(NEW YORK) — On ABC’s This Week on Sunday morning, Ben Affleck told Martha Raddatz that working in the Congo has given meaning to his life.
The Oscar award-winning actor and director said he worried about his legacy. Looking at his life, he thought, “I haven’t really done anything substantial, aside from my work, and that I can look back on and say I contributed to society in a way that was commensurate with the blessings that I have.”
Then he traveled to the Congo and has been back nine times since 2006.
Of all the Hollywood stars that use their celebrity to focus camera on a favorite cause, Affleck is one of the most well-respected. His organization, Eastern Congo Initiative, supports local Congolese development organizations working on a range of issues from women’s health to peace and justice, and he has been invited to speak Capitol Hill repeatedly regarding the conditions in the country. This week, the actor joined US Special Envoy to the Congo, Russ Feingold, in Washington, to meet with Secretary of State John Kerry and testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“He’s really a model for the way the United States needs to approach this,” Feingold said. “Somebody can get interested in this, do it for a few months, get some credit and quit. He hasn’t done that. He’s given it sustained attention.”
For nearly 15 years, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been embroiled in conflict. More than five million people have died in the DRC from violence and, according to the UN human rights organization, three million Congolese were still displaced from their homes last year.
Affleck said these numbers can be overwhelming. “It’s not that people don’t care about Africa or terrible crises like this, but it’s like you don’t want to hear about it, it’s so vile,” he said. “How many millions of people? I can’t even understand that.”
“It really struck me, you know, why is this child’s life worth any less than my own children’s? Why is this woman’s life worth any less than my — my own wife?” he continued.
Affleck said he understood American’s hesitation to get involved overseas, but that helping fellow human beings is part of our nation’s core values.
“This is who we are as Americans. We believe in helping others who are down, who are suffering, who are being exploited,” he said.
“We believe in helping our neighbor. We believe in helping them achieve democracy and freedom. And in this case, it’s not democracy at the point of a gun. It’s — it’s a democracy assisted by diplomats, by people who want to work with their government to make their lives better,” he continued.
Conditions on the ground in the DRC are improving. A major rebel group surrendered last November and a special all-Africa United Nations-led peacekeeping team has had success reducing the violence. Still, Feingold and Affleck agreed the Obama administration should continue to make the region a priority and place pressure on the young Congolese government to hold elections and reform its security forces.
“My greatest worry is that people will think just because something happened positively that it’s done. Sometimes we have a tendency to be like that. We have much more to do, both in the region and within the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to stop this and to give the people of that country what they deserve, an opportunity to benefit from their culture and their resources.”
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