Vanessa Redgrave, the Academy Award-winning actor and social activist for human rights issues, told a gathering of humanitarian aid workers taking part in a program run by Fordham University’s Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs (IIHA) that their roles promoting and administrating aid for vulnerable people throughout the world has made humanitarian aid work much more influential in the last 20 years.
“I’m horrified by the total lack of consideration, that there isn’t one government in the world that puts children first,” Redgrave said during her discussion with the aid workers on Monday, June 11, at the Lincoln Center campus. “I don’t think we can measure whether big governments have become more oblivious to children, but we can measure our own power and influence—and it has grown in size. I believe in that power.”
Redgrave and her son, Carlo Nero, screened Wake Up World, a documentary about UNICEF, for the aid workers who are at Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus to take part in IIHA’s International Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance (IDHA) program. The film, which was produced by Redgrave and directed by Nero, was made in recognition of the 60th anniversary of UNICEF in 2006. It traces the organization’s founding and its six decades of helping children affected by wars, poverty, starvation and disease, especially within Africa.
The socially conscious actress said she sees her life as a performer both as something spiritual and as a means of helping raise awareness and money for humanitarian aid. A UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador since 1993, Redgrave has visited several impoverished nations to promote UNICEF projects and has drawn attention to the plight of vulnerable children.
“In Sarajevo, under siege, when you have got children and parents that you think you can get out of hell, you do it—if you are a human being,” she said. “You reach out. We can’t survive if there is no humanity, which is why we have the word humanitarian.”
Since the 1960s, Redgrave has supported a range of human rights causes, including opposition to the Vietnam War, nuclear disarmament, independence for Ireland, freedom for Soviet Jews, and aid for Bosnian Muslims and other victims of war. She is a co-founding member of Artists Against Racism.
The IDHA program is a monthlong immersion program that helps aid professionals function more effectively in times of “complex emergencies,” including wars and natural disasters. The highly intensive, multidisciplinary course simulates a humanitarian crisis, and includes lectures, workshops and field experiences, 10 to 12 hours daily, up to six days a week. The program, which enrolled 38 humanitarian aid professionals from 25 countries this year, is run by the IIHA.