I had many wonderful experiences working with all of the Ambassadors at the U.S. Fund for UNICEF. But the one person who made a really lasting impression on me was the actor Laurence Fishburne.

I didn't know Laurence at the time, and I don't even remember whether we approached him or he came to us. All I know is that at some point, he said, "Maybe I'll get involved with you guys—let's talk," and I came in on the talking part. I bonded with his publicist, a phenomenal media guy named Alan Nierob, the first time we chatted, and Laurence also got along really well with the U.S. Fund's then president, Charles J. "Chip" Lyons.

Laurence proceeded to tell us a remarkable story. He'd begun filming his breakthrough role in Apocalypse Now when he was only fourteen, a grueling two-year stint in the Philippines. Like many of the actors in that film, Laurence found the experience both inspiring and traumatic because of the subject matter. And like any great actor, he'd taken to heart the experiences of the character he played. Even though he hadn't actually been a child soldier, he'd been a fourteen-year-old who played a soldier—a soldier involved in a particularly brutal war—and it had left a deep impression on him.

When Laurence came to meet with us, the issue of child soldiers was very much in the news—and very much on his mind. Because of his experiences filming Apocalypse Now, he wanted to help raise awareness of this painful issue and to join in UNICEF's mission to end the illegal and atrocious practice of using children as soldiers in the military.

In response, I set up a trip for him to the Ivory Coast and then on to war- torn Liberia, a West African nation then notorious for having abducted and drugged many children whom it had involved in its recent seven-year war. The war had just ended and UN peacekeepers were still stationed in the battered nation. I accompanied Laurence on that trip and I'll never forget landing in the country's capital of Monrovia, where the vast majority of the people still had no lights, no electricity, and no running water. We who stayed on the UN base were able to benefit from generators and a rudimentary plumbing system, but our use of lights, showers, and even toilets was highly restricted.

Excerpted from If It Takes a Village, Build One: How I Found Meaning Through a Life of Service and 100+ Ways You Can Too by Malaak Compton-Rock, foreword by Marian Wright Edelman. Copyright © 2010 by Broadway Books. Reprinted by permission of Broadway Books, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


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