The singer and activist from Benin in west Africa, chose to include Rotary in the soon-to-be-released video of the album’s signature song, “Eva.” Rotary’s presence in the video is no coincidence. The relationship between the singer dates back to 2011, when she joined about two dozen celebrities, including actor Jackie Chan, golfer Jack Nicklaus, and anthropologist Jane Goodall, in Rotary’s “This Close” polio awareness campaign.
“I am the cherry on top of the cake,” Kidjo said in an exclusive interview with Rotary News. “The important work is done by the people in the field.”
With the voices of Kidjo and collaborator Nigerian signer Asa as a backdrop, the video shadows a young girl as she wanders about in an old novelty shop. The curious girl turns on an old TV set and sees the singers on-screen, followed by footage of a Rotary Family Health Day project in South Africa.
The girl finds old photos and album covers of Kidjo and Asa and, later, photos of polio survivors and polio immunization activities. She also finds a polio vaccine cooler used in immunization campaigns, and focuses on an “End Polio Now” pin.
Kidjo has lent her voice to the “This Close” campaign, and authored a 2011 World Polio Day op-ed and also attended a ceremony that illuminated the “End Polio Now” message on the New York Stock Exchange Building. She was the keynote speaker at the 2012 Rotary World Peace Symposium and Rotary International Convention in Bangkok, Thailand.
“It’s great for Rotary to have Angélique Kidjo as such an engaged supporter of polio eradication,” says Petina Dixon-Jenkins, Rotary’s PolioPlus communication manager. “When she talks about helping others — particularly girls and women in Africa — it’s clear that everything comes from the heart.”
During a visit in February to Rotary’s world deadquarters in Evanston, IL, Illinois, Kidjo spoke passionately and candidly to Rotary staff about the importance of vaccinations, her experience as a UNICEF goodwill ambassador, her motivation behind “Eve,” and her recently-released autobiography “Spirit Rising: My Life, My Music.”
Kidjo told stories about her mother’s insistence on sanitation and proper hygiene. This diligence included getting her children vaccinated against polio.
“I’m a poster girl for the ‘End Polio Now’ campaign,” Kidjo said. “I am from a generation who has witnessed the devastating effects of polio. When I discovered how close we were from eradicating polio, I was very motivated to be a part of this movement. It is so rare when you can accomplish something so spectacular.”
Kidjosaid a good education must first start with good health.
“The lack of information makes vaccination campaigns very dangerous for women. It’s up to the men in Africa to show women and children that vaccinations are crucial for their family’s health. This isn’t being done in many countries.”
For more than 10 years, Kidjo has served as a UNICEF goodwill ambassador and traveled throughout Africa as an advocate for health care and education. UNICEF, along with Rotary, is one of four spearheading partners of the Polio Global Eradication Initiative.
She says the most gratifying part of being a UNICEF ambassador is meeting amazing people with the passion and strength to be able to change their communities.
“People are not just numbers on a spreadsheet,” Kidjo said. “Try to involve the people you are trying to help in the decision making. The solution is never going to come from the outside.”