After 30 years with UNICEF, actress Kuroyanagi says there's more work to do

by Shusuke Murai

Staff Writer

Actress Tetsuko Kuroyanagi, 81, who has served as a goodwill ambassador for the UNICEF children’s agency for the past 30 years, said Wednesday she dreams of a society where no child dies from starvation or poverty and will continue striving toward that goal.

As a goodwill ambassador, Kuroyanagi has visited more than 30 nations where severe poverty persists, including conflict zones such as Kosovo and Bosnia during the violence of the 1990s. What she learned about the plight of children there Kuroyanagi would later share with audiences in Japan.

Her message is to “care about what is happening to children all over the world.

“That doesn’t have to be a foreign country. I hope you even care for children in your neighborhood, which I think are all related to issues such as bullying,” she said at an event in Tokyo marking her 30 years with UNICEF.

Over the past 30 years, Kuroyanagi has regularly found herself in uncomfortable situations in the field, even facing potentially life-threatening incidents. Once, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, her bus was stopped by local bandits. She said she was also arrested once in Sarajevo, the nation’s capital, on suspicion of espionage.

“Children tried to live strongly with smiles on their faces, even in very unfair, brutal situations, like that when their families are killed in front of them, or after having had their arms cut off by guerrilla groups,” she said.

“When I see them, I always think of children in Japan . . . I hope they, too, can live with courage.”

Kuroyanagi said the situation has improved over her 30 years in the role, noting the annual number of children dying from malnutrition and disease has decreased to 6.3 million, from 14 million in 1989, thanks to activities that raise awareness of the problem globally.

Kuroyanagi said the key to continuing her work is her physical strength, which she maintains by doing squats daily, and her positive personality.

“I would continue my activity until I turn 100,” she said.

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