Canadian Olympic silver medallist Beckie Scott returns from UNICEF field visit to Africa

FasterSkierMay 28, 2003

Wednesday May 21, 2003

TORONTO — Beckie Scott, Olympic silver medallist in cross-country skiing and UNICEF Canada Special Representative, arrived in Toronto last night following her first UNICEF field visit to Burkina Faso, Africa. In the height of the country’s dry season, with temperatures at 40 degrees Celsius, Scott traveled to some of Burkina’s most remote areas to see first-hand the results of UNICEF’s programs promoting girls’ education. She met teachers, local government officials — and most importantly, the children who are benefiting from these innovative projects. As an Olympic athlete with extraordinary achievements in her life it was particularly poignant for her to experience this window into the lives of girls who, without these initiatives would not otherwise have the opportunity to go to school.

Scott, first appointed UNICEF Canada Special Representative in June 2002, says that her first international field visit was a life-changing experience. “The work that has been achieved is just amazing, and the welcome I received was incredible,” she says. “Just under 30 per cent of Burkina Faso’s girls are presently enrolled in school, but I saw a great deal of hope for the future with the outstanding success of the current satellite schools. The passion shown by both UNICEF and the Burkina Faso government to accelerate girls’ education, along with their plans to expand the program throughout the country over the next ten years will make a major impact.”

In her travels, Scott saw the success of UNICEF initiatives, including satellite schools built in rural villages where there were no primary schools; Bi-Songos (child care centres located alongside schools, allowing girls to bring their younger siblings with them so they are cared for while the girls are in school); non-formal basic education centres for older students; women’s income generation programs; and a teacher training college with an experimental child-friendly school.

“We’re absolutely delighted that Beckie Scott, who has achieved so much as a Canadian, has chosen to make a difference in helping girls and women in developing nations to achieve the best quality of life possible,” says David Agnew, president and CEO, UNICEF Canada. “To hear Ms. Scott’s enthusiasm about the UNICEF work she saw, and to see how well she was received by children, parents, teachers, government officials and media in Burkina Faso, is truly inspiring.”

UNICEF has identified girls’ education as a key priority in improving the quality of life for children around the world, both girls and boys. Education is a basic right for all children and its positive effects extend far beyond the walls of schools. Besides teaching literacy and numeracy, schools provide a place to learn essential life skills and good health practices. Access to schools and education centres have a direct positive effect in preventing the spread of HIV and improving health and nutrition.

Sadly, girls in many developing countries never have the opportunity to attend school, and the cycle of poverty and lack of ability to further their potential continues from generation to generation. There are many reasons for this gender inequality, including societal attitudes toward the status of women, poverty, lack of safety and families’ needs for girls to stay home and take care of younger siblings. Often, getting to school requires travelling far distances, and girls walking through isolated areas are vulnerable to assault.

“Making sure girls receive a quality education is absolutely essential to improving the overall quality of life for everyone,” says Agnew. “The evidence is clear: education means that more girls and women will enjoy the full range of their rights, serve in leadership roles and fulfill their potential. Educated girls and women tend to marry later, have fewer children, and have better survival rates during pregnancy and childbirth. And the benefits will continue through generations of both girls and boys, as women who are educated are much more likely to ensure that their children are also schooled.”

UNICEF has made it a priority to increase the number of girls in school by 30 per cent in 25 countries by the year 2005. UNICEF Canada has begun working with three of these countries: Burkina Faso, Tanzania and Ethiopia. Burkina Faso has one of the lowest primary school net enrollment rates in West Africa, with large gender and regional inequalities. However, the partnership between UNICEF and the Burkina Faso government is already showing impressive results. Through advocacy and programs, UNICEF addresses the issues of access (ensuring that girls can physically and safely get to school); quality of education (ensuring that girls stay in school and learn); and achievement (ensuring that girls are literate, numerate and equipped with life skills).

