Katy Perry has visited Madagascar to bring attention to the situation of children in the tropical island country, one of the poorest in the world and still recovering from a political crisis that began in 2009.
“In less than one week here in Madagascar, I went from crowded city slums to the most remote villages and my eyes were opened wide by the incredible need for a healthy life – nutrition, sanitation, and protection against rape and abuse – which UNICEF is stepping in to help provide," Perry said. “I am grateful to UNICEF for giving me the opportunity to see first-hand how its programs make a real difference in children’s lives. Support for UNICEF is saving children, I am a witness to it.”
On her first visit in support of UNICEF, Perry saw a full range of programs, from education, nutrition, health and child protection to water, sanitation and hygiene.
Beginning her trip in a slum area of the capital Antananarivo, she visited a child protection centre and met abused and abandoned children and young mothers receiving support and counseling. More than three out of four children in Madagascar live in extreme poverty, making them vulnerable to exploitation.
Most international donors have frozen development aid following the 2009 crisis, forcing the government to make drastic cuts in public spending and resulting in large parts of the population not having access to basic health care and primary education. Perry visited a UNICEF supported pre-school and a primary school built to enable children to go back to school.
At the Sahavola pre-school, 117 boys and girls between the ages of 3 and 6 receive a quality early education and learn the importance of thinking creatively and working collaboratively. They are also encouraged to participate in health and hygiene practices at an early age. To promote proper hygiene and sanitation, UNICEF constructed latrines and sinks at the pre-school, where Perry took part in hand washing with the children.
The old village primary school, made from sticks and with a thatched roof, was destroyed by one of the tropical cyclones that hit the island every year. It was replaced by UNICEF with a solid, cyclone-resistant building.
Schooling rates in Madagascar are alarmingly low. Only three children out of every 10 who start primary school complete the cycle. Two-thirds of teachers have not received any formal training.
UNICEF and national school authorities are working to improve the situation through school construction and providing learning materials, training for teachers and supporting community action plans for education.
“An education is an incredible opportunity here. I visited a very remote community, where children and teachers walk for 45 minutes just to get to school. This is a testament to how appreciative they are about their education,” said Perry in the UNICEF- supported primary school in the village of Ampihaonana.
In the nutrition centre in Androranga village, Perry learned about UNICEF’s efforts to tackle another serious problem facing children in the country – chronic malnutrition. Half the children in Madagascar are chronically malnourished, putting the country among the six worst in the world for chronic malnutrition.
Poor maternal nutrition, poor feeding practices and poor food quality contribute to the failure of these children to reach their full physical and mental potential. The centre, run by a community health worker, identifies cases and works with village mothers to improve children’s nutrition, including focusing on the importance of exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months of a child’s life.