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The Oprah Winfrey Show

Interview: Ricky Martin Travels To Meet Tsunami Orphans; Ricky Martin Discusses His Quest To Save Children Of The World

January 24, 2005
Copyright © 2005 Harpo Productions. All rights reserved. 

HOST: Oprah Winfrey



Unidentified Man #1: Ready music.

Unidentified Woman #1: ...four, three, two, one.

Unidentified Man #1: Roll A.

OPRAH WINFREY: An all-new OPRAH. Three years ago, he walked off the stage. Now singer Ricky Martin is on an urgent mission.

Mr. RICKY MARTIN: ...the surge of water was up to 30 feet.

WINFREY: Our cameras follow him inside the tsunami zone.

Mr. MARTIN: So now we're going to the morgue.

He is one of the most famous singers in the world, and two years ago, he just walked out of the spotlight. Today, he says he is a different man from the one he once knew, and he is here to tell us what changed him forever. Take a look.

(Excerpt from videotape)

WINFREY: Ricky Martin skyrocketed to megastar status with his number-one hit "Livin' La Vida Loca."

(Excerpt from music video)

WINFREY: This Grammy Award-winning singer has sold over 55 million albums. Rickymania was all the rage.

(Excerpt from music video)

WINFREY: Two years ago at the height of his success, Ricky shocked his fans by stepping off the stage. He decided to focus full time on his true passion: saving children around the world. So he built a hospital for the disabled in Puerto Rico and is helping to rescue little girls in India from a life of prostitution. Today, Ricky is championing a new effort for children who urgently need our help, the youngest victims of the tsunami.

(End of excerpt)

WINFREY: Please welcome Ricky Martin!

Mr. MARTIN: Thank you very much.

Hello. Thank you. That's great. This is addictive.


Mr. MARTIN: This is addictive. Absolutely.

WINFREY: Have a seat.

Mr. MARTIN: You look great.

WINFREY: So do you. So do you.

Mr. MARTIN: You look great.

WINFREY: Good to see you.

So you were at the top of your career. Why did you walk away at the top? You know, you're at the pinnacle of success and people are screaming and throwing their underwear at your feet...

Mr. MARTIN: Well...

WINFREY: ...and more and you say, `You know what? OK. Enough.'

Mr. MARTIN: I needed to step out of the picture for a little while. I needed to put things in order. I needed to analyze my emotions: Who am I? Why am I here? What is my mission?


Mr. MARTIN: All I did was work.

WINFREY: So when did you decide that your passion was helping to save the world's children?

Mr. MARTIN: I said, `Let me go ba--I need to go back to the beginning,' and to go back to the beginning was to--I needed to be a child again.


Mr. MARTIN: I needed to--you know, to laugh about simple things. For me, life became too serious all of a sudden. It was all about a competition, about becoming the best and being the best. And that's not what life is all about.

WINFREY: OK. So you said, `I'm going to go back to the children...'

Mr. MARTIN: Right. So I went back to India...


Mr. MARTIN: ...and this friend of mine owned an institution, an orphanage in Calcutta and he told me, `I want you to come and lis--see what I've done.' This is three years ago. I went and I had the opportunity to literally rescue three girls from the streets, girls that lived under a plastic bag...


Mr. MARTIN: ...with her mother--mom and that was it. And they were begging. There were beggars.

WINFREY: Yeah. Yeah.

Mr. MARTIN: That's--this is all they knew--you know, knew how to do. So I talked to mom and I told her, `What do you think if we bring these girls home?' Immediately, she said, `Yes, no problem.'


Mr. MARTIN: So we started with--this project with one girl. Today, we have 167 girls that we've been able to rescue from the streets, and...

WINFREY: That you've taken off the streets.

Mr. MARTIN: That we've taken off the streets literally. They are studying. They're going to school. They're learning music, and then I ask myself, `What would have happened to these girls if institutions like this didn't exist?' And that's when I found out about child trafficking. The biggest problem society is facing at the moment is--child trafficking is an industry that generates $7 billion a year and the mission, their mission, is to force children into prostitution, force children into pornography, and this is happening all over the world, Oprah. This is not something that happens far away from our neighborhood. No, it happens here. It happens everywhere.

