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Actor and heartthrob Orlando Bloom has just returned from a trip to Nepal, where he visited several UNICEF programs working to help the impoverished nation and its children.

The 31-year-old star of “Lord of the Rings” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” spent four days touring the western districts of Kaski and Chitwan, as well as visiting Lumbini, birthplace of Lord Buddha.

During the trip, Bloom had his forehead smeared red with “tika” and was presented with the traditional garlands of flowers, which he wore around his neck. He spoke with young mothers at the Sayapatri Community Organization in the village of Dibyanagar, and learnt about the ways that UNICEF works to promote safe hygiene and sanitation practices in the country.

Nepal, with an estimated population of 29 million, is currently recovering from a decade-long civil war that left 13,000 people dead. The conflict hampered the delivery of basic services to many of the more remote villages, and malnutrition became rampant, accounting for over 60% of child deaths. Even today, 48% of children are grossly underweight, maternal mortality is high, and many people suffer needlessly from treatable medical conditions. As of six years ago, only 84% of children received a formal education, but thanks to work by UNICEF and the Himalayan Trust, that figure is now closer to 100%.

“Previously, only 25% of the households were taking iodized salt [to prevent iodine deficiency disorders such as goiter],” said Chali Subedi, who facilitates over the village of Kalika. “The figure has now increased to 38%. Similarly, women’s workloads have decreased from 17 hours per day to 14 hours a day.”

Bloom also spent time with over three dozen blind children who attend a special school in the village of Pokhara, deep in the Pumdi Bhumdi hills, and learned about their studies, ambitions, and the world in which they live.

“I may be disabled, and might need assistance from others for everything I do,” said 10th-grader Sujan Dhakal. “Yet the world I see for myself is one where I can be of assistance to others and work for the betterment of my society and country.”

Bloom joined the students in recording a UNICEF-supported radio program entitled “Saathi Sanga Manka Kura” (Talking With My Best Friend). The drama dealt with the plight of a group of girls in a hostel with no female warden, and Bloom played a guest who offers advice to the girls.

“Talk about your problems,” he said during the program. “There’s no need to feel shy. It’s always good to talk about issues that concern you.”

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