Keira Knightley makes a plea for help for South Sudan

By Oxfam
Actress Keira Knightley meets Rebecca, age 25, in Bor Camp, South Sudan. Forced to flee her home when conflict broke out in December, Rebecca lost her husband in a violent ambush in April and is now struggling to provide for her children. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith / Oxfam

“We look at people in faraway countries, on television and we can’t quite believe they are the same as us, but they are,” said British actress Keira Knightley.

“They love their children as we do, they want an education for them, they want to give them a secure home and the freedom to run about in safety. Instead, they watch, powerless, as their toddlers play by the sewage—there’s nowhere else for them,”

In a July 6 story in The Telegraph, Knightley described her recent trip to South Sudan, where conflict has driven 1.5 million people from their homes forcing many of them into horrendous living conditions in temporary camps. Millions of others are at risk of severe hunger.

To raise awareness about the escalating humanitarian crisis, Knightley traveled with Oxfam to a camp in Jonglei, one of three states most affected by the conflict and where child malnutrition rates are climbing. The UN has warned that if the aid effort does not increase, 50,000 children could die from malnutrition.

Nyanyier Tuol Kerker, a 27-year-old mother, with two of her children. Kerker lost her husband to conflict and two children to measles when they first arrived at the camp in Jonglei, South Sudan. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith
Heavy seasonal rains have arrived, drowning some camps in water and turning their grounds into seas of mud. At the camp in Jonglei, Knightley met a young mother, Nyanyier Tuol Kerker, whose husband was killed in the fighting. Unsanitary camp conditions had also claimed the lives of two of her children who died of measles.

“She told me, 'I want to die, but God won’t let me. I have two children and I don’t know how we are going to survive’,” Knightley told reporter Judith Woods. “How can we turn away from that sort of suffering?”

The conflict, which erupted in December, has now left four million people in need and has prevented many farmers from planting for the next harvest—further threatening people’s access to food unless there is immediate action.

“When those refugees asked me, 'Who are you?’, I really, really wished I could have said, 'I’m a doctor’, or something else useful,” Knightley told the newspaper. “So instead I told them, 'I am somebody who is going to ask people to give lots of money to Oxfam, so they can help you.’ 

“I know things are difficult in this country for many people but if you can spare anything please, please do. In South Sudan they have nothing; the rains have just arrived, making disease more prevalent, and it’s so much harder to reach those who need help most.”

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