Season 4, Episode 10

A holiday special episode of the For Every Child podcast featuring a conversation between UNICEF Canada ambassadors and actors Simu Liu and Saara Chaudry about what inspires them to advocate for child rights and their hopes for children in 2024.  

Host: Saara Chaudry

Guests: Simu Liu, Actor and UNICEF Canada Ambassador

Producers: Sara Faruqi and Priyadarshini Mitra

Composed and mixed by: Chandra Bulucon


[00:00:00.00] [MUSIC PLAYING]

[00:00:09.48] Hello, and welcome to the final episode of 2023 and of season four of the For Every Child podcast. I'm your host and UNICEF Canada Ambassador Saara Chaudry.

[00:00:21.12] [MUSIC PLAYING]

[00:00:41.72] In this season of the podcast, we spoke with children, young people, and UNICEF experts from across the globe. From Afghanistan to Ukraine to Sudan and from Geneva to New York, we touched upon some of the most pressing issues impacting children and young people around the world.

[00:01:01.76] From a global learning crisis to the need for more mental health support, from our gains in vaccinating the world's under-five population to leveraging innovation to reach every child. We spoke to inspirational young people, like Polish teenager Yulia, who was on the front lines helping receive thousands of Ukrainian refugees into her city, to a child who survived the Syria-Turkey earthquake.

[00:01:28.88] We heard from a young father who had a daughter suffering from severe malnutrition and received care at a UNICEF-supported health center, and we spoke to young Canadian teens on what their messages were for our leaders in shaping their future.

[00:01:46.25] This year, we saw many emergencies too from natural disasters to war and conflict. And they reminded us of the challenges all children face and the need to ensure that they are supported and have their rights protected.

[00:02:04.40] Our work at UNICEF continues, whether it's responding to crises or working with our partners to ensure the programs we deliver around the world every day in providing access to health, nutrition, education, water, and sanitation systems and services are able to move forward smoothly.

[00:02:24.17] We know there are complex challenges ahead of us. But we also know, as UNICEF, that we will not give up when it comes to defending children's rights and safeguarding their lives and futures.

[00:02:39.66] As we end this season, we thought of bringing in someone with a message of hope. As a Marvel superhero, he knows a thing or two about protecting lives and has most recently won the hearts as Ken in the Barbie movie. He's an actor, a dear friend of mine, but also a singer and a New York Times best selling author. But one of his most precious roles is that of UNICEF Canada Ambassador, Simu Liu. Hey, Simu.

[00:03:13.28] Hey, Saara.

[00:03:14.24] How are you doing?

[00:03:14.78] Not bad, how are you?

[00:03:16.59] It's good to see you.

[00:03:17.61] It's good to see you.

[00:03:18.53] All right, so let's chat. We're here as UNICEF Canada Ambassadors. And I'd love to know what inspired you to take on the role of being a UNICEF Canada Ambassador, and how has that journey been for you so far?

[00:03:33.01] That's a wonderful question, Saara. I think, I imagine it was probably very similar to you. I think you and I share a background in acting and getting into the entertainment industry.

[00:03:45.71] And having experienced some sort of success in that field, you start to think about just these bigger questions, like what am I going to do with this platform that I'm building? Is it always going to be about promoting myself and the project that I'm doing? Or are there actual ways that we can bring awareness to issues that are happening around the world.

[00:04:08.09] And I think UNICEF came up with such a natural fit because it really focuses on the well-being of children and of children everywhere. And I know there's something about the universality of that that I felt was-- it's just so important and felt like just really natural to attach myself. What about you?

[00:04:30.11] Yeah, I think for me, it was pretty similar in the sense that I had been acting for a little while. I also grew up with really impactful and important women in my life that influenced me from a young age to care about the world in a way that was larger than myself.

[00:04:49.28] For context, my mom grew up in South Africa during the time of apartheid.

[00:04:54.64] I didn't know that.

[00:04:55.52] Yeah, and so she moved to Canada when she was 12 or 13 years old. Escaped apartheid, essentially because my grandmother, who wasn't necessarily formally educated in the same way that my mom is now, recognized the importance of her daughters being educated so that their futures may be bright.

