U.S. Fund for UNICEF
UNICEF Ambassador Vern Yip is all smiles with students at a dormitory school in Khuvsghul province, Mongolia.
Vern Yip is an interior designer who has been designing across America changing one room at a time. He has appeared on 4 seasons of TLC’s Trading Spaces and 4 seasons of HGTV’s Deserving Design with Vern Yip. Not to mention his work on NBC’s Home Intervention, HGTV’s Design Star where he appeared as a panel member and episodes of HGTV Showdown, Bang For Your Buck and First Time Designer. Yip has his own design company Vern Yip Designs based in Atlanta, Georgia. Yip is known across the country for his work and has been recognized with multiple design awards such as 2000 Southeast Designer of the Year, 1999 Best New Restaurant, 1999 Best New Nightclub, and Deserving Design with Vern Yip was nominated for a 2009 NAMIC award for best Original Life Style Programming. Yip was appointed a UNICEF Ambassador in November 2010 and has worked closely with the charity ever since.
UNICEF also known as The United Nations Children’s Fund was created in December 1946 by the United Nations to help children in war-torn Europe, China and the Middle East. By 1953, the needs were extended to all children in the developing world and now they work in 190 countries and territories around the world providing health care, immunizations, clean water, sanitation, nutrition, education and emergency relief. UNICEF works for the survival, protection and development of children worldwide. The U.S. Fund for UNICEF supports UNICEF’s work through fundraising, advocacy, and education in the United States. Together, they are working toward the day when zero children die from preventable causes and every child has a safe and healthy childhood.
Interviewed Via Email Conducted By: Giacinta Pace
Introduction By: Meg Zrini
How did you get involved with UNICEF?
Vern: I got involved with UNICEF over four years ago when I was trying to figure out the most effective way for me to dedicate time and resources to an organization that I felt was doing the most good for the world’s neediest children. I started by volunteering my efforts in designing the annual UNICEF Snowflake Ball in New York and have just now finished my fourth year working in that same capacity. Subsequently, I helped get the annual UNICEF Experience in Atlanta started over two years ago. Both of these events are so different but each allows attendees to experience all of the good that UNICEF does for children around the world. After my first experience working with UNICEF, I knew that I had made the right decision for me.
What sets UNICEF apart from other organizations?
Vern: There are a lot of wonderful organizations out there working on behalf of children and I don’t want to begin saying why I personally think one is better than the other. What I can say is that UNICEF was, and still is, the right organization for me to work with. My parents fled China during the Cultural Revolution and landed in Hong Kong briefly before committing to moving to the U.S. They made that decision in order to afford me and my sister the best possible life, which meant top level medical care if we needed it, access to plenty of nutritious food, and a wonderful public education system. Years later, when I would travel back to China with my mother on business, I would see a plethora of faces that looked just like mine plowing fields or working in very low paying labor intensive jobs. It occurred to me that the main difference between me and those people was that I was given access to the basic fundamental building blocks of life because my parents made that critical decision to move to the U.S where they knew that most children turn on faucets and see running water and where clean and decent public schools were plentiful. As I began traveling the world for work, I would see children all over the world that were not meeting their physical and mental potential because they weren’t being afforded those basics that most of us take for granted. UNICEF has saved more children’s lives around the world than any other non-profit organization and refuses to let difficult geographic or political situations keep them from accessing children in need. For these reasons and so many more, I’ve chosen to focus my efforts on UNICEF and look forward to many more years of seeing children around the world helped by their good work.
Have you had any memorable personal experiences working with the charity?
Vern: I’ve had so many memorable experiences working with UNICEF, including many from being in the field this past September in Mongolia. Hearing about all of the ways UNICEF helps children around the world is both insightful and impressive. It made a huge difference, however, to be in the field and experience everything first hand. Mongolia is the world’s eleventh largest country in the world in terms of land mass but has a population of less than 2.8 million. These statistics alone begin to already reveal the issues that the children of Mongolia must overcome. From lack of accessible water and indoor plumbing to a dearth of nutritious food that has led to stunting being the number one issue for children of Mongolia, meeting with and talking to these children was unforgettable. In a remote region of the country, I met a young high school girl who desperately wants to become an interior designer just like me. It’s been her dream since she was a child but she has to overcome so much more first. Aside from the fact that she has had to live in a dormitory since the age of six (common for children in the rural areas of Mongolia where a nomadic lifestyle means homes are too far from the centralized schools), she contends with unheated classrooms despite the fact that it gets to forty degrees below zero in the winter and a complete lack of indoor plumbing that makes fighting contagious diseases a struggle. She drew me a poster of her distant dreams of someday being able to design but preceded by an immediate dream of having some heat in her dorm so that she can sleep at night without being on the precipice of freezing. Children all over Mongolia…and frankly all over the world…contend with these huge, adult-sized issues instead of being able to be children and dream about their big and bright futures. Despite all of this, I was blown away by the determination of this young girl and her fellow classmates. There is a 97% literacy rate in Mongolia and the vast majority of children are learning to speak English perfectly. Imagine what they could do with some heat, water, and food.
Anything else you would like to add?
Vern: When I started with UNICEF over four years ago, 26,000 children a day were dying from something easily preventable. These children were dying needlessly because they didn’t have access to decent medical care, a basic vaccine, nutritious food, or clean water. It was such a startling number to share with folks that someone would usually tell me that I must have meant 26,000 children a month. Just recently, I learned that this number has gone down in part to UNICEF’s hard work around the world. Today, 19,000 children die needlessly every day. This is still an unbelievably sad statistic but it certainly is much better than 26,000. I think it’s so astonishing to understand that when we work together, we can help achieve great things like the reduction in the daily mortality rate of children. For this reason, UNICEF will not rest till this number is zero and they will have my support until that goal is reached.