Celebrity and humanity: how stars give back

Ahlya Fateh
Ahlya Fateh
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Last week I was lucky enough to be asked to be the key note speaker at a Fashion Event in London. Nothing new here really, charity and fashion have been walking hand in hand for some time and for a while no benefit dinner was safe from the runway show, put together for a good cause. Fashion Parade at Asia House was no different; Pakistan’s top designers had been brought together by the irrepressible Sadia Siddiqui for an evening of fund raising in aid of Save the Children’s efforts to get help to Syrian children.

Now there are far better informed journalists reporting on the crisis in Syria than I, so I am not going to wade in on issues that I don’t feel qualified to comment on. Before I was asked to speak I was introduced to the representative from the charity and she remarked on how she feared that the video that was to be shown might prove to be too harrowing for the occasion. I replied that perhaps the message had to be hard hitting in order to make the necessary impact, but that I understood her apprehension. We seem to be fed a diet of such horrific images courtesy of our news networks that I do fear we are becoming immune to the suffering of others. I thought for a moment and then said, “Tell them all to imagine, what if this was my child, or the child of someone I knew, would I be able to turn away then?”

This week the beautiful and talented Angelina Jolie was awarded an honorary Academy Award in recognition of her humanitarian efforts. Ms Jolie’s philanthropic activity started in 2001 when faced with the plight of Cambodian refugees while filming in the country. Her reaction was to adopt a refugee baby, her son Maddox and begin a course of actions that was to attract the world’s attention to the plight of refugees around the world. Jolie’s activism has taken her from war torn Sierra Leone to Tanzania, Namibia to Pakistan and from Bosnia to Haiti as a Goodwill Ambassador to the UN. By using her celebrity power she continues to ensure that issues such as land mines, rape during conflict are kept in the forefront of society’s consciousness. Even her personal challenges shape the way we all look at say breast cancer, adoption and marriage. Jolie is not alone in her desire to ensure that she gives back, and not just financially.

George Clooney, Michael Douglas, the late Audrey Hepburn and many others work to further humanitarian causes across the globe. What is it about star power that makes a cause more acceptable to us? Is it because if we identify with a celebrity, whether it is the Duchess of Cambridge or Brad Pitt, then we by association also want to identify with the causes and issues that drive them.

At a time when the Syrian crisis is on our news channels 24/7 it takes the effort of a famous person to make it relevant to us. Actor Michael Sheen’s visit to the Faida camp in Lebanon where he met a few of the 400,000 Syrian children who are supposed to have fled across the border, means that camera crews come along too and we see someone who is trying desperately to get the world to wake up to a very real disaster which, unlike the typhoon that has ravaged the Philippines, this one is entirely man-made.

In the long term, I believe only good can come of the selfless work taken on by the likes of Jolie, Sheen and Clooney but I do hope and pray that we will all take up some form of philanthropic activity and follow their example. Last week I sat and watched a video that barely touched on the suffering being endured by the children of Syria, and even through my ignorance of the politics and religious issues that have caused this turmoil I came to one simple conclusion.

We cannot go on punishing the world’s children for the short sighted and ignorant behaviour of the adults we keep putting in place to govern it.


Ahlya Fateh knows all about fashion and publishing. As the former managing editor of Tatler magazine and the managing director of fashion brand, Tata Naka, she has combined a strong creative vision with an understanding of strategy and management. Ahlya lives in London and is a mother of two.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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