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US actress Mia Farrow (Salvatore Di Nolfi/AP)
US actress Mia Farrow (Salvatore Di Nolfi/AP)

ASK THE KIELBURGERS

How much does a celebrity really contribute to a cause? Add to ...

Welcome to Live Better, a new weekly feature from Globe Life dedicated to giving back and socially conscious living

QUESTION

I see a lot of celebrities attach their names to causes, but I’m skeptical about how much they actually contribute. Mia Farrow seems pretty sincere. I’ve read that she was doing charity work recently in Vancouver. What’s she really like?

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THE ANSWER

An official with the United Nations recently admitted to us that while a lot of celebrities gladly show up to sip riesling at cocktail parties for a humanitarian cause, a rare few ask to be sent to the most dangerous places on Earth.

He was referring to Mia Farrow, the Golden Globe-winning actor and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. At 29, her face was on the first-ever cover of People magazine. Today, at 66, she’s known more for her activism around children’s rights, polio and victims of war – using her fame, her compassion and her gifts for photography to fight for a just world.

We first got to know Ms. Farrow after hearing her speak about war-affected children and the plight of Darfuri refugees. Then, we connected again within minutes of the Haitian earthquake in 2010. Via texting, Ms. Farrow expressed interest in helping but insisted she shouldn’t go to Haiti for a year when the world’s attention was distracted elsewhere. “They need emergency workers now, not more celebrities,” she said.

Our eventual visit in December, 2010, coincided with the violent protests immediately after the disputed results of the post-quake elections. We were in the capital city, Port-au-Prince, when we saw just who Mia Farrow really is. With a startling amount of guts, this petite woman with a soft voice walked into the angry crowd and talked to the rioters to fully understand their perspective. She photographed burned-out cars and remained resolute as the mobs pounded our car, but she knew when it was time to leave. “The women have all left,” she said. “Things are about to get worse.”

Several months later, at the Dadaab refugee camp in East Africa, Ms. Farrow obliged the hordes of journalists following her around, but finally ditched them so she could return to those same refugees, with only a notepad, to talk. We met a desperate mother who felt powerless to help her gravely ill child. Ms. Farrow took the mother and child to the camp hospital and stayed with them until they got help. There were no cameras to capture this act of profound kindness.

Mia Farrow doesn’t cling to comfort. She walks into slums, sits on the ground and shares a beer with the residents. She brings her children (11 of them are adopted from difficult circumstances around the world) so they understand how fortunate they are and how to treat people with respect and compassion.

Sure, she’s not the only celebrity who puts their face to a cause. But there’s a wide range of commitment. Some celebs show up for the photo shoot and little else. (Even then, they help to show that caring is cool, and that’s a start.) Others genuinely want to contribute and do, to varying degrees.

But our favourite celebrities are those like Ms. Farrow who dive all the way in – who know as much or more about the issue than the experts in the field, and bring their passion back to North America and share it with their fans.

Craig and Marc Kielburger co-founded Free the Children. Follow Craig at facebook.com/craigkielburger and @craigkielburger on Twitter. Send questions to Livebetter@globeandmail.com.

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