Tetanus is no longer a disease threatening the lives of children in 44 countries in part because of UNICEF and Salma Hayek Pinault.
Hayek Pinault received UNICEF’s Danny Kaye Humanitarian Award on Saturday for spearheading UNICEF’s campaign to end maternal and neonatal tetanus as well as more global initiatives. Other honorees at the UNICEF Ball, which took place at the Beverly Wilshire hotel, included Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s chief content officer, and his wife Ambassador Nicole Avant, who were the recipients of the Spirt of Compassion Award.
Comedian Keegan-Michael Key hosted the awards dinner, which attracted an array of talent attending in support of Hayek Pinault and the humanitarian organization. The night’s guests, speakers, and performers also included UNICEF ambassador Alyssa Milano, UNICEF goodwill ambassador Lilly Singh, Jane Fonda, Pharell Williams, Don Johnson, Netflix’s Scott Stuber, Paramount’s Jim Gianopulos, UNICEF U.S.A. president and CEO Caryl M. Stern, and eight-year-old Syrian author Bana al-Abed.
Key kicked off the ceremony on a light note, delivering some goodnatured quips about Sarandos, who he called “the guy who generously keeps everyone in Hollywood employed.” The comedian joked that he alone was currently involved in 14 different Netflix series.
“I would like to take a moment and personally thank Ted for his philanthropy in specific to my career,” Key announced to chuckles from the crowd.
Sarandos and Avant later accepted the Spirit of Compassion Award from “Grace and Frankie” star Fonda, who identified Sarandos as the person Avant “chooses to Netflix and chill with” before thanking him for greenlighting a show headlined by older women.
The focuses of the night, however, were the children of the world and Humanitarian Award recipient Hayek Pinault, who delivered an emotional speech recounting her experiences volunteering to aid children abroad.
Tonight’s UNICEF Ball honoree @salmahayek makes a stop on the red carpet. The actress will receive the Danny Kaye Humanitarian Award. pic.twitter.com/ulUK4Kdnvd
— Christi Carras (@christicarras) April 15, 2018
Ahead of the dinner, Stern, who accompanied Hayek Pinault on UNICEF’s mission to end tetanus worldwide, praised the honoree for her dedication to the children she has met on her UNICEF trips.
“I had the privilege to travel to Sierra Leone with Salma 10 years ago on a tetanus campaign, and to sit with her and hold hands with her and another 18-year-old mom at the time, who lost a child to tetanus,” Stern told Variety. “I watched it change her. I watched it build her resolve, and I watched her come back and do something about it.”
Milano also lauded the actress and producer for her “tireless” work ethic and dedication to empowering women and children around the world. “She’s just a special woman,” the “Charmed” alumna told Variety. “I’m so happy that she’s getting this honor and that I’m here to be able to support her.”
During her acceptance speech, Hayek Pinault detailed some of her memories of the campaign trip. She recalled being photographed while volunteering to breastfeed a 15-year-old mother’s malnourished infant, much to the mother’s relief and her publicist’s displeasure.
“They could have milked that milking moment,” Hayek said, referring to the UNICEF team. “They were super elegant and didn’t say anything.”
Hayek Pinault also relayed some less successful ventures, such as when she and Stern tried and failed to save a woman’s newborn child, who ultimately succumbed to tetanus. Despite the deaths and suffering she witnessed on her trips, the actress stressed the importance of composure during heartbreaking moments.
“I try not to cry,” she said. “I don’t like to cry — I like to be effective. I like to stay focused so we can get the most done in the least amount of time.”
She concluded her speech with an address to the audience, asking the benefactors in the room to always keep the world’s children in mind.
“If you feel anxious, and you feel like something’s missing in your life, or you have the sensation that something’s wrong or something’s about to go wrong for no good reason, maybe you’re sensing those kids who are fighting to get out of incredible, unimaginable situations,” Hayek Pinault said.
The event also featured a live auction, during which attendees donated sums from $1,000 to $32,143.80 to fund emergency trucks, food, and learning supplies. Gianopulos was among the highest-bidding donors of the night, which collectively raised $2.3 million for UNICEF’s efforts. The ceremony concluded with a performance from Williams, who performed “Feels,” “Get Lucky” and “Happy.”