Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Happy Birthday, Jackie Chan

Sometimes you just get lucky. And so I found myself in a labyrinth of scaffolding and plastic sheeting, underneath the stage at the Beijing Workers’ Stadium, listening the roar of 18,000 fans. They were there to see the cream of China’s modern musicians, supported by K-pop and J-pop superstars, and to celebrate the birthday of UNICEF’s fabulous Goodwill Ambassador Jackie Chan.

Since 2004, Jackie has travelled the world with UNICEF supporting children in need. In his first year as a UNICEF Ambassador, Jackie visited Cambodia and helped children learn about HIV/AIDS prevention and landmines. In Viet Nam, he fought to end stigma and discrimination against children with AIDS, and helped mothers learn how to prevent passing the disease to their children.

As well as his more famous movies, Jackie has starred in TV spots that have helped change children's lives, like ‘Paper Bird’ which helped make children safe from bird flu. He raised money to help children suffering after the Sichuan earthquake, and inspired young people in Timor Leste to use martial arts not for fighting but for peace.

When, last year, Jackie went to Myanmar we learnt a lot about the power of his voice. He visited children who had been trafficked – and struck fear into the hearts of traffickers, telling them "Children are not for sale".

The crowds of fans in Myanmar almost derailed his plans to meet with trafficked children. Almost, but not quite, because he is also a consummate professional, and he used all his movie-star and ambassadorial skills to calm the crowds and make sure he actually met the children who were waiting for him.

Mr Nice Guy
Jackie Chan with children and young people in Myanmar
© UNICEF Myanmar/2012/Myo Thame
Jackie Chan is truly a superstar, whose name is recognized as far afield as Ethiopia and the Pacific Islands. And his charm and his confidence are infectious.

This year, Jackie’s birthday concert was something different. He was in China – his homeland. His people were there to celebrate, and celebrate they did. And because of Jackie’s commitment to children, he saw his birthday and this concert as an opportunity to focus some of that excitement towards solving problems that children face.

So, I stood under the stage, in a makeshift elevator, as nervous as I have ever been, and found myself gently rising up to the stage level. As I emerged from the darkness into the bright stage lights and saw the crowd, my heart skipped a beat. But I managed to gather my wits, and talk about UNICEF’s work and our mandate, and about the wonderful support children have received from Jackie. And of course I wished him happy birthday.

In a matter of minutes I was sinking back into the darkness and the bustle of back stage.

The celebrations of Jackie Chan’s birthday are still going on. At a charity dinner the next night – once again I felt truly out of my depth – he raised more than 70 million Yuan (over $10 million USD) for children and to help protect the environment. Today he is off to Shanghai for another round of events and more awareness raising.

My own one minute of rock-star fame – probably the only minute of stardom I will ever experience – is over. But Jackie’s work, both as an entertainer and an advocate for children, continues. UNICEF and the children who we help clearly benefit from both.

Thank you Jackie Chan, and Happy Birthday!

Jackie Chan leads students in a martial arts exercise in Timor Leste
© UNICEF/NYHQ2008-0653/Estey
The author
Christopher de Bono is Regional Chief of Communication, UNICEF East Asia and Pacific

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