Rwanda. UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Kristin Davis meets Marie Therese
Credit: UNHCR/Jordi Matas

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In EW’s column Act With Me, stars share their personal stories about giving back. This week, Sex and the City star Kristin Davisspeaks about the UN Refugee Agency, which helps refugees seek asylum, provides emergency relief, and assists with the resettlement process.

Davis was working with another charity in Tanzania in 2011 when she received word of Somalian refugees fleeing to a camp in Northern Kenya after a devastating drought. She immediately went to see the efforts of the UNHCR. “It is so shocking,” she recalls of seeing the camps. “It’s still hard to believe in terms of what was going on in the modern world where we feel like we’re doing better than this in a global way. It was extreme. The people who got there were literally on their last legs. I thought to myself, if the UN Refugee Agency wasn’t here, who would be here? Nobody. I thought, ‘I have to help.'”

The UN Refugee Agency juggles many balls. In the most immediate sense, they provide emergency aid in a crisis — organizing refugee camps and helping displaced individuals find places to sleep and access to food, water, and other essentials. They also advocate at the highest levels of government for safe systems of asylum, the dignified treatment of refugees, including access to work and education, and long-term solutions.

“We have 65.6 million [forcibly] displaced people in the world, which is stunning,” says Davis, noting that more than half of those are women and children. The actress has witnessed the plight of refugees firsthand, visiting numerous camps in Africa where she’s seen groups of 13-year-old girls living on their own and met a young woman who is a seamstress for a living. Davis also followed the journey of a young woman from Rwanda who was resettled in America, though she takes care to note that only 1 percent of refugees are resettled into Western countries. “People often don’t realize that the poorest countries are some of the most generous hosts,” she notes, citing camps she’s visited in Uganda and Rwanda. “Once you get out there, it’s amazing how many people are helping the refugees and how big of an issue it is. You see one huge camp and you’re like, ‘Oh that must be it for this area,’ and they’re like, ‘Oh no, if you drive 20 minutes we’re going to go to this camp.’ And the people in those countries are just stepping up and they’re really generous.”

Donating is always the first line of assistance. “One big misconception is that anything involved with the UN has a lot of money and is well-funded, which is not the truth, not for the refugees,” explains Davis, who often leads fundraising events. If you can’t help financially, look for opportunities closer to home. “There are lot of refugees in your own community, ” says Davis. “There are a lot of things you can do just to be friendly, which matters a lot to them because they have been through a lot of terrible, terrible things.”