In 1988, Audrey embarked on her second career as UNICEF's international Goodwill Ambassador. With her long time companion, Robert Wolders, and assisted by her dear friend Christa Roth, Audrey traveled for UNICEF with acclaimed photographer John Isaac on behalf of UNICEF. Together they presented to the world a provocative visual context in which to see the urgency of Audrey's message.
For five years, until her death in 1993, Audrey devoted all her energy to working with UNICEF. Her field missions were often physically and emotionally demanding and sometimes undertaken at great personal risk. Audrey learned first hand about the plight of poor and displaced children in countries all over the world. Audrey made over fifty field research visits to UNICEF-assisted projects in Sudan, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Thailand, Ethiopia, Sudan, Eritrea, and Somalia. These trips enabled her to witness first-hand the distressing conditions of children living in war-torn and drought-ridden areas of the world. Determined to raise awareness and badly needed funds, Audrey applied her first-hand knowledge to inform Special Assemblies at the U.N., shared details with various Press Associations, and lobbied on behalf of children to World Parliaments.
Her first Field Mission was to Ethiopia in 1988. She visited an orphanage in Mek'ele that housed 500 starving children and had UNICEF send food. Of the trip, she said, "I have a broken heart. I feel desperate. I can't stand the idea that two million people are in imminent danger of starving to death, many of them children, [and] [sic] not because there isn't tons of food sitting in the northern port of Shoa. It can't be distributed. Last spring, Red Cross and UNICEF workers were ordered out of the northern provinces because of two simultaneous civil wars... I went into rebel country and saw mothers and their children who had walked for ten days, even three weeks, looking for food, settling onto the desert floor into makeshift camps where they may die. Horrible. That image is too much for me. The 'Third World' is a term I don't like very much, because we're all one world. I want people to know that the largest part of humanity is suffering".
In October, Hepburn went to South America. In Venezuela and Ecuador, Hepburn told Congress, "I saw tiny mountain communities, slums, and shantytowns receive water systems for the first time by some miracle — and the miracle is UNICEF. I watched boys build their own schoolhouse with bricks and cement provided by UNICEF".
Hepburn toured Central America in February, 1989, and met with leaders in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. In April, Hepburn visited Sudan with Wolders as part of a mission called "Operation Lifeline." Because of civil war, food from aid agencies had been cut off. The mission was to ferry food to southern Sudan. Hepburn said, "I saw but one glaring truth: These are not natural disasters but man-made tragedies for which there is only one man-made solution — peace."
In October, Hepburn and Wolders went to Bangladesh. John Isaac, a UN photographer, said, "Often the kids would have flies all over them, but she would just go hug them. I had never seen that. Other people had a certain amount of hesitation, but she would just grab them".
In October of 1990, Hepburn went to Vietnam in an effort to collaborate with the government for national UNICEF-supported immunization and clean water programs.
In September of 1992, four months before she died, Hepburn went to Somalia. Hepburn called it "apocalyptic" and said, "I walked into a nightmare. I have seen famine in Ethiopia and Bangladesh, but I have seen nothing like this — so much worse than I could possibly have imagined. I wasn't prepared for this". Though scarred by what she had seen, Hepburn still had hope. "Taking care of children has nothing to do with politics. I think perhaps with time, instead of there being a politicization of humanitarian aid, there will be a humanization of politics".
In 1992, President George Bush presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in recognition of her work with UNICEF, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded her The Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for her contribution to humanity. This was awarded posthumously, with her son accepting on her behalf.
In 1993, Sean H. Ferrer, Luca Dotti (Audrey's sons) and Robert Wolders (her companion) created The Audrey Hepburn Memorial Fund at the U.S. Fund for UNICEF to commemorate the humanitarian efforts she made as a UNICEF International Goodwill Ambassador.
To date, the Audrey Hepburn Memorial Fund at UNICEF has raised over $1 million dollars for educational programs in Eritrea, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Sudan and Somalia.
Now special ambassadors to the UNICEF are: Sir Richard Attenborough, Emmanuelle Beart, David Beckham, Jackie Chan, Mia Farrow, Roger Federer, Whoopi Goldberg, Ricky Martin, Sir Roger Moore, Vanessa Redgrave, Jessica Lange, Susan Sarandon and Shakira.
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