Better known for her acting chops, Salma Hayek is also a long-time champion for children and women’s welfare.

This weekend, Hayek’s unwavering dedication was recognized at the 7th Biennal UNICEF Ball, where she was awarded the Danny Kaye Leadership Award. Her acceptance speech was filled with anecdotes of memorable moments, and she shared that she once breastfed a malnourished child in Sierra Leone.


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It takes so little to make big, big changes. Salma Hayek

The Beatriz at Dinner star has worked with the United Nations’ Children’s Fund for more than a decade, spearheading campaigns throughout the world – from the 2017 Mexico earthquakes to Syrian refugee camps and women and children’s advocacy in Sierra Leone.

It was on a tetanus vaccination field run to Sierra Leone that she encountered a 15-year-old mother and her malnourished child. The mother had no milk for her week-old baby and while Hayek’s team had brought ample vaccines, there was no milk or formula. But Hayek’s daughter had just started weaning.

For the Frida star, the solution was obvious  — she had milk to offer. While the young mother was grateful, and Hayek’s publicist more than a little miffed, the actress breastfed the hungry child. The event was kept under wraps for three years. Then, Hayek released footage of her generous act as part of a campaign for breastfeeding in Africa.

While the gala audience cheered and laughed at her retelling of the story, other recollections were far more somber.

The same campaign saw Hayek witness the destruction caused by the lack of vaccinations for preventable diseases like tetanus. In one heartbreaking instance, a newborn died in Hayek’s arms from the disease.

Those experiences motivated Hayek to commit to her humanitarian work even further, with wonderful results. In the years since, maternal and neonatal tetanus has been eliminated in 44 countries thanks to the work of UNICEF and partners like Salma Hayek.