The actress behind the popular AT&T commercials has become a public voice in the Syrian refugee crisis. Milana Vayntrub, who plays the energetic employee Lily Adams in a series of ads, is coming forward to bravely address the number of refugees suffering in Europe as a result of the war in Syria.
Her decision to get involved hits closer to home as Vayntrub was once a refugee herself. She and her family escaped the Soviet Union when she was only a toddler. They eventually made their way to America, where Vayntrub received her education and slowly built her acting career.
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Vayntrub was able to witness the crisis firsthand during a vacation in Greece. She was stunned by the thousands of refugees who have fled Syria and were seeking shelter in the country. Vayntrub has admitted that she did not know herself how high the magnitude of people suffering.
“I went to Greece just to go on vacation,” she told Adweek. “I didn’t have the intention of staying and volunteering. I love volunteering, but I was kind of ignorant about the refugee situation. It’s not really talked about a lot in the news here in America. It’s not something that comes up very often in my news feed.”
Vayntrub has also stressed out how even American media fails to recognize the crisis that is plaguing Syria, recounting an experience where she was watching television in Greece.
“When I was in Greece I would flip through the channels in my hotel room and see the Russian news talking about it all day, and BBC and other international news channels, and then you would go to CNN and it was talking about Donald Trump and the Emmys. And it was embarrassing, it was embarrassing to be American, but it also helped me understand why I didn’t know more,” she wrote in an essay for PopSugar.
The crisis prompted Vayntrub to create the organization #CantDoNothing. The purpose of the organization is to raise global awareness and gather volunteers and donations that will create an impact on the lives of many refugees. More than 4.6 million Syrians have become refugees, and while 10 percent have fled to Europe, majority are scattered around the Middle East, in Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey, and Egypt.
One of the most effective ways to get the word out nowadays is through social media, and Vayntrub has taken advantage of that. She has recorded a documentary and released it on YouTube in hopes of making people open their eyes to the suffering that grapples numerous people today.
“I couldn’t have imagined it to be that way. I did see it in the news, but then when you see people so grateful to just see land, and the fact that they’ve made it across the sea—they’re celebrating and they’re singing, and some people are crying. And the boats are these tiny dinghies. They’re supposed to fit 12 people and they have 40, 50 people on them, and they are tight,” Varyntrub described her firsthand experience.
She now is working hard to make her cause known with the hashtag #CantDoNothing, which is now supporting organizations such as the Off Track Health, The Syria Fund, and the Boat Refugee Foundation.
“#CantDoNothing is the compassion aspect, it’s the humanitarian aspect of the crisis—it’s not political. There’s no other motivation here. These are people going through a hard time and there are millions of them. We must be able to do something,” Vayntrub explained.
Vayntrub knows the struggle based on experiences she underwent herself as a refugee during the persecution of the Jews back in the late 1980s.
“I remember being not American. I remember being an outsider, and the transition that my parents had to go through, learning the language and trying to get work,” she said in an interview with the Huffington Post. “So I definitely feel close to the plight of an immigrant, let alone the plight of a refugee.”
Vayntrub knows the fear of many first-world countries who deem supporting refugees as a danger. Mainly this has been due to the concern of many dangerous terrorists crossing the border unnoticed. But Vayntrub stressed out that the refugee crisis should not be viewed in such way—instead Americans should focus on compassion, mercy, and the fact that these people fear the same enemies.
A large role of Vayntrub’s campaign means more than just encouraging people to donate or volunteer but to spread the word out on the things they have done for the refugees and how others can do the same.