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Putting Children First With Unicef at the Commonwealth Games

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For those who love sport, this has certainly been an action-packed summer, full of highs and quite a few lows with recent British disappointments at Wimbledon, Le Tour, and of course the World Cup in Brazil. I confess I'm not the world's most passionate armchair fan. But I will be riveted to the sporting spectacle that gets underway in Scotland this week - the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. For me, this is definitely going to be the highlight of the sporting year, and one that I hope will remain in our collective memories for years to come.

That's because as President of Unicef UK, I'm immensely proud that Glasgow 2014 has chosen to put children and young people at the very heart of this important sporting event. Glasgow and Unicef, working together aim to show that these Commonwealth Games will be remembered, not only for the amazing sportsmanship and athletic endeavour on show, but also for harnessing the immense power of sport to help save millions of children's lives across the Commonwealth.

The Opening Ceremony on Wednesday night is going to be like no other we have seen since the opening of the London Olympics - and some say, may even surpass that. Its centrepiece will be a showcase of how Unicef transforms the lives of children across the Commonwealth nations. This will culminate in a single unifying moment in which everyone across the Commonwealth - athletes, audience and viewers - will be invited to join together to Put Children First and make a simultaneous donation via text or online.

Let me tell you why that is so important.

I recently visited Bangladesh with a Unicef team. There I met 15-year-old Fatema, who lives with her mother in a slum in the city of Khulna. Despite her age she would have been married a few weeks earlier and condemned to a life of either sexual exploitation or domestic drudgery in the household of a man three times her age who had three wives already. She was saved from this fate at the last minute by the swift action of a local Unicef child protection worker. He persuaded her mother that Fatema should stay at schooland helped her with a small Unicef grant to ease the financial burden of keeping her at home. Fatema, just like my own granddaughter, is brilliant at science and near the top of her class. When Fatema grows up she wants to be a doctor - our job is to help her realise that aspiration for herself, her family, her community and her country.

I also visited a project where children are taught to swim. Why is that important? Because with climate-change-driven monsoon flooding becoming an increasing problem in low lying countries like Bangladesh, knowing how to stay afloat and get to dry land is a matter of life and death. It's staggering that an estimated 18,000 children die every year from drowning in this flood prone nation. Unicef's work has already taught 300,000 children to swim, giving them a fighting chance of survival in the years to come.

Today, sport has an increasingly important role in development and countless success stories like the ones I witnessed in Bangladesh. That's why so many top sportsmen and women, from Lionel Messi to Serena Williams, from Sir Chris Hoy to Andy Murray, actively support Unicef.

They know that sport has huge power and influence to make a positive difference to children's lives - and indeed, as in the swimming lessons I saw in Bangladesh, to save lives, too. Sport improves health and fitness and, as a consequence, resistance to disease. It encourages children through play into more formal education, something which is especially valuable to young girls who are all too often excluded in their communities. Through sport, young people can be educated to stay safe, by learning simple rules to improve hygiene or how to avoid violence or sexually transmitted diseases. Sport and play can also be a great healer after conflict, helping children deal with trauma and improve their communication skills, enabling them to become more confident and better citizens.

That's why these Commonwealth Games will be different - why they will be more important than just the spectacle. Why, when we come together for that special moment at the Opening Ceremony we will be united in a single purpose right across the Commonwealth - putting children first.

Will you be there on 23 July, watching, playing your part? Join us in Glasgow - in person or on the TV or radio or the web, and together we can ensure that - whatever the individual, sporting triumphs and disappointments on the field - children will be the lasting winners at these Commonwealth Games.