to school because of the conflict in Syria. They are now living in Za’atari, one of the largest refugee camps in the world and going to UNICEF supported schools. The UNICEF staff there knows many of these children, and they are committed to their growth, development and learning. The staff is young and from all over the world and spend most of their days with Syrian families learning from them—about their challenges, needs, worries and wishes for the future. I'll never forget listening to the story of one young boy named Esmaeil who was so incredibly eager to go back to school and back to Syria to one day help rebuild his country. Seeing the will to overcome what might appear unsurmountable hurdles, not only from the UNICEF staff but especially from the children impacted by the conflict—this is what is so inspirational. You cannot help but want to throw yourself behind that and share those stories of hope and perseverance in what can otherwise appear as a truly overwhelming and bleak situation. If we all provide some support in whatever little way we can—whether it’s to amplify the voices of children or provide a small donation to UNICEF’s work—together that can make a big difference.
"It has been my privilege to witness firsthand the life-altering work UNICEF does all over the world—whether saving lives through water and sanitation programs in Nepal, to seeing kids go to school who would have never had that chance because of conflict, or empowering women to take development into their own hands."
MP: What was one personal connection that you made there that has changed your life?
OB: It would probably be meeting 13-year-old Esmaeil and his family. His family fled Aleppo two years ago for safety in Jordan. Since then, they’ve been living in very basic accommodations in Irbid, which is in northern Jordan. Esmaeil has been out of school for two years. He finished grade three in Syria. His 8-year old brother, Murat, has never had formal education. Their father explained to me that the nearest school is full and they can’t afford the transport costs to reach the second farthest school as savings are running dry and merely paying the rent is a challenge. As you can imagine, finding extra funds for school transport is in many cases not an option.
Esmaeil very much misses going to school and socializing with kids his own age. Since formal schooling is not an option for Esmaeil, he attends a UNICEF-supported child and family protective place where children participate in activities such as music, drama and art classes, which provides them with an opportunity to express themselves freely. After everything these families have been through, they need opportunities like this to allow them to persevere and provide them with some hope for their futures.
MP: What do you hope your work with UNICEF will accomplish?
OB: I’m committed to doing whatever it takes to help UNICEF save and improve the lives of children around the world. If that means traveling to visit children impacted by conflict in order to share their stories with people like your readers, I will do it.
One of the benefits of my profession is that I can help attract attention to UNICEF’s work and give a voice to the most vulnerable children whose voices often go unheard and whose stories are often untold. I’m in a unique position to focus the world’s eyes on the needs of children by visiting UNICEF projects and emergency programs abroad. My goal after every trip is to advocate for children and UNICEF’s mission to ensure every child’s right to health, education and protection.