WINFREY: Yeah, that's one of the things, too, that is so disturbing that we're hearing about. Young tsunami victims, that you have the pornographers...

Mr. MARTIN: Yeah.

WINFREY: ...who are getting flights over there...

Mr. MARTIN: Right.

WINFREY: ...and they're luring these children...

Mr. MARTIN: Right.

WINFREY: ...into pornography.

Mr. MARTIN: That's right.

WINFREY: Well, like many of us, Ricky says that he felt helpless sitting at home on his couch watching the news coverage of the tsunami. So he decided to do something, and last week, Ricky traveled to Thailand and my producers went with him to Thailand. Take a look.

(Excerpt from videotape)

Mr. MARTIN: I just got here. We're going to be visiting orphanages. We're going to be visiting hospitals. I'm going to be able to talk one-on-one with the victims. So this is only the beginning.

Well, we just entered Cavela, and there's some debris here. There's devastation. It is really scary because at the end of the day we have no control, you know, of nature whatsoever.

This is definitely one of the most affected areas. You can see where the ocean is. And up to here and even further that way, the surge of water was up to 30 feet.

You can come here, you can see the mark of the water of that high and people had to climb. That's how high the water got.

WINFREY: Ricky walks the streets of what used to be people's homes--upscale hotels and local businesses. In the ruins, we find a wallet with a baby picture, clothes, a checkbook and a pair of shoes. Here, Ricky meets survivors for the first time. All that stood between this woman and certain death was the frame of a broken window.

Mr. MARTIN: This is where they used to live? And where do they live now?

Unidentified Woman #2: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Woman #3: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Woman #2: So they now stay with their relatives.


Unidentified Woman #3: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Woman #2: She saw the wave coming. So she ran back to the house. The whole village was just running around like crazy because the waters keep coming. And the waters hit her real hard. So she saved her life by holding herself on that window. It was really, really strong.

Mr. MARTIN: Really powerful.

Unidentified Woman #2: Yeah, and real powerful. And her friend, she couldn't resist the water. So she's dead.

(End of excerpt)

WINFREY: So after meeting survivors in Phuket, Ricky drove two hours north to Cala Beach where over 4,000 people--let's take that in for a moment because we hear the numbers, and if you think of 4,000 lives that are just like your own--4,000 people lost their lives.

(Excerpt from videotape)

Mr. MARTIN: We are going to the region of Pangan, apparently one of the most devastated areas.

We are a mile away from the ocean and this is where the boat landed. This is a perfect example of how powerful the tsunami was. This is war zone.

WINFREY: Ricky visits this relief camp that was set up in a field for over 500 families who were left homeless.

Mr. MARTIN: Her name is Deet and she's a mother of three beautiful babies and her mother passed away in the disaster.

Unidentified Woman #4: She told us that everything is gone away.

Mr. MARTIN: Everything is gone.

In a perfect scenario, what would be her perfect day once she walked out of here?

Unidentified Woman #4: All of them need homes and they need occupation. They don't want clothes, drinking water, but they need jobs.

Mr. MARTIN: Jobs.

Unidentified Woman #4: And for children, they told me that they don't need toys but a group of people that can work with children, run the activities, are very important for children. Not...

Mr. MARTIN: So, like, care-taking--so people that would come and donate their time...

Women: (In unison) Yes.

WINFREY: Ricky's next stop leaves him heartbroken and speechless. A local mosque has been turned into a morgue for thousands of unidentified bodies.

Mr. MARTIN: So now we're going to the temple. The temple has become the morgue. Unfortunately, there are many bodies that haven't been claimed. It is really sad.

WINFREY: Ricky must wear this special suit when he goes inside because of the risk of disease.

Unidentified Man #2: We'll go through sequences where the body is received through when the body is done, finished.

WINFREY: Our cameras wait outside. Ricky returns visibly shaken.

Mr. MARTIN: I never thought I was going to see something like that. I really don't know what to say. I don't know how to react. I don't know how to feel yet.

(End of excerpt)

WINFREY: Are you able to describe now what it was like in that morgue?

