Women of style and substance

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Anne Curtis
Anne Curtis reads to children as part of her work with UNICEF.

THE LIFE of actress Audrey Hepburn wasn’t as perfect as her movies would suggest. Growing up as the daughter of a divorced and impoverished Dutch noble, Ms. Hepburn lived through the ravages of the Second World War, facing a fate of near-starvation during the Dutch famine of 1944. During the latter part of her life and her career as a successful actress, Ms. Hepburn joined UNICEF (the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund) in the 1980s as a Goodwill Ambassador. According to the UNICEF website, Ms. Hepburn had said on her appointment, “I can testify to what UNICEF means to children, because I was among those who received food and medical relief right after World War II. She continues, “I have a long-lasting gratitude and trust for what UNICEF does.” She was also known to have said, “There is a moral obligation that those who have should give to those who don’t.”

Two Filipina celebrities have been tasked by UNICEF to continue these good works via their appointment as UNICEF National Goodwill Ambassadors. Media personality and entrepreneur Daphne Oseña Paez and actress Anne Curtis have been elevated to the position, but have both been involved with UNICEF since at least 2010. Both women will join singer Gary Valenciano, also a UNICEF Natonal Goodwill Ambassador, since 1998. Worldwide, they will also join the likes of David Beckham, Shakira, and Priyanka Chopra.

Lotta Sylwander, UNICEF Philippines Representative, said on Feb. 7 in a press conference at Novotel in Quezon City that, “They have really shown the passion and interest, and they have contributed a lot over these last years.”

UNICEF in the Philippines was established in 1948, while UNICEF was founded in 1946.

Ms. Sylwander outlined the profile of a potential Goodwill Ambassador: “They are usually eminent, well-known personalities, and who have an interest, willingness and passion to work for children, [and] to use their celebrity power and charisma.”


Ms. Oseña Paez and Ms. Curtis have both served as Special Advocate and Celebrity Advocate for Children. Ms. Oseña Paez began her work for UNICEF in 2010, with a focus on breastfeeding, and maternal health and mortality; among other causes. One of her flagship projects is Auction for Action, an art auction that raises funds for the organization. In addition to that, she has also made visits to several areas in the Philippines to meet the children and mothers supported by her causes. In an interview with BusinessWorld, she said that she has since expanded her scope to child protection, namely, violence against children, and children in conflict with the law. A timely appointment, considering the actions of the House of Representatives to lower the criminal age of liability first to nine, and then to 12, after much outcry.

Meanwhile, Ms. Curtis has been a donor in her individual interests since 2009. In her work with UNICEF since 2014, she has been supporting the organization’s First 1000 Days program that focuses on nutrition and early brain development for children. She has also visited crisis areas such as Leyte after the destruction wrought by Typhoon Haiyan.

Ms. Oseña Paez said of her involvement with UNICEF, “It sounds kind of cheesy, but I’ve always wanted to make a difference. In everything I did — even before I joined the media. I think one of the biggest investments anyone can make is through children. It’s the foundation of any society.”

Daphne Oseña Paez
Daphne Oseña Paez talks to a mother in a temporary shelter after Ondoy in 2010. — UNICEF FLICKR PAGE

Ms. Curtis, for her part, said, “It’s just innate. I think, for any adult, or for any human being, if you see a young child fall, your initial reaction is to help that child.

“It’s just that with UNICEF, there are bigger issues to deal with.”

While it has been fashionable in recent years to be charitable — thanks in large part to glamorous humanitarians like the late Diana, Princess of Wales, and actress Angelina Jolie — there is still surprise in the grit that wears away the glamor. Sure, society women devote a measure of their time to a few causes and such, due perhaps to a sense of noblesse oblige, but it takes a certain kind of person to actually mess around in the heat and the dirt in the places where UNICEF’s aid is most needed.

“There’s a lot of information now that you can read about, but I think one of the best ways to learn about issues is to go on the field,” said former reporter Ms. Oseña Paez.

These women have style, certainly, but in the sense of purpose in their work for UNICEF, there is substance to be found, surely. Speaking about style and substance — and kindness, now that we’re here, Ms. Curtis says, “You shouldn’t have to associate it with having beauty from within. That’s our responsibility as human beings: you really want to care about other people.”

Ms. Oseña Paez, meanwhile, said, “Beauty is not our currency. Beauty is fading; it doesn’t last. External beauty can easily be attained if you have the money and the time to invest. True beauty is in your heart: it’s intangible, and it starts with good thoughts, good values, and your language.”

To contact UNICEF for donor concerns and the like, visit the website at, or call 758-1000. — Joseph L. Garcia