[00:05:20.45] And she took that leap for her family and moved them to Toronto, where my mom eventually became a lawyer and you know, girlboss.

[00:05:30.83] Wow.

[00:05:31.34] My mom is the definition of girlboss. [LAUGHS] So when you grow up hearing the stories of this incredible woman who sacrificed so much for her kids and so that her daughters could be educated and then being that daughter that then gets to reap the benefits of being born in Canada, getting a quality education, being safe and protected I guess it just makes you think about your privilege and your platform in a way that ends up being much larger than yourself, and you want to spread those opportunities out to everybody.

[00:06:16.63] I also had done a film called The Breadwinner alongside Angelina Jolie, our executive producer. And she's also someone who has extended her--

[00:06:26.31] I think I've heard of her

[00:06:27.01] --platform. yeah, you know.

[00:06:28.92] OK.

[00:06:29.27] No, but it's not even about the name. It's about what she's done with her platform, and the issues that she cares about. And so when you have the privilege of working alongside someone like that--

[00:06:40.65] Uh-huh

[00:06:41.38] --especially as a young girl looking up to a woman who has achieved so much in her life but chosen to use that success for good and for impactful change, I think it just makes you realize that you can do the same and that the same is possible.

[00:06:58.20] Uh-huh.

[00:06:59.31] And so that's kind of how I ended up here.

[00:07:02.46] That's amazing. First of all, your mother absolutely is a girlboss, but so are you.

[00:07:07.76] You, totally.

[00:07:08.46] So are you.

[00:07:09.00] So are--

[00:07:09.93] So are you, Ken.

[00:07:11.46] I'm not a girlboss. Thank you so much. I'm just Ken.

[00:07:14.55] You're just Ken.

[00:07:16.02] I'm just Ken, and I'm here, and I'm in the presence of--

[00:07:19.47] It's UNICEF Barbie and Ken. [LAUGHS] All right, so.

[00:07:26.04] Did you just come up with that on the spot?

[00:07:27.24] Yeah, thanks.

[00:07:28.17] Good one.

[00:07:28.89] Thanks.

[00:07:30.50] I really loved hearing about your mother's story but also about just your immigrant journey, your family's immigrant journey. I feel like Canada is comprised of-- is maybe unique in that it's comprised of so many different immigrant journeys that come from all over the world. I think I really resonated.

[00:07:51.42] My parents obviously, very, very different background but also a lot of similarities in terms of they grew up in the '60s and '70s in China and were looking for opportunities to explore the world. And obviously, there were difficulties at that time with just like, their socioeconomic situation. And education was actually the method through which they were able to come here.

[00:08:21.49] Yeah.

[00:08:21.70] And they studied at Queen's University to become electrical engineers. And when I was about four and 1/2, my dad went back to-- because I was raised by my grandparents, my dad went back to China to Harbin to pick me up, and then came back to Canada with me. And so that was my immigration journey, as well.

[00:08:42.49] And I think being a child of two worlds in that way, having such vivid memories of what life was like pre-coming here and post and feeling, I just think it gives a unique perspective in terms of just what is going on in the world, how lives can be different, and maybe the importance of organizations like UNICEF in all aspects.

[00:09:11.47] You mentioned education, but sometimes it's about even bare necessities like food, water, access to vaccines.

[00:09:19.51] Yeah.

[00:09:20.98] And what I really loved about getting to learn more about the organization, was about how active UNICEF was in all of these fields and in so many countries.

[00:09:32.98] You're absolutely right.

[00:09:34.15] Uh-huh.

[00:09:36.46] I guess I wanted to know more about as a child. That was your journey, but were there any kind of telltale signs, as a child, or things that you cared about growing up or things that maybe you experienced growing up that then you kind of look back, and you're like, OK, hindsight, it makes total sense that I'm now here showing up in Ottawa today for UNICEF and being involved with the organization.

[00:10:03.61] Oh, man, I kind of have very piecemeal memories of what life was when I was really, really young.

