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Worlds apart ... but working together

THE content of the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony is still largely under wraps.

But today, we reveal the extraordinary stories of three of six Scots who will play a unique role in the event, as part of the first Commonwealth-wide fundraising appeal for children.

Known as Flying Scots, the six have each travelled to one region of the Commonwealth along with one of UNICEF's celebrity ambassadors, to see how money raised through the partnership between the charity and Glasgow 2014 will save and change the lives of millions of children. Their journeys were captured on film and will feature in the opening ceremony on July 23. Here are the stories of three of the Flying Scots, in their own words ...

Micheala Collins and Nicole Scherzinger, Guyana

Michaela Collins Munro, 23, grew up in Glasgow's east end. These days many of her friends are single mothers; several male friends are in jail or have died from drug or alcohol abuse. Michaela turned her life round through the Peek Project (Possibilities for Each and Every Kid) which provides free play, creative arts and learning opportunities to children and young people, and which inspired her to become the first in her family to go to college and gain an HNC in community development. Today, she works for the charity as a play development co-ordinator. Earlier this year she travelled with singer and former X Factor judge Nicole Scherzinger to Guyana in South America to see the work UNICEF is doing there to give disabled children the chance to play.

'It was incredible to think that having had such a rewarding time helping children back in Glasgow, here I was arriving in South America to see UNICEF's work to help children in very similar situations. Life for disabled children in Guyana is often very limited and hard. Many can't their homes, because of fears of bullying, embarrassment, concerns over road safety or a lack of suitable places to play.

Glasgow kids also face issues with traffic, bullying and no safe open spaces. What is happening to the world? When did cars and car parks become more important to a child's right to play?

In Guyana I met a 12-year-old boy called Kelan. His needs are currently undiagnosed, but he can't form words properly. As I introduced myself to Kelan he started clapping. So I began to clap along with him. His smile showed that he liked me copying the noise he was making. I clapped some beats; he listened and clapped the same beat back. He had a look of amazement on his face. I started to sing If You're Happy And You Know It, a song that Kelan had never heard before. He loved it.

Later, in Kelan's front yard, I helped him to use chalk for the first time. Although he it took him a while to get a grip of the chalk, eventually he was successful and smiled. Next we tried balloons. He was excited and straight began hitting them into the air. Something he was quite clearly good at.

Kelan also tried to kick the balloon, that's when I noticed how shaky and unstable his legs were. He tried and tried again and again, but couldn't quite get it. Kelan fell a lot, but each time got back up on his own.

I then slowly stood back and introduced his mum who was standing watching. I got her to pick up a balloons and hit it with her hands. Kelan saw his mum and decided to join in. Then I watched as Kelan and his mum laughed and played together.

The next day, Unicef ambassador Nicole Scherzinger and I met more youngsters at the play park that UNICEF has helped set up for children like Kelan. Many had travelled a long way to get here, some for the very first time. This was a special moment; I felt honoured to be a part of it.

Nicole is exactly the same as you see on the big screen. Heart-warming, fun and genuine. Her presence had an immediate effect on the children, even though they didn't know how much of a superstar she was.

Within seconds of meeting the kids with Nicole, there were smiles everywhere and minutes later we were singing and dancing. Every child in the room, regardless of their disability, was included. Exactly how it should be.

This playground is the first of its kind in Guyana, and its setting makes is accessible to all children. It offers a unique chance to include children with disabilities.

Meeting the children in Guyana was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life and brought back many personal memories. My grandfather became blind after a stroke and I was his carer before he died.

I feel privileged to have been given the opportunity to meet so many amazing children, learn about UNICEF's work and share my skills to help children explore their potential and most importantly have fun.

I will never forget this experience; there is so much I want to do now to help children in Glasgow and UNICEF. I can't wait to share my story with the world on July 23.

Jane McCormick and Keeley Hawes, Papua New Guinea

Jane McCormick, originally from Glasgow but now living in Manchester, is one of Scotland's leading open water swimmers. Despite heart problems and epilepsy Jane has swum the Channel twice, swum around Manhattan island and completed two circumnavigations in the icy waters of Loch Lomond. Jane's determination to carry on swimming for charity was fuelled by heartbreak, when her brother suffered serious brain damage after being beaten up in Glasgow after he'd tried to help his friend.

Inspired further by the birth of her son, Archie, who she took swimming when he was just five weeks old, Jane has now developed an open water programme for children to help them tackle their fear of water and stay safe.

Jane's journey with UNICEF took her to Papua New Guinea - where she teamed up with Line Of Duty actor Keeley Hawes. Together they witnessed an example of some of UNICEF's most challenging work, the delivery of life-saving vaccines to children in some of the remotest villages in the Commonwealth.

'As we arrived in Papua New Guinea's capital, Port Moresby, I knew I was in for an adventure. I knew a bit about UNICEF but had never thought how they actually get the life-saving vaccines to the children, especially those in Inika village - three hours by road then six hours by boat from the airport where Keeley and I had just landed in 35 degree heat and humidity.

UNICEF has developed the "cold chain": a hugely complex transport operation to make sure life-protecting children's vaccines against killer diseases are kept between two and eight degrees celsius from the moment they leave the laboratory to the time they're administered in some of the most inhospitable places on Earth.

