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A Visit of Compassion to Somalia
UNICEF's Audrey Hepburn raises public awareness and funds worldwide
Christian Science Monitor, October 5, 1992

In a Monitor interview, Hepburn describes what she saw in Somalia and her reasons for helping UNICEF. Some excerpts:

Why are you doing this?

It sounds so simple to say "because I love children." I can't bear suffering in any form, especially children. And apparently, I'm one of those few lucky people who can help a little bit.

What did you see in Baidoa?

The first thing I saw was a big truck being loaded up with bodies of those who had died that night. And, of course, too many were very small.

In the feeding center, it's a living nightmare: these thin, thin, thin children, of all ages - small, and a little bit bigger - who to me seemed to have gone already. And their eyes were like enormous pools of {she pauses} - of questioning. They look at you with succh - I don't quite know how to say this - saying: "Why?"

Some of them really don't have light in their eyes. They're beyond that. Most of them refuse food, because they are also beyond wanting to eat, or being able to eat.

Does your career as an actress help you in what you're doing now for UNICEF?

My career sort of helped me get the job. As I have a bit of visibility; I can use that to go on television, or do an interview, or raise funds, or go to hundreds of galas. There is some interest in me because of my career, and I'm thrilled.

That's sort of a bonus now which I can use for children.

Is there a certain amount of show business in the routine - getting the pictures, having a press conference? Are you comfortable with that?

Not at all. And I never was, actually, as an actress either. I'm basically not cut out for any of this. I'm rather shy.... Not at home, and not with my friends. But it's very hard for me, always has been - certainly now - to get up in front of 1,200 people and maake a speech about UNICEF, or address a university about the subject. I tell you, it scares me stiff.

On the other hand, years of training - ballet, theater, movies - has given me an awful lot of discipline to fall back on.

Has your contact with these disaster zones changed you?

I've always been compassionate. But you sometimes write off a civil war or something and say - "Oh, isn't it awful, all that trouble," without making an effort to understand why. It's made me overly sensitive. I've always been fairly sensitive, but I think at this point I have had an overdose of suffering. That's why I do need to go home and do other things.

And what can the average person do after you've told them of this disaster?

I don't have to tell them what to do because the world is full, I've discovered, of kind people. And I've also discovered once they know, they give, they help. It's not knowing that holds them up. Each country has huge problems of its own, which quite rightly they must take care of - the homeless in America, the poor in every country. But I think there's always enough to give to the countries that are the most needy.

Did you hear about our going on the carrier in Mogadishu? Can I tell you that story? [Hepburn was invited to fly on a United States military helicopter to visit marines aboard the USS Tarawa, one of four ships stationed offshore with more than 2,000 US marines backing up a UN airlift of Pakistani soldiers to guard food shipments.]

We were received by the commander, and everyone was lined up on deck. Then we found ourselves up in what, at an airport, I'd call the control tower, and I hear the commander speaking to me. He said:"You know, Miss Hepburn, when we knew you were coming we had a collection for UNICEF." And he handed me a check for $4,000.... I was so overcome.

I've been asked about so-called "compassion fatigue." What I would like to say to that is, that it's nonexistent.