Our Perspectives

Why I can't turn a blind eye


Michelle Yeoh talks about her experiences in Nepal during her induction as UNDP Goodwill Ambassador. Photo: Lowthian/UNDP

When UNDP asked me to become a Goodwill Ambassador, the timing was just right.  Globally, the world had just adopted the new Sustainable Development Goals. But it was also perfect timing on a personal level.

I was visiting Nepal last spring when a powerful earthquake created some of the worst devastation the country has seen since the 1930s. While I had seen the devastating after-effects of disasters and humanitarian crises from the safe distance of a television screen, I hadn’t experienced such devastation and terror first hand.

When we were driving to the airport, I saw the ruins, the rubble, the people on the street who weren’t able to go back home.  I felt very guilty leaving, even though I knew I wasn’t a doctor, a fireman, or someone who could immediately provide assistance.  But after returning home, I still wanted to help.

When you’re there, and you’ve seen it, you just can’t turn a blind eye.

So I went back, traveling to the remotest areas to bring assistance.  Keep in mind that in Nepal, most of the men are working out of the country. So the women, children, and elderly are the ones that are most affected, and it was important to let them know they were not forgotten.

The terror of the earthquake experience can’t be put into words. But it left me with such determination and urge to do all I can to help the people of Nepal rebuild their lives. I wanted to be there for them long after the cameras and the world’s attention were gone.

I’ve been working on humanitarian issues prior to this appointment, and that’s why it works so well.  It continues the process that I have been doing and having the support of UNDP there on the ground, the people who understand the issues we face and have all the data and information, will help me spread the word about sustainable development.

For instance, gender equality is something we have to fight for.  Right now, women account for 70% of the work, but only 10% of the income. This is a great disparity. When you empower the women and allow them to take control of their lives, their health, their finances – it really helps the family, not just the women themselves. We have to continue to address poverty and climate change, as both of these affect all of us, even if we don’t realize it.

I want to be there for all those around the world who struggle to get back on their feet and provide for their families, whether it’s because they are born poor, born a woman or born in an area affected by disaster, natural or man-made.

The empowerment of people comes from knowledge. And knowledge is our key platform.  It’s very important that people understand the problem because then you can start creating solutions.

Through UNDP, I really hope to be able to raise more awareness to get the message out, hoping people will listen so they can understand they all have a part to play in this.

I offer my sincerest gratitude to UNDP for choosing me to represent their extraordinary mission to improve life on this planet. I look forward to working with UNDP staff around the globe to create a better world for generations to come.

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