UNICEF, the UN children’s agency, celebrated 70 years of operations in the Philippines with the theme Bata Pa Rin, signifying UNICEF’s role as being young and passionate as ever after seven decades of service for Filipino children.
Joining the anniversary gala were over 400 child rights advocates and supporters from the government, United Nations, NGOs, CSOs, corporate partners, children and youth, celebrity ambassadors and eminent citizens to make a joint pledge to support the full realization of the rights of every Filipino child.
“UNICEF has had an eventful and meaningful presence in the Philippines,” said Lotta Sylwander, UNICEF Philippines Country Representative. “On this day, the 20th of November, 1948, UNICEF signed the first Basic Cooperation Agreement with the Philippine government to provide humanitarian assistance to children. Manila was among the most heavily bombed cities during the Second World War so UNICEF’s first Asia operations were set up in the Philippines. Working with national partners, we have made significant progress over the years in supporting and implementing humanitarian, development and peace building programs. Given the remaining and especially current challenges from the UNICEF Situation Analysis of Filipino children, our work with our partners remain ever more important and relevant,” she added.
The day also marked the global celebration of World Children’s Day on Nov. 20 through the global campaign Go Blue to support children’s rights. Young speakers from the theater group Trumpets Playshop led the Go Blue inspiration at the anniversary gala.
Retired UNICEF Philippines staff Bituin Gonzalezand Pol Moselina narrated a journey of seven decades through key milestones, achievements and challenges of UNICEF’s work to ensure children survive, develop and thrive in a protective, enabling environment.
Aliah Adam, a Muslim youth, had narrowly escaped the bombing and had to flee Marawi City following the May 2017 siege and continues to live away with her relatives. Aliah shared her poignant experience growing up in conflict, the loss of her home and the life she knew growing up, and the dire impact of the destruction of Marawi City. Aliah expressed her strong faith and hope for recovery, reconciliation and lasting peace for children and communities of Mindanao.
She concluded, “Let me end my speech by asking you a question, will you just be a listener to our story? Or do you want to be part of our story?”
Kiana Gualberto, who was then 13-years old when Super Typhoon Haiyan hit in 2013, shared her harrowing experience of survival with her family and of her empowering journey to recovery, strength and hope. “We, the children of Tacloban, who lost all our belongings, could also have lost hope. But we didn’t! Thanks to all those who helped us, especially (to) UNICEF. You made us realize we were special; even if vulnerable, we are capable. And most importantly, you believed in us. Now, we believe in ourselves too!”
A special speaker of the evening was SPO4 Bill Felisan, once a juvenile delinquent running away from men in uniform but would later grow up to become a police officer and a law enforcer. “I was given a second chance in life. I consider it my duty to help children in conflict with the law because I know where they’re coming from,” he said, “Salamat UNICEF for supporting our work.” Felisan now works with a youth center supported by UNICEF to care for children in conflict with the law.
Also speaking at the event was Mely Apang, a midwife who spent her life serving indigenous Aeta communities in Zambales. Mely received a UNICEF scholarship for a training program back in 1978 that reached out to marginalized communities and indigenous groups all over the country. “I am grateful to UNICEF and the training that was a turning point for me to help my own community’s awareness and practice for maternal and child health care,” she shared.
The curtain fell on the gala event with inspiring songs sung by UNICEF Goodwill Ambassadors Gary Valencianoand the Mandalyong Children’s choir