Pau Gasol has experienced a wide range of emotions this off-season.
He is excited the Lakers acquired Dwight Howard and Steve Nash in hopes of squeezing out more NBA championships. He is relieved the Lakers made such deals without trading him. He was filled with pride as the leader of the Spanish men’s basketball team and his country’s flag bearer in the 2012 London Olympics, though he was disappointed Spain lost in the gold-medal match to the United States for the second consecutive Games.
Gasol has long been aware of the human condition, appreciative of the joys and sorrows that life brings. The Lakers forward has taken another step in further grasping that concept, arriving in the African nation of Chad on Thursday as part of a week-long trip in the Sahel region, where he’ll work as a UNICEF ambassador.
There, he will help and observe UNICEF officials provide vaccinations and food at feeding and medical nutritional centers throughout the region. UNICEF says the Sahel region has at least 1.1 million children that will need treatment for severe acute malnutrition. The United Nations has said about 18 million people are affected by a drought and food crisis in the nine countries of the Sahel region.
“UNICEF started warning last year that this situation could happen and began to work on prevention and treatment,” Gasol said in a statement, “But not all children in need across the Sahel have been reached. I’m in Chad to remind people that 1 million children are at risk in the Sahel because of the nutritional crisis and that it is possible to end malnutrition.”
So far, UNICEF has devoted $238 million in resources in improving malnourishment in the Sahel region, providing more educational opportunities to dissuade children from joining rebel groups in Mali and mitigating cholera outbreaks. The organization says it has also secured $93 million for emergency response efforts.
Gasol, who has been Spain’s UNICEF ambassador since 2003, last made a trip on behalf of the organization at Ethiopia in 2010. This last March, Gasol participated in El Rey Theater’s “Play List With the A-List,” in which celebrities sang karaoke to raise funds for UNICEF. Gasol sang the Fray’s “How to Save a Life.” Gasol also released an iBook this year in three different languages, with all proceeds benefiting UNICEF.
Those efforts, along with his frequent visits to Los Angeles Childrens Hospital, earned Gasol the NBA’s J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship award.