Meg Ryan's Mission to CARE
After a very public divorce, actress Meg Ryan decided to step away from her movie star fame to regroup.
Meg began volunteering with CARE, an organization that works to alleviate the hardships of poverty throughout the developing world. Recently she traveled 8,000 miles to Delhi, India, to find Jehangirpuri—one of the poorest slums anywhere in the world.
Though India has the second-largest population of HIV-positive people in the world, discussion of AIDS there is forbidden. In Jehangirpuri, Meg met with a woman who is fighting against ignorance about HIV and AIDS.
She met with another woman who brought her along to a support group meeting organized by CARE. There, women discussed whatever was happening in their lives. "All the women in the village go just to talk about themselves or life, their kids, reproductive health, where they can get immunized," Meg says.
After driving for hours in the desert, Meg met with another Indian woman and her family of six. The woman works 10 to 12 hours a day in the nearby salt fields. Her family makes $1.50 a day. Her children go to school in a small, underground mud pit—the only way to keep them cool from the desert sun. Despite these meager conditions, Meg is told that many students walk an hour each way for a chance to learn.
Thirty miles away from the salt fields, Meg visits an experimental school, funded by CARE, that was created to empower daughters of salt workers to seek a better life. "We are studying to become someone just like the boys," says one of the students. "We hope that other girls will study like we do, and we want to be an inspiration to them."
Meg says one of her most lasting memories of India is from the women's group. A woman in a red sari suddenly stood and danced, and everyone else in the group began clapping along. "She was so free in this moment and so beautifully expressive," Meg says. "She took her veil off and she leaned in and her face was straining and so full of gratitude and love. And she said, 'I have nothing. I work in the fields every day. I have nothing, but I love this life. There is so much color.'"
Meg says she could feel how this woman's openness was a direct result of the freedom of the group. "This idea of female community is so powerful," Meg says. "Women in isolation are divided and conquered, [but] when women are together it is really one of the most powerful things on this planet."
Lucy Liu on Assignment for UNICEF
Best known for starring in movies such as Charlie's Angels and Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill films, actress Lucy Liu took on another important role in 2005 when she was appointed as a U.S. Fund for UNICEF Ambassador.
Lucy recently went on special assignment with UNICEF to bring back a special report from a quiet farming community in central Asia that was devastated by an earthquake.
Six weeks after Hurricane Katrina wiped out the Gulf Coast, there was another catastrophe that buried more than 70,000 people alive. On October 8, 2005, a 7.6 magnitude earthquake struck the town of Balakot, Pakistan. In just 15 seconds, the once thriving farming town was reduced to rubble. Another 100,000 residents were injured and 4 million were left homeless.
A few months after the earthquake, Lucy traveled to Balakot to survey the destruction firsthand. "You can still sense how terrifying it must have been," she says. "There's the smell of smoke in the air as well as death. … It's hard to describe. It smells like ash and it doesn't smell quite right."
When the earthquake hit Pakistan, many children had just started their school day. In all, 10,000 schools were destroyed in the quake and a staggering 35,000 children were killed—half of those children were caught under the rubble of schools that had collapsed.
Lucy visited what little remains of a school where tragically 200 students perished. Today, the surviving children study alongside a mass grave where many of their classmates are buried.
Despite these hardships, Lucy says that thanks to efforts by UNICEF and other organizations, the children are proving to be resilient. "The children just have a really great spirit about them," Lucy says. "I think when a disaster happens—whether it's Katrina or the tsunami or in Pakistan—what we try to do is … give the children a sense of normalcy right away. … [UNICEF] helps them get back to a place of what they do every day."
Lucy also visited a makeshift camp where 3,600 earthquake survivors, mostly women and children, are living in tents. Winter poses a major problem for the inhabitants. The temperature drops below freezing at night and frantic mothers desperately search for warm clothing for their families to protect them from the dangerous cold. Lucy learns that there is no electricity or tap water, and that food is scarce.
In the camp, Lucy says she was especially moved when she met an elderly woman whose entire family had perished in the earthquake. "A lot of the people still had family or relatives and she didn't," Lucy says. "As somebody who is elderly, … she was afraid that she wasn't going to be taken care of."
Lucy feels it's important for everyone to be aware of what's happening
around the world and to take action. "I don't think there's ever such a thing as
not being a participant in something," she says. "And I think America is one of the most generous countries in the world. … We can participate by loose change—even a penny for UNICEF counts."
Oprah applauds Lucy for sharing
her stories. "When you see those mothers sobbing with their children—their pain
is exactly the same as yours," Oprah says. "They feel the same way about their
babies, their families and their losses as you feel about yours. … Thank you for
making that real for us."
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