A former captain of the successful Afghan National Cricket team, Mr. Ahmadzai’s work with UNICEF - on behalf of the children of Afghanistan - began several years ago through participation in cricket camps for both girls and boys that promote the role of sport in developing positive and healthy childhoods.
Raees learned to play cricket himself when his family fled their conflict-threatened Azra village in Logar, Afghanistan to live in a refugee camp in Pakistan. Reflecting on his childhood Raees Ahmadzai said, ‘In the camps we would go to schools that were set-up in tents and run by non-profit organizations and the UN. I remember UNICEF distributing learning materials in these schools. That was the first time that I realized how people who were living like us, in a camp, could benefit from the help of aid and development organizations. After our classes all the kids would gather and play games. We taught ourselves how to play cricket, and would look for solid, straight branches from trees that we could cut down and use as bats.”
As a National Goodwill Ambassador, Mr. Ahmadzai is part of an esteemed UNICEF tradition, dating back to 1954, in which the organization partners with local artists, athletes and other celebrities to raise public awareness about children’s issues and to improve the lives of children and women around the world.
Mr. Ahmadzai joins UNICEF in Afghanistan in raising awareness about the importance of vaccination against polio. One of the last countries in the world where this preventable disease remains endemic, the polio virus threatens the health of children and families, particularly in the Southern and Eastern regions of Afghanistan.
Speaking at a press conference earlier in the day with the Acting Minister of Public Health, Dr. Suraya Dalil, UNICEF Representative in Afghanistan, Peter Crowley, WHO Regional Director, Dr. Hussein Abdul Razzak Gezairy and WHO Country Director in Afghanistan, Dr. Ahmed Shadoul, Mr. Ahmadzai called on communities throughout the country to welcome at their homes the more than 55,000 citizens who are participating in the current three-day National Immunization Days campaign.
Going door-to-door to administer the two drops of the oral polio vaccine that can save children’s lives, these health volunteers and professionals represent the people of Afghanistan, irrespective of tribal, religious or political affiliation, demonstrating their own commitment to ensuring the health and protection of children in villages and communities throughout Afghanistan.
In the upcoming months the Ministry of Public Health, UNICEF and WHO will organize additional rounds of polio vaccination campaigns to ensure that children in hard-to-reach locations also have the opportunity to be protected against the disease. Mr. Ahmadzai encouraged village leaders and mullahs to give vaccinators access to children and reminded fathers and mothers that it is their responsibility to protect their children against the virus.