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The little orange Halloween box that stopped a war

Remember those little pumpkin-coloured, cardboard UNICEF boxes the kids would carry while trick-or-treating on Halloween? They always made UNICEF top-of-mind with Canadians at this time of year. These days, we encourage Canadians to continue their UNICEF support through Survival Gifts that protect the health and safety of children all over the world.

Despite the great need that continues today, there is good news to share – and Canadians can feel proud about being a key part of it.

As part of the UN, UNICEF has literally been able to stop wars – at least temporarily – so that our teams could get to children in battle-scarred regions like Afghanistan, Bosnia and El Salvador, in order to vaccinate them against potentially deadly diseases. In a few cases, these “days of tranquility” have led to longer, stronger ceasefires and given warring factions enough pause to decide to come to the peace talks table.

As the world’s largest global purchaser of vaccines, last year we immunized one-third of the world’s children. We’ve got polio on the run – from some 350,000 children afflicted worldwide every year in the late 1980s to fewer than 250 reported cases last year. In 2013, only three countries Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria, remain polio-endemic, down from more than 125 in 1988. We’re on the cusp of wiping polio off the face of the earth, as was done with smallpox over three decades ago.

In 33 countries where newborn babies infected with tetanus would often die within days of birth in excruciating pain, we have been able to eliminate maternal neonatal tetanus through vaccination. Worldwide, the death rate has been cut by 90 per cent over the past 20 years, and we’re on track to eliminate MNT by 2017.

In other countries we have worked with national governments to overhaul their education systems, get birth certificates for undocumented children (more than 29 million in 80 countries in 2012) and secure freedom for child soldiers from a life of forced combat and exploitation.

These successes underscore our core philosophy, which says “No Child Too Far.” There is literally no place on earth we won’t go, not matter what it takes to get there, in order to save the life of a child. That means being there full-time, in over 190 countries, before, during and after disaster, war or famine strikes, using our status as part of the United Nations to work with national governments and bring about lasting change.

Amid the horrifying conflict in Syria, right now, UNICEF is helping to provide emergency medical care, vaccinations, clean water, psychological care and learning programs for millions of children in that country and refugees huddled in camps and shelters in Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon.

Despite the successes worth celebrating, the need continues in the effort to save children in many hard-to-reach places from disease, disaster and violence. While you won’t see any little orange boxes this Hallowe’en, we do hope that you’ll nonetheless think about the children in some of the most remote corners of our vast global village, while you’re celebrating with the kids in your own neighbourhood this year.

Survival Gifts can be purchased through survivalgifts.ca.

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