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KC AT THE BAT Actress KC Concepcion, the Philippines National Ambassador Against Hunger, hits a homerun as she delivers a 30-minute, extemporaneous speech at the UNs World Food Programme headquarters in Rome. She appeals for funds to feed kids of Mindanao. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO




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KC: World has heart for hungry in Africa

But leaves RP out

By Gerry Lirio
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:23:00 03/29/2009

Filed Under: Foreign Aid, Food, Poverty, War, Conflicts (general)

KC CONCEPCION, the eldest daughter of singer-actress Sharon Cuneta, flew to the headquarters of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) in Rome last week to plead for more funds?at least $7 million (P340 million)?to help feed poor children in Mindanao.

A rising star herself, KC (short for Kristina Cassandra) spoke to some 100 officials and staff members of the WFP as the national ambassador for hunger, a title she shares with actors Sean Penn and Drew Barrymore of Hollywood, soccer superstar Kaka of Brazil, and actor-musician Jang Dong-gun of South Korea.

The world that has a heart for the hungry is looking at Africa, KC said at the beginning of her 30-minute extemporaneous speech. But it shouldn?t leave Mindanao behind, particularly Sultan Kudarat and North Cotabato, she added.

?Many people think that the Philippines, known for its beautiful tourist spots, does not need the support of the WFP. But there remains a challenge in Southern Philippines, in the region called Mindanao,? she told the top WFP officials.

Her speech was webcast live at the WFP-Philippines office in Legaspi Village, Makati.

Return of feeding program

The WFP began feeding programs in the Philippines in the late 1960s, serving many places across the country. It moved out of the country in 1996 after it was told it had outlived its purpose. It returned in 2006 at the request of then Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman.

KC was named ambassador for hunger in February 2008. She spearheaded the WFP?s revived feeding programs, twice in North Cotabato and once in Lanao de Sur at the height of the rice crisis and the armed conflict last year.

Her campaign attracted private donations, ranging from $100 from some of her fans in the United States, Malaysia and the Philippines to as high as $121,000 from Unilever-Knorr, maker of consumer products.

KC went to Rome to personally appeal for more funds to continue a feeding program for schoolchildren in Sultan Kudarat and North Cotabato. The WFP-supported program had been stopped because funds for the schoolchildren were instead spent to help some 88,920 families displaced by the eruption of hostilities between government troops and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) since August 2008.

This year, KC hopes to continue the school feeding program.

?Additional contributions are urgently needed to enable WFP to support 70,000 schoolchildren and their families. WFP had to stop the school feeding activities because we had run out of (money to buy) corn-soya blend, beans, vegetable oil and sugar, she said.

She said it was important to continue the program.

?As the historical root of the Mindanao conflict traces back to the marginalization and exclusion of the Muslims and the Lumads (indigenous people), there will be no peace until the fundamental needs and underdevelopment of the region are addressed,? she said.

In Mindanao, Concepcion said, up to 75 percent of the population live on less than 60 cents a day, way above the national average poverty level of 40 percent. Nearly 40 percent of children under 5 suffer from malnutrition and only 33 percent of children complete primary school?just half the national average, she added.

Armed conflict

?Military counterterrorism activities, which are focused on central Mindanao, continue to displace hundreds of thousands of the civilian population in the area, generating humanitarian requirements,? she added.

?It is so sad that the things we have worked on in Mindanao have deteriorated since the (armed) conflict,? KC told the WFP officials.

?There are more internationally displaced persons in Mindanao than in Sri Lanka and Georgia. WFP staff safety is challenged, kidnappings are ongoing. My trip to Sultan Kudarat was aborted because of security risks,? she said.

Well-applauded

KC was well-applauded by WFP officials, among them deputy director Brenda Barton and Cynthia Jones, head of private partnership for Asia; Nancy Walters, chief of school feeding; Valerie Guarnierie, program design and strategic director; and Lionello Boscardi, coordinator of celebrity relations and special events.

Quizzed by Boscardi about her plans during an open forum that followed, KC said she wanted to raise $1.5 million (about P74 million) more this year from the private sector in the Philippines. She told them about a planned ?Walk the World? campaign to be held sometime in June in Makati City.

But she said she couldn?t do it alone, hence her appeal to the WFP headquarters.

?My grandfather taught me that when you help others, be discreet about it. But you have one lifetime to help, so you speak about it to get more people to help. This, I believe, is my job as an ambassador.?

Isn?t she afraid of going to Mindanao?

?There?s a reason why I was placed here,? she replied. ?You have to have guts. You have to be willing to risk something to be able to help. It?s a privilege. I am part of a bigger picture, even if the Philippines is low-profile compared to Africa. If Angelina Jolie can do something to help, why can?t I? ?

Charm offensive

It was the first time a celebrity ambassador delivered a report to top WFP officials in Rome. Reporting about the WFP?s programs in any country is usually the job of the country director.
But WFP head in the Philippines, Stephen Anderson, let KC do a ?charm offensive? to get the WFP?s top brass to pay more attention to Mindanao.

Watching KC deliver her speech at the WFP-Philippines office in Makati, Anderson said she did a great job in getting the message across.

?Let?s keep our fingers crossed (that she will get WFP?s funding approval). I am optimistic. She is meeting the right people there,? he told the Inquirer.

?We are very pleased and excited that KC (was) visiting
UN-WFP headquarters for the first time. It (was) an excellent opportunity to broaden KC?s exposure to WFP globally at a critical time when the organization is gearing up to address the impact of the financial and economic crisis which is spilling into the developing world, driving down incomes, destroying jobs and thereby increasing food insecurity,? he said.

Meeting with Sheeran

KC was later brought to WFP executive director Josette Sheeran for a private meeting.

KC herself was pleased with the outcome of her trip.

?Today has been an enormous experience for me. Of course, meeting with Madame Sheeran was a great honor. She listened as I updated her on certain issues concerning our program in Mindanao. To realize that she was aware of who I was, and also recognized my efforts truly surprised and humbled me,? she told the Inquirer.

?We need to work together to reverse this vicious cycle of under-nutrition and secure a healthier future for the hungry poor, especially children. There?s no reason why hunger should still exist, we can reverse this because we can. With hunger and malnutrition continuing to be prevalent among children in conflict-affected areas in our country, I am happy to be a part of an effort to ensure that food is provided to these children, as it is a basic and critical need,? said KC.

New generation?s voice

With her trip, KC said she has found ?a new dimension? in her role as ambassador against hunger. She said she wanted to be a part of a ?new chapter in human history,? where the youth provide a loud and resonating voice on behalf of the next generation.

?My life has become more meaningful with my involvement in WFP?s work in Mindanao. My work in show business finally has a purpose. Helping Mindanao is my simple way of giving back the opportunities and blessings I have been so fortunate to receive,? said KC, who will turn 24 on April 7.

?Our generation?s responsibility is to give back,? said KC, quoting Chinese actor Jet Li, whom she met at the Clinton Global Initiative forum in Hong Kong last December.

When asked why, she replied: ?Because we can. There should be no other explanation. Together, we can.?



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