At work in 158 countries and territories, UNICEF is known globally as the authority on the world's children, advocating for the protection of their rights, ensuring their basic needs are met, and enabling them to reach their full potential. UNICEF is guided by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

For further information or to arrange interviews, please contact:

Beth Berton-Hunter, National Communications, UNICEF Canada
(416) 482-4444 ext. 830
Alon Barmapov, Communications, UNICEF Ontario
(416) 482-4444 ext 804

BIOGRAPHY: Beckie Scott

An Olympic silver medallist in cross-country skiing, Canadian Beckie Scott was appointed UNICEF Canada Special Representative in June 2002. In accepting the post with UNICEF, Beckie continues her commitment to humanitarian issues, showing leadership through actions that improve the lives of children

Beckie’s first activity in support of UNICEF was in the fall of 2001, when she successfully challenged her fellow cross-country ski teammates to donate their prize money from the Continental Cup to UNICEF's Afghanistan Humanitarian Appeal. “The team was at a training camp in Silver Star, B.C. at the time and I could not get the images of Afghanistan out of my mind, or push down the feelings of such imbalance and injustice in the world,” explains Beckie. “I proposed the “challenge” idea to my team-mates, who supported it enthusiastically. I created a poster, made a presentation at the coach's meeting, and encouraged people to donate their cash prizes to UNICEF.”

In May 2003 Beckie embarked on her first UNICEF field trip. Travelling to Burkina Faso, Africa, she got a first-hand look at UNICEF Girls’ Education projects — part of UNICEF’s international “25 by 2005” campaign – a major drive to eliminate gender disparities in primary and secondary education in 25 priority countries by the year 2005. UNICEF Canada is highly committed to every child’s right to education, and has begun working with three of the priority countries: Burkina Faso, Tanzania and Ethiopia. Burkina Faso has one of the lowest primary school net enrolment rates in West Africa, and within the country there are large gender and regional inequalities.
Beckie travelled to Fada N’Gourma and Zourgou in the east, then west to Bobo-Dioulasso, Banfora and Beradougou. She visited several satellite schools in rural villages where there are no primary schools, child day care centres called Bi-Songos, non-formal basic education centres for older students, women’s income generation programs and a teacher training college with an experimental child-friendly school inside the complex.
Beckie met and travelled with Burkina Faso’s Minister of Basic Education and Literacy, along with many other government ministers; spoke about the importance of girls’ education with regional Chiefs, Governors and local mayors; discussed progress being made with local teachers and met with teen representatives of the Bobo-Dioulasso Children’s Parliament.
Beckie will present highlights of her visit to Burkina Faso at the UNICEF Canada Annual Meeting, where she is the featured keynote speaker on Saturday, June 14, 2003 in Toronto.

Considered Canada’s most successful international cross-country skier, Beckie Scott charged to the first Olympic cross-country medal ever won by a Canadian, lunging for the bronze medal in the five-kilometre free pursuit at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. She edged out her fellow competitor by a tenth of a second with a gutsy drive on the finishing track to get on the Olympic podium. It was the first cross-country ski medal won by a North American since 1976.

Leading up to the Games, Beckie was an outspoken critic of the use of performance-enhancing drugs being used in her sport, and was proven correct after the gold and silver medallists in her event tested positive at the Olympics. Beckie is now continuing the fight against drugs, and her standing as the Bronze medallist has been upgraded to Silver with an expected decision looming that may see Beckie upgraded to the Gold medal.

Beckie is now in her ninth year on the national cross-country ski team, and over the past couple of seasons, has proven that she belongs in the ranks of the world’s elite cross-country skiers and sprint racers. She is Canada’s undisputed cross-country sprint queen. During the 2001 season, she won a bronze sprint medal and silver in the relay at the 2001 World Cup, becoming only the second Canadian woman ever to stand on a World Cup podium for cross-country skiing. She finished with an overall World Cup ranking of 15th for the second straight year. In November 2002 Beckie was presented with the John Semmelink Award given annually to Canada's most outstanding athlete in skiing and snowboarding.

Raised in Vermillion, Alberta, Beckie began cross-country skiing at the age of five, when her parents, both avid skiers themselves, enrolled her in the local Jackrabbit League. She entered her first race at the age of seven, and by age 12 she was winning medals at Junior National competitions.

Beckie is part of an illustrious group of Canadian and international celebrities who support the work of UNICEF, including UNICEF Canada National Ambassadors Sharon, Lois & Bram, UNICEF Canada National Ambassador Veronica Tennant and UNICEF international Goodwill Ambassadors, such as Sir Peter Ustinov, Harry Belafonte, Roger Moore, Susan Sarandon, Lord Richard Attenborough, Judy Collins, Nana Mouskouri and Mia Farrow. These well-known figures put their own talents to work for children by participating in fundraising events and advocacy initiatives.

At work in 158 countries and territories, UNICEF is known globally as the authority on the world’s children, advocating for the protection of their rights, ensuring their basic needs are met, and enabling them to reach their full potential. UNICEF is guided by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

May, 2003
CONTACT: Barbara Sloan, Public Affairs, UNICEF Canada, (416) 483-5704,


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