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Lucy Liu: Heroic kids not giving up

November 21, 2011 -- Updated 1954 GMT (0354 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Actress Lucy Liu is a UNICEF ambassador who has met children around the world
  • Liu: It's "heartbreaking" to see kids who want an education but can't have one
  • Despite their disadvantages, she says, children are always "warm and inviting"

Editor's note: Voting is under way for the 2011 CNN Hero of the Year. The winner will be announced at "CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute," which airs live December 11. See the Top 10 CNN Heroes of 2011 and cast your vote at CNNHeroes.com.

(CNN) -- Actress Lucy Liu is an ambassador for UNICEF, an organization that gives children the essentials for a safe and healthy childhood.

Approximately 21,000 children die every day from preventable causes, according to UNICEF, and its mission is to reduce that number to zero.

Liu recently sat down with CNN's Sonya Hamasaki to talk about UNICEF's efforts to save lives around the world and what a hero means to her. Below are excerpts from that interview.

Sonya Hamasaki: Why did you decide to get involved with UNICEF?

Lucy Liu: I'd heard about UNICEF for a really long time. ... They are on the ground all the time for these children. It's so comforting to know that they have the ability to provide.

When I go on these missions and I am there with the children in these villages, it is so heartbreaking. But it's so inspiring to know that people have dedicated their lives to being there for these kids. I just feel like there's so much more that needs to be done and that can be done, and I want to be part of that.

Hamasaki: What's it been like working with children around the world?

Liu: I think the one thing that I've taken away from all of the travels and all of the countries that I've been is that the children are always so warm and so inviting.

Even though some of their parents may have passed away, there's always a wonderful sense of community that these kids have with one another and within the village that they live. It is about taking care of others and looking out for others. There's a sense of family, togetherness. These kids stick together through thick and thin, and that's something I think that's really exciting.

Hamasaki: Education is important to you. What does UNICEF do to promote education?

Liu: I think it's really heartbreaking to see children who want to have an education, who are hungry for that, but they're not able to receive that. And I think UNICEF has the ability to put together -- in very difficult situations -- a sense of normalcy.

In Pakistan, when I went there after the earthquake, they set up these school-in-a-box tents. It's very simple, and you give children a feeling that there's regularity in their lives even though everything else is falling apart for them.

It's easy for people to contribute also by saying, "I can contribute $10 to buy salts to make the water clean," "I can give $100 for school-in-a-box," which contains all the things that you need for school. It's just incredible to see how much it means to them and how much we can give them.

Hamasaki: What is a hero to you?

Liu: A hero to me is somebody who puts themselves last, who puts everything on the line for other people. I think that children can be heroes also.

I have met young women and young men who have been abused, some young women who have been raped and who have been near death and have seen so much violence in their lives, but they don't give up. They go and work in the shelter and tell their stories and help other women who have the same problem.

Young girls who have had unimaginable things happen to them. ... They still stand up, and they still walk with their head high. These people could have given up a long time ago, and they never did.

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