Known for his famous roles in 'Miracle on 34th Street' and 'Jurassic Park', and for directing the epic films 'Gandhi' and 'Cry Freedom', Richard Attenborough was a long-time supporter of SOS Children. It was in the late 1980s during the shooting of 'Cry Freedom' - a film about a black activist in apartheid South Africa - that Attenborough was first introduced to our work.
While filming in southern Africa, Attenborough became good friends with Dick and Enid Eyeington - a British couple who were the driving force behind SOS Children in Swaziland and who later set up the SOS Sheikh Secondary School in Somaliland. Through this friendship with the Eyeingtons, Attenborough witnessed the love and protection given to vulnerable children at SOS Children's Villages. A seed was sown, and he continued to support SOS Children's work for many years.
"Children are wonderful creatures"
In 1999 Attenborough visited SOS Children's Village in Cape Town, South Africa. Apartheid was over by the time of his visit, and Black communities that were previously disenfranchised and disadvantaged were discovering what freedom felt like. In this period of change, Attenborough spoke of "the enormous potential" of the country's children:
“These little persons are as important as anyone else in this world. We can't leave it up to governments or charity organisations to care for them. Everyone carries the moral obligation to take care of his neighbour, especially in case of such defenceless human beings as orphans or street kids.
Children are wonderful creatures with an enormous potential. But they need a lot of support, food and love from adults. In order to develop all their abilities and skills, they have to grow up in a loving atmosphere without disturbances.”
Turning to the children, he added: “We are responsible for your well-being, and we promise to do our best to achieve it.” Unaware of his fame, it is reported that the children were curious about their visitor and impressed by his white beard and kind-hearted nature.
Dedicated to social justice
The humanitarian messages in films directed by Attenborough hint to his persistent compassion and dedication to social justice. For example, he was so committed to creating a film about Gandhi's life that he spent 20 years attempting to make it. The result was a masterful telling of peaceful resistance triumphing over injustice and oppression.
Attenborough's skill for spreading messages of hope, freedom and equality transcended into his support for SOS Children. While we remember his talent on screen and behind the camera, we also reflect on his passion for shining a light on those in need. We remember him for caring about "little persons" at SOS Children's Villages.