[00:10:15.93] Mm-hmm.

[00:10:16.50] But I just remember we lived in a very small apartment with my grandparents and they had everything that we possibly needed. It was the best time. I was a really, really happy kid.

[00:10:27.15] But it was also, there were difficulties in terms of getting running water all hours of the day. We didn't have hot water, so it was like, taking baths was kind of chemistry of, they would like boil water on the kettle, and then put it in the bathtub. And then it would like be this like, stoichiometry, would be kind of find the perfect temperature.

[00:10:50.07] And that was just how we lived. And that was the kind of standard of life, as for many cultures in the world at that time. And obviously, at that time, to Canada, countries in the Western world were far ahead in terms of just like standard of living, quality of life index.

[00:11:09.39] And I think it's just having that kind of 360 perspective really makes you aware of the privilege-- I think, you mentioned earlier of the privilege --when you have it.

[00:11:23.34] Yeah.

[00:11:23.70] And understanding, OK, this is not the norm for the vast majority of people in the world. It wasn't the norm then, and certainly, this is the case now.

[00:11:32.71] Yeah, no, I think I had a very similar experience in the sense that, rather for you, I think, it was more of a concrete personal experience, whereas, for me, honestly, so much of it comes back to that film where I was reminded of my Afghan heritage, where my mom was, like, yeah, the only reason we're in South Africa, is because of my great-great-grandfather, who came from Afghanistan to South Africa.

[00:12:01.29] And then I'm doing this movie about a young Afghan girl growing up in 2001 Afghanistan living under Taliban rule and realizing that that could have easily been me had certain ancestors not emigrated from one country to another, and then from that country to the next.

[00:12:20.59] Yeah.

[00:12:20.95] And so it does make you have this kind of sense of what the rest of the world looks like because it is easy to sit in our own silos and bubbles and never escape them or never understand what exists outside of them.

[00:12:38.05] Yeah. And not to say that we can't also have our problems.

[00:12:41.55] No

[00:12:41.80] And we can't also have our anxieties, and the things that we deal with every day.

[00:12:44.92] Of course,

[00:12:45.67] But I think it's very enriching. I think you'd agree.

[00:12:48.12] Yeah. It's very enriching to have that kind of perspective, and to say, OK, I understand there are issues at play here that I think really, really need the world's attention, ensure that the world's attention.

[00:12:58.84] For sure, for sure.

[00:13:00.19] [MUSIC PLAYING]

[00:13:04.32] We've talked a lot about our childhoods and what has led us to this point about joining this organization, caring about children's rights and freedoms. What is your hope for children in 2024?

[00:13:24.32] That is an incredibly broad question. I think my hope for children all over the world is that-- and maybe this is more of a hope for adults than it is for child-- but it's definitely for children's sake. But I hope that the adults that are involved in international geopolitical conflicts recognize the need, above all else, to protect the safety of children all over the world.

[00:13:58.42] I think it's a troubled time in many parts of the world. And I think when these conflicts happen, often political fights for power or whatever have you, then people who suffer the most are children. Children that are being denied--

[00:14:21.85] Women and children.

[00:14:22.90] --base necessities, yeah. The children that are-- yeah, whose lives are at stake. And so my hope is that all of the adults of the world can recognize the need for and the right for every child to these base necessities and to not just education food, water, shelter, safety and act accordingly.

[00:14:49.72] My hope for children maybe more specifically in this more privileged part of the world, is that they take care of their mentals and becoming extremely difficult in this kind of social media climate that we pay attention to the dangers of cyberbullying.

[00:15:10.78] And in a generation that's become increasingly online and online reliant, it's become easier than ever maybe to be affected by what someone is saying. And oftentimes, behind the veil of the internet, people become very mean and very-- let's just, yeah, let's just say mean.

[00:15:36.53] Yeah.

[00:15:38.90] And as an adult dealing with it well into his 30s it's like a lot. And so I can't imagine what it must be like. We didn't have social media, and I'm really aging myself. But we didn't have social media.

