Our presence was the present: Maggie Cheung

By Pierre Chen
0 CommentsPrint E-mail China.org.cn, June 2, 2011
Maggie Cheung pose for photo with children from Henan Province who have been benefitted from UNICEF's child welfare programmes. [Pierre Chen / China.org.cn]

Maggie Cheung pose for photo with children from Henan Province who have been benefitted from UNICEF's child welfare programmes. [Pierre Chen / China.org.cn]


Editor's note:Film star and UNICEF Ambassador Maggie Cheung, along with China's Ministry of Civil Affairs and Beijing Normal University, launched the second annual China Children Welfare Week at China's UNICEF headquarters in Beijing on Monday. After the launching ceremony Cheung shared her experiences from a recent visit to the Liangshan Yi Minority Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan Province, a UNICEF-supported region, in an exclusive interview with Pierre Chen of China.org.cn.

China.org.cn: Dear Maggie, I learned that you recently visited children and families in the Liangshan Yi Minority Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan Province. Could you share some of the moments that impressed you the most from the trip with us?

Maggie Cheung: Liangshan is a remote place. We took seven hours to cover the seemingly 2-hour-long car ride, to express the condition is that bad, meaning that the people cannot really commute in and out of the village. Even to get there is so hard, and the people there don't really leave the villages at all.

That's my first impression, that you are born in one place and you are in that place forever; you don't even go down the hill. So that's a very strong point for me to watch, to observe what's really going on in the village, what kind of life they are having. I saw that it is a very tough life; I think it's one of the poorest regions in China today.

Now there is the living expenses subsidy, and the ones who get it are really having an OK life. They have enough food, they have schools and they have the child welfare directors to help them.

In that village there are kids in between being orphans and not orphans because one parent is still there but the other has run away or died, and the remaining one may just be sick and can't look after them anymore. These children don't enjoy the benefits because they don't fall into the category of needing help. These children are in bad conditions, and I think they are the kind of children we need to pay attention to right now.

And now I am happy to see that there are child welfare directors there because they really do something. These children have never been to school nor have their parents. They don't even know what it means to give a life to society.

Children born without birth certificates aren't registered as human beings or residents, they are not registered as anything. So they cannot get support, any help. You go to hospital but you don't have an ID card. There's no way you can just get any help. People in that village don't even know this is important.

The child welfare directors' first job is to register every baby that's born, to make them at least have an identity. Otherwise they are just like a bird or a cow, for they have nothing to identify themselves.

Another improvement is also the Youth Centers that are being built at the moment. They really help children by offering them places to go, protecting them like shelters. Now with the centre, children can go there and play with each other. It's a good hangout place so they are not in the street exposed to drugs or other sorts of bad things.

China.org.cn: In what way do you think your role as UNICEF Ambassador has benefited those children in the village?

Maggie Cheung:For one afternoon, I at least brought some smiles. Maybe they don't even know who I am because they have no TV or newspapers. They may not even know who Maggie Cheung is, but that doesn't matter because we brought some presents and our presence was the present. I think hugging them and playing with them makes them very happy.

A little boy said to me after I hugged him, "Can you hug me again?" I asked why, he said "because no one has hugged me for so long. My parents have died and my sister is only 12. She can't even pick me up."

This is my personal moment, but the bigger mission of mine is to pass the message to the world, because through me, hopefully, everybody can learn what's really going on there and I can draw some attention to these people who want to help. I think if we group together to help, it will be much more feasible for them to get help.

China.org.cn: What do you think is the best way to help those vulnerable children? How can each of us help?

Maggie Cheung: Of course we don't like to mention the word money, but in a very practical term, money is essential because they, the children, do need shelter, they do need clothes. These all have to be bought. So the government really has to be more giving and understanding to them and give more support I think.

I think with this regard the government can really do something. You know we can only get attention and donate, but apart from that, to really change the system, to make things happen, we have to rely on the government. We will do enough work for the government to know the importance of working with us to continue with the budding progress.

We have already seen a total of 120 youth centers built in one year. If we are working as fast as this, in another five years each village can have one youth center and that will make a huge difference. Once the drugs stop, there will be less AIDS and there will be less of everything.

But for the kids without youth centers to go to, they are hanging out in the streets. Someone says to them, "Come to have one injection." "Yeah!" They wouldn't even know what it is. Once they get injected, they may get AIDS, they may get hooked onto drugs. Then it's the end for them.

China.org.cn: How long have you been serving as UNICEF Ambassador in China? Are there terms requiring your frequency of visits or other duties?

Maggie Cheung: Since April 29, last year. So I've been with UNICEF for one year and a bit. So far I have done two trips as assignments. The previous one was to Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. I will continue to do such trips, hopefully to draw more and more attention and to start caring for even the normal children in China. Before long the society will be aware. There are people out there who need help, and we should give it.

No terms at all. But when it is needed I will be there. UNICEF will plan this. I will come whenever they ask me. I trust their planning is always appropriate.

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