Mr. MARTIN: Not yet, Oprah. It was really intense. I've been trying to spend time alone in silence trying to absorb the pain, a kind of pain that I've never felt in my life. So my exercise is to try to look at the opposite of it and look at the beautiful things that this trip to Thailand gave me. I met people with such optimism, people that know what death is, people that are--that left it behind and are ready to build. Our concern right now is to breathe and that's--they're happy with, you know, every time they inhale, you know. They need to work. The--like I was telling you, humanitarian aid, yes, of course, we always need humanitarian aid, but right now they need people.

WINFREY: They need volunteers.

Mr. MARTIN: They need volunteers.


Mr. MARTIN: We need people that can help us take care of our children. We need people that can help us build new homes.

WINFREY: OK. We'll be right back.

Coming up, how did an infant only one month old survive the tsunami? Ricky Martin will tell us about this miracle. And later, Lisa Ling brings us the story that she risked her life to tell. We'll be back.


(Excerpt from videotape)

WINFREY: Throughout Thailand, Ricky Martin sees posters of the missing plastered everywhere. Many heartsick relatives and friends still cling to the hope that their loved ones will be found.

Mr. MARTIN: It gets more real by the minute. You're reading and looking at the pictures and reading the information on them and, you know, it could be your brother, your sister, your father, your grandparents. It could be anybody. I mean, entire families have disappeared.

(End of excerpt)

WINFREY: It is just unbelievably heartbreaking.

International singing sensation Ricky Martin is not here for a new album or a hit song. Just a few days ago, Ricky went to Thailand to get a firsthand look at the devastation left in the wake of the tsunami that left almost five million people homeless, but now it's the youngest survivors that Ricky fears for the most.

(Excerpt from videotape)

Mr. MARTIN: OK. Now we're going to school. You know, it's all about charity and how amazing it is to find locals doing whatever they can to help in any way, shape or form. This lady made her home a school.

WINFREY: Suda lives in a village where many schools were demolished. To help out, she turned her small home into a classroom for 116 students. Almost all of these children lost their homes and many of them lost family members like 12-year-old Uma.

Mr. MARTIN: Is it comfortable for you to tell us your story? Is it OK?


(Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Woman #5: She--her mother passed away three years ago so she was living with her father. Her father actually ran the restaurant by the beach, and when the big wave came, her father just went missing and nobody still find him.

Mr. MARTIN: To hear children's stories is very difficult.

The children are so vulnerable. Life is not going to be as it was anymore.

(End of excerpt)

WINFREY: Ricky says in the midst of so much gut-wrenching heartache, he found a little miracle, though. Take a look.

(Excerpt from videotape)

WINFREY: They call him Little Wave, but he's a big local hero. His story is a beacon of hope to a community that has lost so much.

Mr. MARTIN: This is a star in Thailand. This is a star. This is a miracle.

WINFREY: No one is sure how this one-month-old baby survived the deadly tsunami. He was discovered three days later abandoned in a park. Little Wave is the last unclaimed orphan at this local hospital. He was found with a short note pinned to his blanket.

Mr. MARTIN: `Please adopt this baby. I cannot afford to take care of him. His parents are missing because of the tsunami disaster at Patong. If you cannot adopt this baby, please take him to the orphan helping center, please.'

WINFREY: The nurses have hidden Little Wave's crib in a cramped back office worried about his safety.

Mr. MARTIN: Many people pretending to be doctors, pretending to be relatives have come to say, `This is my baby. I want to take this baby with me.'

(End of excerpt)

WINFREY: All a part of the child trafficking?

Mr. MARTIN: Right.

WINFREY: And where do they then take the children?

Mr. MARTIN: To child molesters...

WINFREY: They sell them to child molesters...

Mr. MARTIN: pedophiles.

WINFREY: ...for pedophiles.

Mr. MARTIN: Yeah. The craziest story that I've ever heard is about a man that, thank God, was arrested less than a year ago. He paid $10,000 to have sex with a five-month-old baby. I'm sorry, but I need to be this raw...


Mr. MARTIN: ...because this is reality. This is a slavery of a new era, and I am going to make sure this is over. We have to stop this. It's crazy.

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