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By UNICEF Australia
4 August 2023

Ken Done is the kind of guy that can put a smile on anyone’s face. He’s warm, funny and a world-renowned artist, hailing from Sydney’s North Shore.

Back in 1988, Ken designed the iconic A-U-S-T-R-A-L-I-A sign at the Brisbane World Expo ’88. Seeing his unique and vibrant style, UNICEF asked if he would also design the UNICEF pavilion. 

This was the first step in a 35-year relationship that saw Ken join as a UNICEF Australia National Ambassador, travel to Zimbabwe, Vietnam and Timor-Leste, and spend years campaigning for children’s rights. 

We asked Ken what moments have stayed with him from 35 years of work with UNICEF, and what he hopes to see change for children in the future. 

Ken Done's iconic A-U-S-T-R-A-L-I-A sign at the Brisbane World Expo ’88.
Ken Done's iconic A-U-S-T-R-A-L-I-A sign at the Brisbane World Expo ’88.

Q. Tell us about your time as a UNICEF Ambassador over the last 35 years.  

When I was asked to become an ambassador for UNICEF Australia 35 years ago, I said yes straight away, which tells you something about the reputation of UNICEF for people to get involved.  

Ken Done standing next to children in Zimbabwe.
Ken Done, one of UNICEF Australia’s longest ambassadors, pictured here in Zimbabwe.  
© Ken Done

Over the years, I’ve been a Global Parent, done quite a few trips into across the African continent and to Vietnam with UNICEF, and saw how we can make a difference together. Fresh water can be found, doctors can be organised, tents can be set up. 

It's an amazing organization, UNICEF. And it's no wonder lots of people in the world are very happy to be involved. 

Q. How can art change the lives of children?  

Art can cross all language barriers and is a wonderful means of communication between people.

I think it is very important for children to spend time making drawings of things that come out of their imagination.

For children in refugee camps it is also an opportunity to expose some of the darker things within their life. 

"However, I am always amazed when I see kids in the poorest circumstances still making optimistic drawings of birds, flowers and the sun"

Ken Done's artwork© Ken Done

Q. What is one moment that has stayed with you from your time working with UNICEF?

I will always remember that first trip to Zimbabwe.

I went with a small group to visit a refugee camp for the people that had been displaced by guerrilla fighting.

It was a remarkable experience to see the care and dedication of people on the ground. To see how UNICEF could organise a structure within the camp, water, food and hospital facilities with only a handful of people was astounding.

When we walked amongst the tents, families were huddling together and a woman asked me to sit with her and she offered me some of her food.

"How astounding is that! We were there to help her and yet she performed this basic human act of kindness to me."

There was also a trip to Vietnam, where we travelled to the north, it was a wonderful experience to see how the UNICEF doctors gained the trust of the villagers.

They were endeavouring to get people to use iodine salts in an area where there was a lot of iodine deficiency disorder.

Ken Done in Vietnam
Ken Done in Vietnam
© Ken Done

On the first evening, a small stage was set up and a play was performed with the doctors and some of the locals. The play essentially was a story where in the end everybody lived happily ever after and the main roles were fulfilled by the doctors themselves.

This meant, the next morning, that the villagers had no hesitation in seeing the doctors as they were already heroes in their eyes.

Ken Done with Aussie kids and their self portraits painted for World Children's Day 2017
Ken Done with Aussie kids and their self portraits painted for World Children's Day 2017.
© Ken Done

Q. What do you want to see change for children in the future?  

At 83, I am still a child and I hope always to see the world with childlike eyes.

"But the old 83-year-old in me knows that we never do enough for children and that there is so much more to be achieved."

Security, health, optimism and big doses of love are what children need.

For my three grandchildren, who live in a very sophisticated city and have very generous lives, I hope that they don't take their good fortune for granted and that they spend some time helping children much worse off than they.

Unicef Gala
Ken at the UNICEF Gala in 2017.

Ken is no longer an ambassador for UNICEF Australia, but we would like to say an enormous thank you to Ken for everything he has done over the last 35 years with UNICEF. Thank you! 

Ken Done with a group of smiling schoolchildren holding their hands up.
Creating art with a group of children for World Children’s Day in 2017.

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