Our mission was to help a local health team deliver the vaccines up the wildly meandering Kubuna river to Inika, in the foothills of the Papua New Guinean highlands. It's hard to describe the remoteness that Keeley and I felt as we slowly made our way up the river on a small boat helmed by one of the village chiefs. It was like floating through an endless botanic garden, pristine untouched wilderness.

As we came round the corner to the village, people were jumping up and down and cheering. I had a lump in my throat seeing how excited the children and their parents were to get the vaccinations - and knowing I was playing my own small part in helping to save lives.

Once we'd unloaded the cold boxes we made our way into a small clearing at the heart of the sprawling riverside community. Although the setting was extraordinary, I was struck by watching the children throwing a ball around just like back home. I sometimes play this game with my son Archie, where you hold your hand out and he'll hit it, and he thinks it's hilarious. Some of the children found it just as much fun.

Early the next day, after a restless night outdoors protected by our mosquito nets, we gathered in the clearing to see the children being vaccinated by the skilled health team. It was tough seeing the children excitedly lining up and then crying their eyes out as they were given their life-saving jags.

Their mums and dads were very on top of things, insisting to the children that they had to get their vaccines done. That's understandable when it's eight hours walk to the nearest health centre - a distance that makes any illness here potentially life threatening.

As we made our way downstream on the long journey home, I had mixed emotions. For the children there, growing up in a place so untouched by modern life must be wonderful, but it's hard to imagine what it's like for their parents, knowing that a sudden illness can have devastating effects.

Since having Archie, I've become very aware that children should all have the same rights, and this trip has made me determined to carry on helping children. Archie is so lucky. Here in the UK, we don't have anything like the challenges facing the children in Papua New Guinea and so many other places across the Commonwealth. Although it'll be great to get back to my swimming, I don't think I've ever done anything as worthwhile as this.

I'm so proud to have been part of this project and for Glasgow to be the global stage for all these remarkable children's stories from across the Commonwealth."

David Duke and Reggie Yates, Jamaica

David Duke grew up in poverty in Glasgow. By his early 20s he was drinking too much, and he was homeless. He became involved in the Homeless World Cup after seeing a poster about it in the shelter where he was staying. Soon he was focusing less on drink and more on his football skills. Eventually he became manager of the Scotland squad, taking his team on to win the title and later developing Street Soccer Scotland to inspire others. His project aims to give a focus for young people who are homeless or suffering from addiction. As well as sporting instruction, it assists young people with nutrition and wider education, offering practical and emotional support to help them get back on their feet.

David travelled with the former Radio 1 DJ and TV presenter Reggie Yates to Jamaica see how sport can engage children from poor rural backgrounds.

'After a long journey, we arrived at Treasure Beach, Jamaica around 2am and after a few hours' sleep it was straight into a breakfast meeting to discuss plans for the day ahead. Our first visit was to Geneve Primary School, which sits among sprawling fields and rolling hills. After a warm welcome by smiling, waving, excited children, we toured the school then headed over to the sports field, which was dusty, uneven and had very little grass. This didn't hold back these eager pupils,who enjoyed a range of sports led by community coaches.

The idea behind these sessions is not just about keeping children active, but also to engage them outside the classroom and make learning as fun as possible. In one game, the coaches called out the number of 'sharks' which were about to chase the young kids. If it was two, they had to get into groups of two, if they got the number wrong they would get eaten by the 'sharks'.

The coaches also asked them questions about topics they have learnt in the classroom, such as who is the fastest man in the world. The response - "Usain Bolt!" - was yelled at the tops of the children's voices - before they all charged around the pitch.

The specially trained coaches are very passionate about what they do. I was inspired by the effort and motivation which shone through and how they manage to drop in wider educational messages into the sports sessions. It was great to share ideas and see how other people are using sport to create change for children and improve standards of education.

I also had the chance to lead some of the sessions, which seemed to go well, except for the occasional trouble the children had with my accent.

All the children were smart and bright, the teachers organised and passionate. It showed me that no matter what resources are available, great things can be achieved. One particular pupil stood out: 11-year-old Jannika told me that the Olympic 100 metre champions Shelley Anne Fraser Pryce and Usain Bolt were among her heroes. "I am an excellent pupil," she told me proudly. She loves running the 400 metres and dreams of one day becoming an engineer.

In Scotland, it's often in the poorest, most disadvantaged areas that people seem to be friendliest and those are often the nicest communities to be part of. I really felt that when we visited Jamaica. The teachers and leaders do so well with limited resources, they keep the children's hopes alive and instil belief in them that they are capable of anything.

I am 10 years on from being homeless, but I will never forget where I came from and I will never forget my experience of poverty. Seeing those children in Jamaica reminded me of the barriers I faced to improving my life and the lack of opportunities that were presented to me.

I felt proud to be with UNICEF and their partners to see how the Commonwealth Games happening in Glasgow, 4,000 miles away from the kids in Treasure Beach, is helping to change their lives and inspire them. I hope everyone joins me and the other Flying Scots at the Games' Opening Ceremony so we can help even more children around the Commonwealth be everything they dream they can be.'

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