Person of the Week: Carol Bellamy

Oct. 1, 2004 — -- Carol Bellamy, the executive director of the United Nations Children's Fund, leads an organization that works for the rights, development, protection and survival of children all over the world. After 10 years on the job, she is ready to hand over the reins.

After Hurricane Jeanne destroyed the Haitian city of Gonaives this week, burying it under water for days, the city's children were in deep distress.

Bellamy, 62, went there to coordinate and motivate UNICEF workers distributing much-needed medicine.

"Part of my reason for being here is to join with others to say don't forget the Caribbean. There was one hurricane, after another hurricane, after another hurricane, on some of the poorest countries in the world," she said. "Please, they need your help."

Bellamy has been running UNICEF for 10 years, but the organization has been in business since the end of World War II. There is a great need, as half the world's people living in poverty today are children.

UNICEF boasts 10,000 people working in 158 countries. Bellamy travels to 30 or 40 conflicts and emergencies a year. She leads efforts against child slavery in India and famine in Ethiopia and works for child development in Tibet. Recently Bellamy was in Uganda, a country where children are forced to be soldiers.

"I've never seen a fight like this. I've never seen anything as dramatic as impacting on so many children," she said.

Bellamy has no children of her own, but she knows a lot about kids.

"Nobody knows how long the damage will last, but there is an extraordinary resilience in children and young people," she said.

Bellamy is very demanding because she has to be. In Sudan alone, hundreds of thousands women and children are on the run from war.

Political Beginnings

Bellamy was raised in New Jersey. Her father was a lineman for a phone company and her mother was a nurse.

"My mom was the nurse on the ward where the babies were born," she said. "Everybody loved my mom."

After graduating college, she volunteered for the Peace Corps. Bellamy became a lawyer and then entered New York City politics. In 1977, Bellamy was the first woman president of the New York City Council. She was unsuccessful in her bid for mayor.

Serving people in some way will always be Bellamy's calling — that's what her mother taught her.

"She said, 'You know, I'm a nurse and if you just cut down in the skin in a human being, just a little bit, no matter who they are, they all look the same.' It was a lesson that had an enormous impact in my life."

ABC News' Peter Jennings filed this report for World News Tonight.