August 19, 2010

Nicole Kidman - Heartbreak For Haiti;
Plans Trip To Asia

Nicole’s heartbreak for Haiti

August 19, 2010, 7:30 am

By Liz Henderson, Reported by Shane Sutton

Touching down in Haiti on July 29, Nicole Kidman was “absolutely shocked.” Although it is only a four-hour flight from Nashville, where she lives with husband Keith Urban and their toddler, Sunday, “You get off the plane and it feels like a world away,” she tells WHO. In the wake of the devastating January earthquake that claimed almost half a million lives and left 1 million people homeless, “it is a tent city,” she says incredulously. “You look at the level of destruction and think, ‘It will take 200 years to rebuild this.’ It is just unbelievable.”

If Kidman, 43, has anything to do with it, the outlook for women in the impoverished island nation will improve, and quickly. Late last month, the Oscar-winning actress spent two days in and around the capital, Port-au-Prince, drawing global attention to the plight of Haitian women as a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), which since 2004 has pushed for women’s rights in Haiti. Her tour included meeting a former schoolteacher now educating local children in her garden, and a visit to Reviv, Haiti’s only refuge for women suffering violence.

Destroyed in the disaster, Reviv now consists of temporary structures erected in the backyard of the woman who runs it, Yolette Jeanty. Up to 10 girls, young women and their children—victims of violence and often gang rape—crowd in each. It’s cramped but safe, critical given women were easy prey when security crumbled in a nation where, pre-quake, one in three women had already survived violence. When the Reviv girls share their stories, the others block their ears because it’s too harrowing to hear how much they suffered. But they’re hopeful, too.

“Meeting these girls, I asked them what they wish for their future,” says Kidman. “They still have huge dreams. They are not unrealistic dreams. They say they want to be a paediatrician or to educate their daughter.”

It’s that freedom to hope that Kidman is zealous about protecting—and spreading. “At Reviv, you get a real sense of safety,” she says. “The challenge for the whole country now is to build a nation where women and children feel safe everywhere. That’s why I’m so passionate and support UNIFEM’s program to build more shelters in Haiti, so more women and girls, much like I met, will have a safe place.” The thought of the alternative moves Kidman to tears. Reading a New York Times feature on sex trafficking “about a young girl in Thailand and the things that had been done to her, I sat there weeping,” she says. “With Haiti I thought, ‘Let’s get over and see what we can do.’ ”

Despite her globetrotting job, charity definitely begins at home for Kidman. Growing up in Sydney’s northern suburbs, she was inspired by her psychologist father, Antony, and nurse mother, Janelle. “My mother has always had a strong social conscience,” she says. “After-school for me would be spent at Balmain Hospital, where Mum worked, and I’d see her caring for sick people. Before the age of 10, I knew she was a very compassionate person and that deeply influenced me.”


Kidman also hopes to encourage her children, Sunday, 2, Isabella, 17, and Connor, 15, “to feel their life has a purpose that should be in some way, at some point, to help other human beings.” She shares that goal with Urban, 42, and says it helps knowing a charitable-minded guy with a guitar who’ll perform if she asks. In May, at Kidman’s request, he gave a hugely successful private concert for UNIFEM in Hong Kong.

While Kidman tries not to spend more than three days at a time away from Urban, the doting mum has been separated from her younger daughter only two nights in two years. But in Haiti, “safetywise, I couldn’t bring her,” she told USA Today on Aug. 2. Although obviously “crazy” about Sunday, her daughter “pulls my attention her way, and in a place like this, I am there to work and listen and to see,” she tells WHO. “Those days are not about me or my family, it is about other people’s families.”

Elegant even in dark casual clothes and navy Converse sneakers, her hair pulled back in a loose knot, Kidman is humbled meeting women’s advocates at the Reviv shelter on July 29. One issue canvassed was the kidnapping and rape of girls after the escape of 2,000 jail inmates during the quake.

While the Haiti heartache “makes me sad,” it also stirs Kidman to prompt others to help. “Go to the website and read about what is needed,” she urges. “Lobby governments [about] women’s rights. Be aware—because awareness leads to action.” She’s certainly playing her own part. Although she’ll soon begin filming Trespass with Nicolas Cage in Tennessee, UNIFEM will remain a focus and she plans a trip to Asia to shine a light on sex trafficking. “This,” she vows, “is something I will care passionately about for the rest of my life.”

To become a member, donate or support the UNIFEM Haiti Appeal, please visit UNIFEM Australia Website for more information.

You can also visit Kidman's new Facebook page, Nicole laughingly concedes she's a latecomer to social networking, "but the thing is that it is all about my work with UNIFEM... the things I care about."


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