An effervescent and graceful Kristin Davis sits before a room full of potential donors. She’s here to launch the “I Will” campaign and discuss her work with the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. It’s work that sees her witnessing the heartbreaking and gruesome consequences of conflict in remote regions of Africa.
On her first visit to Africa – a solo trip as a tourist in 2001 – Davis says she saw what looked to be the prevalence of a widespread AIDS epidemic in Tanzania and was surprised that no one wanted to confirm or discuss it with her. She explains: “I was curious about what was happening. I wanted to go deeper and learn in a different way … and travel with people who are actually a) in the reality and b) trying to help the reality.”
When she returned to Hollywood, a chance meeting with Claire Lewis of UNHCR at a party with George Clooney sparked a relationship that has seen her telling the stories of people from South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda as a UNHCR Supporter. When asked if she sees herself as an activist, she proffered, “I think of myself as a witness.”
Davis comes from a family of strong women; her grandmother, who turns 107 this year, is from the rugged Appalachian Mountains. Her mother picketed for the removal of the Confederate flag from capital buildings, because of its link to a dark and violent past, and was a Planned Parenthood volunteer. She grew up in South Carolina, southeastern US, and says she was aware of the “strangeness of the south” from an early age.
Perhaps bearing witness to the dark past of the South and what she describes as her mother’s “quiet maverick quality” influences her determination to champion the rights of the world’s most vulnerable today.
A record 60 million people are displaced worldwide. Davis’ recent work has taken her to the “rape capital of the world”, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), to work with refugee women and children who are fleeing conflict zones and are the victims of brutal sexual violence at the hands of the Lord’s Resistance Army. The programmes run in the DRC by Australia for UNHCR focus on de-stigmatising rape victims, providing women with vocational skills, their children with education and food, and a safe haven to build a new life. Davis explains that the refugees she meets are incredibly resourceful and strong, their hope is for an opportunity to find dignity through work and ultimately develop a sustainable livelihood.