Gugu Mbatha-Raw has been named the newest global Goodwill Ambassador for UNHCR, the UN refugee agency.
“It’s a huge honour and a responsibility,” the actress and activist tells us. “I feel proud to be in a position to use my platform to give a voice to those that need it. For anyone that doesn’t know, UNHCR works in over 130 countries and leads international action to protect people forced to flee because of conflict and persecution. It is a privilege to raise awareness and share their very human stories.”
The actress and former Harper’s Bazaar cover star has been working as a high-profile supporter for UNHCR since 2018; she has travelled with the organisation to meet refugees in Rwanda and Uganda, and has spoken at UNHCR events in Venice, LA and London.
In Rwanda, she visited camps – home to Burundian and Congolese refugees – and met women involved with livelihoods projects. In Uganda, the actress spent time with refugee women who had survived conflict-related sexual violence and a youth settlement community living with albinism.
Of the issues she chooses to align herself with, Gugu explains, “I try to follow my instincts and curiosity, which usually leads me to something I can connect with in an authentic way.” She describes forced displacement as “one of the critical issues of our time”.
“There are currently over 80 million people across the world who have been forced to flee their homes,” she tells us. “Along with climate change, forced displacement due to war, persecution or human rights abuses is one of the critical issues of our time. Having met people who have been forced to flee – mums, dads, children, teachers, students, artists – I realised we are all just a war away from being a refugee ourselves. Lives can be devastated overnight. They deserve our kindness and support.”
A keen painter – a skill she’s honed during the recent periods of quarantine and lockdown – Mbatha-Raw has also used her own artwork to raise awareness for refugees on social media and is a keen supporter of MADE51, a programme that empowers refugee artisans by helping them sell products globally.
“This last year has been full of challenges for everyone, but it’s also been an important opportunity to get perspective and reassess our habitual way of existing,” the Goodwill Ambassador tells us. “I’ve learnt a lot about the value of my family and friendships and the importance of staying connected and being there for each other.”
She added: “I’ve also come to appreciate the value of home. We’ve all spent so much time in our homes in lockdowns and in isolation and so many people in the world don’t have a safe and stable environment to in which to live. I don’t take home for granted anymore.
“More than anything, the pandemic has taught me that we are all in this together. No one is immune and the pandemic has highlighted the fault lines of inequality in our world, no one is safe until we are all safe.”
Goodwill Ambassadors are some of the most recognisable public faces of UNHCR, who help highlight the work of the organisation and take it to every corner of the world through their influence, dedication and hard work. Fellow UNHCR Goodwill Ambassadors include Cate Blanchett, Helena Christensen, Alek Wek and Kristen Davis.
For those keen to be a part of the change, and lend their support to the efforts of the UN Refugee Agency – but who might not know where to start – Mbatha-Raw has this advice:
“Being curious about the world and being kind is a great place to start. As well as donating to organisations like UNHCR, you can join campaigns or volunteer your time and skills to help refugees feel welcome.
“Listening to each other is so important. Understanding the reality of people’s stories and bringing truth and clarity if you hear misinformation. There’s always something you can do no matter how small; asking questions, educating yourself and leading with empathy.”
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