[00:15:50.21] Tell me about it.

[00:15:51.06] Tell me about Friendster.

[00:15:52.31] Tell me.

[00:15:53.93] Yeah, before--

[00:15:54.71] No, I can I through with abuse.

[00:15:57.47] [INTERPOSING VOICES]

[00:15:58.70] But I grew up with social media, and I can tell you, it was extremely difficult, and cyberbullying was a thing that was experienced.

[00:16:08.00] Because it used to be that if-- obviously nobody deserves to be bullied. But there was at some sort of separation when you got home but now--

[00:16:16.46] My dad used to say the same thing.

[00:16:18.13] Right.

[00:16:18.26] You can well done. [LAUGHS]

[00:16:20.42] I don't know how that's supposed to make me feel. I really don't.

[00:16:22.79] No, but I would come home, and it was that kind of-- he would be like, well, I love you, and I'm trying to support you, but it's hard for me to empathize or understand this just because of the sheer fact that when I was growing up, there was a separation of school and home, whereas, nowadays, because I'm of the generation that did grow up with social media high school bullying, middle school bullying, elementary school, whatever it was came home with you.

[00:16:57.70] Yeah.

[00:16:58.06] And stayed in your pocket. And the second you took it out, you'd be right back in the school hallway.

[00:17:02.74] Yeah. That's not good.

[00:17:05.26] No.

[00:17:05.53] That doesn't make me feel good about having kids in this era. It would worry me so much as a parent. And I think, yeah, so I mean, it's important. I think it's important for parents and children to have these kinds of conversations about how can we protect--

[00:17:19.76] Yep.

[00:17:20.62] --their mentals. And maybe the last thing I'll say is, kind of adjacent to that is the way that we're consuming news and world events is also changing. And I feel like I think it's wonderful. I've seen, I think, more people in your generation and in younger generations becoming involved and outspoken about world events.

[00:17:40.15] Mm-hmm.

[00:17:41.09] Which is a good thing. But then I also feel like when you're consuming news in small snippets, sometimes a line of text, sometimes something that's not even--

[00:17:52.09] A 10-second video.

[00:17:53.41] --a 10-second video. You have to be very careful of the narratives at play. And you have to be very sensitive to where this information is coming from. I feel like misinformation is a huge problem that we deal with now.

[00:18:09.92] And a lot of information is deliberately packaged to elicit a response to make you outraged, to make you angry, sometimes, to just completely mislead you. And I think for me, growing up today, it's difficult for me growing up. I'm growing up.

[00:18:26.41] But for me today, it's difficult to consume news and to just make sure that I'm thinking critically. And I think it's even more difficult to do that when you are coming of age or you're just barely of age.

[00:18:39.92] And impressionable.

[00:18:41.05] And very impressionable you need to just-- I think, we all need to just be hyper vigilant in this kind of space. What is your message to children today, Saara?

[00:18:53.16] I think it's very similar. I think our values and the things that we care about align. And I think that's been evident through the fact that we're both UNICEF Canada Ambassadors. It's hard not to think about the state of the world right now and think about the women and children, especially that are being affected by global conflict and humanitarian crises. [SIGHS]

[00:19:26.74] I think my hope is that, along the same lines as yourself, is that we put humanity above all else.

[00:19:38.56] [MUSIC PLAYING]

[00:19:44.87] It's really hard to think that adult allies in positions of power right now, are seeing children being affected in the most horrific ways and are sitting back and essentially, doing nothing about it, or are taking a little too much time. I hope that the rights of children are protected above all else.

[00:20:17.15] Absolutely.

[00:20:18.32] And that's the only thing I can really hope for right now.

[00:20:23.36] Well said.

[00:20:27.47] Thank you, Simu, and thank you to our listeners. It has been a year filled with challenges and crises, but many successes too. You can learn more about the work we do and how you can play a part in supporting it at

[00:20:46.22] Until next year for season five of the For Every Child podcast and from all of us at UNICEF Canada, happy holidays.

[00:20:54.35] [MUSIC PLAYING]