"BLACK EYED PEAS" AND MICHELLE YEOH SUPPORT BRIGHTER FUTURE FOR CHILDREN AFTER THE TSUNAMI
BANDA ACEH - Singer will.i.am of the famed U.S. hip-hop group Black Eyed Peas and Malaysian movie star Michelle Yeoh are visiting Aceh today to learn first-hand about the plight of children in this tsunami-devastated region and support the United Nations World Food Programme in its efforts to deliver food to survivors.
The artists, along with Nori Abdullah, daughter of the Prime Minister of Malaysia, and Malaysia's Special Envoy for Tsunami Relief Ambassador Razali Ismael, are making a one-day visit to Aceh for the Force of Nature Foundation (FON). A Malaysia-based nonprofit organization established in the wake of the tsunami, FON is staging a benefit concert at Kuala Lumpur's Stadium Putra on 18 March.
The FON delegation took part in a WFP distribution of fortified biscuits at Tanjung Selamat Primary School, in the Banda Aceh area of Darussalam, which was devastated when the giant waves hit the city on 26 December.
The 200 schoolchildren, some of them tsunami orphans, performed a traditional Acehnese dance for the celebrity visitors and sang a song about the tragedy the people had suffered and their desire to start a new life. Virtually every family living on the coastline of Aceh lost relatives in the natural disaster, the worst in living memory.
"I am a Force of Nature," shouted the schoolchildren after musical coaching by Yeoh, star of the acclaimed film "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," and will.i.am. The children also sang the Indonesian version of "Happy Birthday" to will.i.am, who turned 30 today.
"We are happy with the visit of public figures who can bring worldwide attention to the overwhelming needs of this region. As they see for themselves the scale of the devastation, they will be able to help us to spread this message to the world," said Mohamed Saleheen, WFP's Country Director in Indonesia, who accompanied the FON delegation.
Saleheen underlined that school feeding programmes provide a powerful incentive for parents to send their children back to school. Every day they are in school, the children get a nutritious meal that builds their health and allows them to concentrate on learning.
He added that the visit of will.i.am and Yeoh coincides with provincial-level Indonesian Government discussions underway in Banda Aceh to develop school feeding and maternal child health activities in partnership with WFP. Saleheen emphasized that school feeding has enormous value as a means of stabilizing traumatized children and bolstering household food security for families who lost everything in the disaster.
The delegation met with Aceh's acting Governor, Azwar Abubakar, and humanitarian workers to discuss how Force of Nature can best contribute to reconstruction efforts in Aceh. They also visited an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp, run by the NGO Mercy Malaysia, where they participated in a WFP food distribution. The FON group then traveled to the coastal village of Lampuuk, where a mosque is the only building standing in the midst of a vast landscape of destruction.
The March 18 benefit will feature other top international and regional artists such as the Backstreet Boys, Boyz II Men, Lauryn Hill and Wyclef Jean. All profits from the show will go toward long-term reconstruction efforts in tsunami-affected countries.
Organizers hope that the Force of Nature visit to Aceh and the concert in Kuala Lumpur will remind people around the world that the relief effort here is far from over, and that the human spirit and the bonds of friendship are stronger "Forces of Nature" than the December 26 tsunami.
The needs are immense. An assessment survey by aid agencies including WFP found that more than 970 schools in Indonesia were destroyed by the earthquake and the tsunami, leaving almost 180,000 school children without the means to continue their education. Rebuilding their lives and giving them hope for the future will take years of concerted work.
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency; each year, WFP provides food aid to an average of 90 million people, including 56 million hungry children, in more than 80 countries.
WFP Global School Feeding Campaign -- As the largest provider of nutritious meals to poor school children, WFP has launched a global campaign aimed at ensuring the world's 300 million undernourished children are educated.
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