Batting legend Sachin Tendulkar became UNICEF's first brand ambassador for South Asia on Thursday and vowed to work towards promoting hygiene and sanitation in the region.
"Thanks for allowing me to start this wonderful second innings of my life. I'm looking forward to being an ambassador for UNICEF and serve to the best of my ability. This is an innings that is really, really important to me, so I will try my best," said Tendulkar.
The recently-retired batting icon, who has been involved with the global organisation for the last 8-10 years, was named its ambassador for South Asia region for two years.
Tendulkar said it is hard to digest that many people around the world do not have access to clean toilets.
"I was surprised to know that 36 per cent of the world population don't have access to safe and clean toilets. In today's day and age to think about this basic facility not being available to a common man, it is really difficult to digest," he said.
"If a person defecates in the open and goes back home and that happens to be a mother, because in most of the family it is the mother who runs the house. She is the one who is cooking food for all the family members, she is the one who is feeding the baby with her own hands because that is the attachment and a bond that any mother and child would share. And if the hands are not washed with soap, can you imagine the result. It can actually take away the child's life. For an adult's negligence, a child cannot lose its life," he added.
The 40-year old said he was baffled by the statistics on the high number of children dying due to lack of proper hygiene.
"Also, another statistic which baffles me... and I was disheartened to know was that 1600 children die every day because of diarrhoeal infected diseases. I just want to help UNICEF to make more people aware of this initiative that I am part of. It is as simple as washing your hands with soap," he said.
Tendulkar said he will achieve something in his second innings if is able to bring down the number of child mortality due to diarrhoea-related diseases.
"The numbers I spoke about... my only wish is if we could bring those astronomical numbers as low as possible; then we would have achieved something. I can speak for myself that I would have achieved something post my cricketing years. The second innings of my life that I am playing along with UNICEF is really important and it means a lot to me," he said.
Recalling his childhood days, Tendulkar said there were times when he didn't bother to wash his hands after playing.
"There was a stage where I would play downstairs with my friends, cricket with tennis ball, and occasionally didn't bother washing my hands, and wanting to eat after coming back home. My mother made sure that I washed my hands properly and ate with clean hands," he said.
Tendulkar, who was also earlier part of the UNICEF campaigns for polio and global hand washing, said, "Hand wash according to me with soap is like vaccine which can prevent a lot of diseases. Basically, by not washing your hands after defecation allows a person to carry germs back home. It causes lot of harm to your health. Many diseases like diarrhoea, dysentery, worms, infect many diseases related to respiratory are caused because of our negligence."
The batting icon, who had interacted with kids for the hand wash campaign, said he was looking forward to meet more children through this new role.
"Not just I was part of spreading the message but also to spend time with children and educate them about hygiene; how important it is to lead life the way it is meant to be, is lot of fun and I thoroughly enjoyed doing that. I am looking forward to sharing such moments with a number of children."
Image: Sachin Tendulkar
Photograph: Hitesh Harisinghani/Rediff.com