By Andreas Sandre von Warburg
Can celebrities save the world? They might be only fictional heroes of large Hollywood productions, but their image and money have great power when it comes to support humanitarian causes and serve as a tool to make this world a better place.
Not On Our Watch (NOOW), the advocacy organization founded by the actors George Clooney, Don Cheadle, Matt Damon, and Brad Pitt, has donated $500,000 to the Humanitarian Air Service run by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) in Darfur. It is the first donation received after an appeal by the Rome-based UN agency to save the operations of this vital helicopters and airplanes service from being ended.
Earlier this week, the Humanitarian Air Service, whose 24-aircraft fleet carry crucial supplies and relief workers to remote parts of Darfur, announced that by the end of March it would be forced to cease operations because no confirmed donations had arrived to its $77 million budget this year.
It is the second NOOW donation to the humanitarian service run by WFP, after the organization granted $1 million in 2007.
“Having seen first hand the epic humanitarian challenge in Darfur, George Clooney and his colleagues know the life saving power of the Humanitarian Air Service,” said Josette Sheeran, WFP’s Executive Director. “This contribution will make a difference to the millions of vulnerable women and children trapped there, and we hope it will inspire other donations.”
George Clooney, recently named Messenger of Peace by the United Nations, has been the biggest fundraiser in Hollywood for helping Darfur and Sudan.
“World Food Programme planes and helicopters deliver humanitarian workers and urgent supplies to nearly every aid organization working in Darfur,” said Clooney in a statement. “This is a critical time for the programme. Without immediate additional funding, humanitarian aid in the region will be crippled. We are proud to help ensure the survival of this lifesaving programme and strongly encourage others to do the same. Protection of these victims should not fall solely in the hands of charitable organizations. Governments have a responsibility to help those who cannot defend themselves.”
An average of 8,000 relief workers in Darfur, who provide essential food assistance, water and healthcare services, use WFP’s Humanitarian Air Service each month. This number includes 3,000 passengers on the six helicopters traveling to the most remote parts of Darfur, unreachable due to insecurity and lack of road access.
NOOW’s donation follows another large personal contribution to the UN agency by actress Drew Barrymore, who announced a donation of $1 million live on The Oprah Winfrey Show’ earlier this month.
The money will be used to help the WFP feed thousands of school children in Kenya and kicks off WFP’s challenge to America to help feed 10 million children for a year.
“I have seen with my own eyes what a difference a simple cup of nutritious porridge can make in a child’s life,” said Drew Barrymore. “It helps them learn, stay healthy and sets them on track for a bright future. I urge everyone — everywhere — to help WFP ‘Fill the Cup’ for hungry children, and make hunger history.”