Help Malawi children orphaned by Aids: Zoe
Ulster-born television presenter Zoe Salmon today urged schools across Northern Ireland to support efforts to help children in Malawi orphaned by Aids.
Hundreds of pupils throughout the province have already signed up to Blue Peter's Shoe Biz appeal, being run in conjunction with leading children's charity, UNICEF.
Each week, about two million pairs of shoes are simply thrown into the dustbin in the UK and the Shoe Biz appeal aims to collect and recycle 500,000 pairs of the shoes which will help UNICEF continue its life-saving work in Malawi.
And tomorrow - on World Aids Day - youngsters are being asked to wear their wellies to school or youth clubs to raise much needed cash for children living in Malawi who are affected by Aids.
Zoe, who hails from Bangor, travelled to Malawi earlier this year to see first-hand the extent of the suffering of youngsters living in the impoverished country.
"I went to Malawi in September and until you see, breathe and smell it, you can't fully understand how bad it is," she said.
"A whole section of the community has been wiped out by HIV and Aids. You look for the people aged between 20 and 40, the mums and the dads, and they are just not there.
"We think of the victims as the adults who have died, but what about the children they leave behind? The appeal will highlight the hidden victims who are paying a devastating price. Aids is robbing millions of children of a childhood. A lot of our viewers are children, who will see what a different life they lead, but will still relate to it."
During her time in Malawi, Zoe met some children orphaned by the Aids epidemic and she said she was horrified by the terrible conditions in which they live.
Many of the children go without regular food but with the help of UNICEF, the younger orphans can attend special centres while their older siblings go to school. Here they receive supervision and food.
Charity co-ordinator at Ashfield Boys High School in east Belfast, Carol Dowler, said pupils at the school would be supporting the Shoe Biz appeal this year.
"The students came to me with the idea of supporting the appeal and I think it is very good idea for a number of reasons," she explained.
"Not only will they be helping to raise money for hundreds of children orphaned through Aids but it will help them to think about the children and realise how little some children have in that some of them don't even have shoes."