For Every Child in Danger
The work of Unicef, founded in December 1946
by Brian Radcliffe
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To explore our understanding of the work of Unicef (SEAL theme: Empathy).
Preparation and materials
- You will need a leader and three readers for this assembly.
- More information about the work of Unicef is available at: http://www.unicef.org/
- Optional: you may wish to research the name and contact details for your local MP.
Leader: If you ruled the world, what would be the first decisions that you would take? I hope they would be outward-looking, for the good of others, rather than simply to please yourself. On 11 December 1946, shortly after the end of the Second World War, the United Nations, an organization that had been formed to take decisions on behalf of the nations of the world, created Unicef. The letters stand for the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund. The following decade, it was renamed as the United Nations Children’s Fund, but is still popularly known as Unicef.
In 1946, it was felt that a key focus, after the devastation of the war, must be on the children of Europe, where much of the fighting had taken place. Many children were starving and living in very poor conditions. Some had been orphaned or lost touch with their families. Unicef attempted to meet the needs of the youngest and weakest in society.
Europe gradually recovered from the war, but it was soon recognized that there were children all over the world who needed help. In 1953, Unicef became a permanent feature of United Nations policy. There are three types of situation in which Unicef works.
Reader 1: First, wherever there’s a natural disaster, Unicef is there. In recent years, it has supported children in areas of the world where there is drought, flooding and earthquakes. Whenever there is a news story from such an incident, you can be sure that Unicef staff will be present.
Reader 2: Second, in war zones, Unicef workers try to gain access to children who find themselves caught up in something they are powerless to prevent. Unicef workers are in Syria right now, and also in Yemen and South Sudan. It is dangerous work because aid workers are caught between the different sides, desperately trying to bring food, water and medical supplies to the most vulnerable.
Reader 3: Third, it’s been recognized recently that many children in these situations are vulnerable to violence. Some have been forced to become child soldiers, bullied into killing those whom they are taught are the enemy. Others are kidnapped and forced into slavery, either to support the war effort or to sell on to willing owners in Europe and the Far East. This is a particular concern among orphaned refugee children who are spread throughout Western Europe.
Time for reflection
Leader: In the time of Jesus, children had little social status. They were only regarded as important when they grew up. However, Jesus gave them value, welcoming them as he welcomed adults. He gave severe warnings about the consequences for those who caused harm to a child. Most importantly, he used children as his model for accepting his teaching: a child or a young person is more likely to see and respond clearly, simply and without complication. Unicef is not a remote organization - it can involve any one of us. I expect that many of us here can understand to some extent what it is like to live in a world where decisions are taken, and sometimes forced on us, by others. So our voices are important as we stand up for those in need.
Let’s take one example. There are many thousands of refugees in Calais. Some have fled the fighting in Syria, whereas others have escaped from poverty in North Africa. Among those refugees are children who have become orphaned or separated from their families. They are very vulnerable. However, some of them have relatives living in the UK who would willingly let them live with them. The British government has agreed to allow some of these refugees to come to the UK and join their family members.
However, there are two problems: first, the government has only agreed to take some of these children, and second, processing the necessary documents takes a very long time. This leads to further problems: the children and teenagers who are waiting in Calais are still living in very poor conditions and, because they are unaccompanied, they are very vulnerable. In addition to this, the number of refugees in Calais is rising day by day. Among the new arrivals will be some who have relatives in the UK who are willing to receive them. So the number is steadily increasing.
The question is, ‘What can we do?’ The main job of our local MP [give his or her name] is to tell the government what his or her constituents think. If you feel strongly about the unaccompanied children and young people in Calais, you can write to [name]. You have a voice and, maybe more than any adult, you can empathize with their situation, so maybe [name] will listen to you, put pressure on the government and some things may change. You won’t be alone in supporting the work of Unicef. Many celebrities also do.
Reader 1: Ewan McGregor and Sir Chris Hoy.
Reader 2: David Beckham and Lewis Hamilton.
Reader 3: Emma Bunton, James Nesbitt and Jemima Goldsmith.
Leader: And many more. You would be in good company.
Thank you for the families and carers we have.
We can only imagine what it must be like to be alone and vulnerable.
May we take our feelings and turn them into action.
You may wish to show the YouTube video ‘He was alone’ by Yusuf Islam. It is 3.49 minutes long and is available at: http://tinyurl.com/j5tk5wd
Note: this is a moving video, so the assembly leader should check it for suitability prior to the assembly.