Audrey Hepburn: A Tribute to her Humanitarian Work
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    home >articles >hepburn on a mission for unicef

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Hepburn on a Mission for UNICEF
By Maureen Downey, The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, February 19, 1991

Audrey Hepburn was awash in children during a UNICEF-sponsored trek through a Bangladesh slum when she spied a 3-year-old girl seated in a doorway.

She looked like she was dying to join us, so I sat down beside her, thinking she was too shy," Miss Hepburn said, speaking Monday at the Carter Presidential Center.

Then, Miss Hepburn saw that the child could not join in because she was crippled by polio - a disease virtually eliminated in the United States and most of the Western Hemisphere as a result of a simple vaccine introduced in the 1950s.

I remember that child, the light in her face, her little feet hanging there and the anger I felt that in 1989 this was still possible," said Miss Hepburn, who has two grown sons from previous marriages.

Over the past four years, Miss Hepburn's role as a UNICEF goodwill ambassador has taken her to four continents. Tonight she hosts a sold-out fund-raiser at the Swissotel Atlanta, her first stop in an eight-city U.S. tour on behalf of UNICEF.

At 61, the Academy Award-winning actress maintains the reedlike figure and wide-eyed expressiveness that led reviewers of the films "Roman Holiday" and "Breakfast at Tiffany's" to rhapsodize about her "gamin appeal" and "elfin beauty."

Despite a hectic schedule that didn't allow for lunch, Miss Hepburn presented an energetic and poised front during her first full day of a three-day stay in the city, meeting the press and attending a private evening reception. She was accompanied by her longtime companion, Dutch actor Robert Wolders. Commitment grew from war;

As a young girl in war-torn Holland, Miss Hepburn learned firsthand of UNICEF's commitment to bring food and medicine to starving children and she became an ardent and lifelong supporter of the relief operation.

She didn't hesitate to leave the quietude of the 16th-century Swiss farmhouse she shares with Mr. Wolders and her beloved Jack Russell terriers when UNICEF asked her to help raise both funds and public awareness.

People are so generous and so feeling and so ready to give," she said. "I can't tell you the things that have happened to me - like somebody just coming up to me at an airport and giving me $ 10 for the children.

We have a debt to each other, to humanity," Miss Hepburn said. "Maybe some people don't feel that way. I rather pity them. I think people like that live such an isolated life and don't have the joys of helping, of changing the world little bit."

Apparently, many people agree with Miss Hepburn. Despite a weakened U.S. economy, private donations from Americans are expected to reach $ 35 million for 1990, an increase of $ 7 million from the 1989 total.

Although she has seen terrible tragedy in her travels, Miss Hepburn is heartened by the difference UNICEF is making in reducing the number of children in developing countries who die from preventable causes. Each year, 14 million children - 40,000 a day - die for lack of clean water, immunizations and basic health care.

To me the most unexpected bonus of this job are these marvels you see," she says. "That when you do provide water, vaccinations, education, seeds, tools, you see children looking well and not starved."

With the exception of the occasional film appearance, such as her 1989 role in Steven Spielberg's "Always," Miss Hepburn retired from the screen in 1967 to devote herself to her sons. Yet, her mystique endures.

Television reruns your movies, which keeps you alive," she said. "Whatever benefit I have from that, it is nice to put it to use for UNICEF. Otherwise, I would just go home and walk my dogs."


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