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Singer highlights children’s work in Madagascar

The UN’s child agency, UNICEF, has this week welcomed the singer and songwriter Katy Perry to Madagascar.

The American singer has been visiting a number of projects in Madagascar to highlight the work of the agency in a country where over two thirds of people live in poverty.

During her four-day trip to the island, Ms Perry visited a pre-school in Analanjirofo on the east coast, where children aged 3 to 6 years greeted her with a song. At the school, the singer was shown how the children are encouraged to wash their hands. UNICEF has built toilets and sinks at the school and continues to promote the importance of hygiene and sanitation. In rural areas, only around a third of families have access to improved drinking water sources and only 12% use improved sanitation facilities. The resulting health problems include high rates of diarrhoea (1 in 10 deaths of children under five are caused by diarrhoea, according to 2010 data from the World Health Organisation) and outbreaks of cholera, especially during the rainy season. As she joined the children at the sinks, Ms Perry said “I wanna wash my hands, too!”

The singer also visited a primary school in Ampihaonana, where some of the pupils have a 45 minute walk to reach their lessons. The school was recently rebuilt by UNICEF, having been destroyed by a cyclone in 2011. Last year, the agency also completed 240 primary school classrooms and 4 preschool ones, all with associated toilet facilities.

Ms Perry’s tour included seeing a local community health centre, where one of the primary goals of the staff is to improve the diet of children. Over half of under-fives in Madagascar suffer from stunted growth, one of the highest rates of stunting in the world. At the centre, women were learning about food combinations which provide the best nutrition for themselves and their offspring and the walls of the facility were hung with poster pictures of foods such as spinach and red meat. Ms Perry learned how the centre treats young children for malnutrition and about the programme to encourage exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life. (The problem of malnutrition is raised by a paediatric specialist visiting Madagascar on behalf of SOS Children’s Villages in his latest blog.)

To end her visit, the singer met with child victims of abuse and was told about the psychosocial support offered by welfare workers. Her time in the country ended at a youth centre, where teenagers gave a special performance. Though Madagascar faces many challenges, Ms Perry spoke of the “genuine joy” she had experienced from the Malagasy people she had met during her time on the island.

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