Arlo Parks appointed a UNICEF UK Ambassador

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For photographs (free hand out images) of Arlo Parks in Sierra Leone with UNICEF, CLICK HERE

London, 27 June 2024: Arlo Parks has been appointed as the youngest Ambassador to the UK Committee for UNICEF (UNICEF UK), following three years of support to the charity. The award-winning musician and poet visited Sierra Leone with UNICEF UK this month and spent five days with young people who are leading change in their communities. Her itinerary was led by UNICEF Sierra Leone Youth Advocates, all of whom have set up grassroots responses to social challenges in the West African country, including teenage pregnancy and substance abuse.

Arlo Parks was one of the youngest ever winners of the Mercury Prize, aged 21, for her debut album Collapsed in Sunbeams, which also won her a Brit award and two Grammy nominations. Her second studio album My Soft Machine was released in 2023 and her songwriting credits include Ya-Ya on Beyoncé’s Cowboy Carter album.

West Africa has some of the highest rates of child marriage, teen pregnancy and maternal mortality in the world. In Sierra Leone, 21 per cent of all pregnancies occur in adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 years (SLDHS 2019). The majority of women do not have access to contraceptives and are not making their own decisions about reproduction. Following years of campaigning, Sierra Leone has banned child marriage in a historic law passed this week, making it illegal for anyone to marry a child under the age of 18.

Parks met a support group for teenage mothers run by Rita*, 20, who struggled due to being orphaned aged 7 and pregnant aged 15. Girls who bear children at a young age are more likely to face health complications, drop out of school and are stigmatised at a household and community level. The impacts are felt for generations to come.

Rita* said: “If I could make three wishes, I would ask to have grown up with a mother. Maybe I would always be guided and even if it got bad, maybe I could cry to her for help. I would ask to embrace my son so tight and shower him tears of love. Lastly, I would ask that I find peace in my head. Do you know how many of us are going through the same?”

Sara*, 22, opened a safe space for girls in Freetown, five years ago. As a survivor of sexual violence, she said: “I wanted to create a space free of judgement, where girls can come with any issue and find the support and information they need”.

Parks said: “With the journeys these young girls have been through, there’s a level of suffering that’s difficult for me to even wrap my head around. But in finding community, finding friendship, dismantling the shame, there was a lot of love, a lot of weight, and a lot of hope.”

Upon visiting a project where girls are taught how to make sanitary pads, and taught vocational skills such as tailoring or catering, Parks said: “It was so palpable to witness how much change was created within that community. There is a brutal culture of transactional sex for these young girls. To undergo that violation to fulfil basic needs is heart-breaking. But it was heart-warming to see the mentoring and ‘big sister’ structure they’ve created for the girls”.

Sierra Leone has declared a national emergency over a recent increase in drug abuse. Parks met the leaders of Kush4Go, a substance abuse campaign and met with recovering addicts. She said: “There’s something so painfully universal about drug abuse, the fact that it can really happen to anybody. It’s difficult to fight against the stigma and get the support you need, even though it’s physical, it’s an illness”.

Parks also met Foday* whose organisation provides opportunities for students to engage in both national and international sports, fostering skills that are transferable and help to address critical issues such as health education, personal development, and social inclusion. “Playing basketball with the girls was one of the most uplifting experiences of this whole trip,” said Parks. “Seeing the way sport teaches these women to use their body for strength and resilience, learning to lean on each other, collaborate and to bounce back, it highlighted the joy and potential of women in Sierra Leone” she continued.

Rudolf Schwenk, UNICEF Representative in Sierra Leone, said: “It was a pleasure to host Arlo in Sierra Leone ahead of her upcoming appointment as UNICEF UK Ambassador. Her role will be crucial in mobilising support to put an end to violence, exploitation, abuse and harmful practices against children, especially the most vulnerable. In Sierra Leone and elsewhere.”

Over the last three years of supporting UNICEF UK Parks has raised funds whilst on tour, performed at the charitable Blue Moon Gala, visited UK programmes for children and campaigned on mental health. Parks takes a unique approach to her work with UNICEF. In Sierra Leone the trip was directed by the young advocates themselves, who decided on the most pressing issues to engage in. Parks also works with the young people she meets to co-create artistic ventures. In 2023 she hosted a creative workshop with members of UNICEF UK’s Youth Advisory Board. As part of this project, she co-wrote a poem with them, raising awareness about mental health, issues which feature throughout her songwriting.

“We met young people who are just fizzing with energy. They are assertive. They know what they need, they see a problem and come up with these very creative and compassionate solutions,” Parks concluded. “I was really inspired to meet them. The trip has encouraged me personally to use my voice more, to be more vocal about issues, to spread more information about child rights and child protection.”


*Names changed to protect identity and maintain confidentiality.

**DHS 2019

For photographs (free hand out images) of Arlo Parks in Sierra Leone with UNICEF, CLICK HERE.

For more information contact the UNICEF UK press office: Phone: + 44 (0)207 375 6030 / [email protected]

For more information about Ambassadors: Celebrity Supporters – UNICEF UK


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The UK Committee for UNICEF (UNICEF UK) raises funds for UNICEF’s emergency and development work for children. We also promote and protect children’s rights in the UK and internationally. We are a UK charity, entirely funded by supporters.

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