UN refugee agency Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie tours camps in Kenya
Oscar-winning actress and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie is using her celebrity to draw attention to the plight of those living in camps in Kenya.
During a recent visit to the Kakuma camp, which houses some 80,000 people, Ms. Jolie was visibly moved by the stories she heard from refugee girls who had been forced to flee their homes. "These girls are so strong, so inspiring," she said. "They want an education because they want a better life, they know they don't have to stay forever near the bottom of the pile and want to move up."
The Goodwill Ambassador shook her head in disbelief as she heard how many of the girls and women in the camp were subjected to various forms of violence - from rape to genital mutilation - and how they were unable to attend school due to domestic chores. "I was upset to find that a good part of them are in this situation because of both early and forced marriages," she said.
To address the problems of young girls being abducted for marriage and early pregnancies, the UN refugee agency has set up programmes in the camp aimed at increasing the number of female police officers to encourage reporting of such incidents. Women's committees throughout the camp also help counsel victims of early pregnancies and speak to communities about the risks of female genital mutilation.
Reflecting her commitment to helping alleviate the situation, Ms. Jolie, who has contributed extensively to UNHCR's work in the past, made a personal donation of $200,000 to the agency's operations in Kenya, earmarking $50,000 to build a new girls' school. Many of its prospective pupils sang and clapped as she unveiled a plaque at the proposed site. The plaque reads: "Dedicated to the emancipation of the refugee girls of Kakuma and women's rights and freedom to education."
"With this help, and the construction of this school, future generations of girls will be saved," said UNHCR's Kofi Mable.
Ms. Jolie, who is in Kenya shooting the sequel to the movie "Tomb Raider," also visited several other projects at the camp and handed out gifts ranging from volleyballs to exercise books. UNHCR's Representative to Kenya, George Okoth-Obbo, said her presence was a shot in the arm to all concerned. "It is wonderful and humbling that someone so busy should find time to come here, to use her renown, her artistry, her presence, just to bring some joy into what is undoubtedly a hard life for many of the people here," he said.