Lisa Surihani Is An Inspiration In Continuing To Fight For Children’s Rights

Original Reporting Yasmeen Kaoosji Edited by Lina Esa Photography Courtesy of UNICEF Malaysia

In this sphere of Instagram influence and célébrité, it’s often the case that you scroll past streams of #OOTDs, #Moods and selfies that are there for pure escapism. It’s not often that a celebrity who wields true influence can exercise it for a greater good — and this is why so many respect Lisa Surihani for the work she does for children.

As a respected actress, host and do-everything, Lisa Surihani can be thought of as Malaysia’s sweetheart. But the list of her credentials doesn’t end right there. On top of ambassadorships for brands, she is also an advocate for fighting for children’s rights with UNICEF Malaysia.

Just recently, she has renewed her role as a national ambassador for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) for the next two years. Speaking at a recent media launch for the CRC30 Campaign marking the 30th anniversary of the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC), she emphasised her commitment to the fight for children’s rights, saying “I’m here today to say that we need to listen to children. It is my honour to be able to amplify their voices. Not to speak on their behalf, but to demand attention to what they have to say.”

Lisa speaks at the CRC 30 Years ceremony in Kuala Lumpur. Photo credit:  UNICEF/2019/Faradiza Zahri

Lisa was named UNICEF Malaysia’s National Ambassador in 2017, and will go on her first on-ground mission with UNICEF in April to a Rohingya Refugee Camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

When asked how she came to work with the organisation, she shared that working with UNICEF had been a dream since she was a child herself, in high school. She came to join forces with UNICEF once she had more to offer, having had a chance to experience the world as an adult.

What is the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC)?

The CRC was adopted globally on 20 November 1989. It outlines the civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of children, and is the world’s most widely ratified treaty on human rights (Source). Malaysia is closely linked with the CRC; in fact, our Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is one of the few leaders in the world who signed this international law on childhood.

“We need to understand that children’s issues are never just “children issues” – it affects us all, the community, economy, the country.”

All countries that have ratified, or formally consented to, the convention are bound to it by international law, and have pledged their commitment to the protection and welfare of their children. However, there is still much more that needs to be done as children today face new threats, and also new opportunities.

Lisa’s Experiences as a UNICEF Ambassador

Lisa with Marianne Clark-Hattingh, UNICEF Representative, Malaysia. Photo credit:  UNICEF/2019/Faradiza Zahri

Speaking about her experiences so far, she expressed her gratitude to UNICEF Malaysia for helping her fulfill her childhood dream of working with the organisation, and said that she has grown since signing on two years ago.

She also shared that since becoming a mother of two, her passion for activism has deepened and she has taken to heart one of the key principles of the CRC, which is acting in the ‘best interest of the child.’ It guides her decisions as a woman, as a mother, as a wife and as an actor, and she is committed to fighting for the basic rights of children and raising awareness on the importance of safety, security and every child’s right to identity in order to fulfill potential.

Lisa also spoke about the heartbreaking plight of stateless children, who lack a legal identity that would automatically grant them access to education and healthcare. She believes more Malaysians must be made aware of  this issue, and advocate for the right to identity for stateless children. This remains one of her priorities in her work with UNICEF.

Let’s Go Blue for #MalaysiaBiru

Lisa and Marianne Clark-Hattingh, UNICEF Representative for Malaysia, also urged Malaysians to join forces to form a “Malaysia Biru” for a “Malaysia Baru” that honours the rights of children.

Lisa with Marianne Clark-Hattingh, UNICEF Representative, Malaysia. Photo credit:  UNICEF/2019/Faradiza Zahri

#MalaysiaBiru is UNICEF Malaysia’s contribution to the Go Blue campaign, which was launched on World Children’s Day 2018 in support of children’s rights. The campaign garnered worldwide attention with a video featuring UNICEF’s youngest goodwill ambassador, actress Millie Bobby Brown, with Liam Neeson, Lilly Singh, Dua Lipa, Orlando Bloom and The Blue Man Group.

Get Involved and Lend Your Voice

When asked how young people can get involved and become agents of change in their communities, Lisa urged the youth to figure out their calling, and reach out to organisations such as UNICEF to lend their voice and be the change.

After all, no one is too small to make a difference, as shown in the case of Greta Thunberg, a 15 year old student in Sweden who peacefully protested her government’s lack of action against climate change by sitting outside the parliament building every day for 3 weeks.

Her actions led to Sweden’s policies being revised to comply with the Paris Agreement, a United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) agreement concerning greenhouse gas emissions, and created the #FridaysforFuture movement, which spawned numerous climate change demonstrations around the world on Friday, March 15, including one in Kuala Lumpur, with approximately 40 participants.