Category: Interviews

Angelina Interviews Vanessa Nakate about Activism and the Power of African Voices

For Time, Angelina interviewed climate activist Vanessa Nakate about the topics of activism and the Power of African voices.

TIME100 talked to UNHCR special envoy Angelina and climate activist Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate, 23, for an interview which will be published in the TIMES issue on July 20. You can watch the entire interview above. Read on for some snippets:

The work you’re doing is really teaching all of us because, as you know more than anyone, the conversation about the climate crisis has been very limited to a few voices. How did you get involved?

Before my graduation, I started carrying out research to understand the challenges that people [in my community] were facing, and I was really surprised to find that climate change was actually the biggest threat facing humanity right now. I realized every part of my country, Uganda, is affected by the climate crisis: when you go to the north, the people are suffering with long dry spells; when you go to the eastern part of the country, they’re suffering with landslides and floods. I decided that I had to become a voice in the climate movement and try to get justice.

Often you hear people are going hungry because of conflict or bad governments. But it’s often linked, as you point out, to climate.

Some of the conflicts arise from shortages in resources. For example, Lake Chad, in Africa, has shrunk to a tenth of its size in just 50 years. The population keeps growing. So there is definitely going to be a struggle for resources. And this will disrupt the peace in the area. When you look at the root of all of this, sometimes it starts [with] climate change.

Climate activism is not easy in many places, but you’re in a place where you could be arrested. You are really very courageous to do what you do.

It is not easy to go out there, especially in the beginning when I was doing these strikes by myself. My family didn’t really understand what I was doing. Most of my friends found it very, very weird. But later on, many of them started understanding why I was doing this. And some of them decided to get involved.

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Vogue Interview – Angelina Discusses Adopting Journey of 3 of Her Children

In an exclusive Vogue interview, Angelina reflects on her two decades working with the United Nations refugee agency and discusses the adoption journey of three of her children: Maddox, Pax and Zahara.

Angelina has spent almost two decades working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), first as a goodwill ambassador and as of 2012, special envoy, in light of her dedication to the cause. “I found myself a student at their feet,” Jolie tells Vogue. “I have learned more from refugees about family, resilience, dignity and survival than I can express.”

So what does the role of UNHCR special envoy entail? In addition to bringing much-needed attention to major crises that result in mass population displacements, Angelina represents the agency and commissioner at a diplomatic level. “My work now involves fighting alongside my colleagues for refugees to have rights and protection, to resist forced returns, and to push for better learning opportunities,” she explains. “UNHCR is a protection agency. We help those who have fled war and persecution, who’ve had their rights violated.”

Ahead of World Refugee Day — an international day designated by the United Nations (UN) to honour refugees around the globe today, on June 20, — Vogue spoke to Angelina about her work with UNHCR and how it has transformed her perception of motherhood.

UNHCR’s raison d’être is to save lives, protect rights and build a better future for refugees. What is it about these causes that speak to you personally?

“I see all people as equal. I see the abuse and suffering and I cannot stand by. Around the world, people are fleeing gas attacks, rape, female genital mutilation, beatings, persecution, murder. They do not flee to improve their lives. They flee because they cannot survive otherwise.

“What I really want is to see an end to what forces people out of their homelands. I want to see prevention when we can, protection when needed and accountability when crimes are committed.”

According to UNHCR, the world now has a population of nearly 80 million forcibly displaced people—the highest on record. In your years working with UNHCR, you’ve witnessed the dramatic increase first hand. What have been the main causes?

“I see a lack of will to protect and defend basic human rights, and a lack of diplomacy and accountability. A lot of people profit from the chaos of broken, dependent countries and it sickens me. We also see leaders spread fear for political gain, and nationalism rising — anger at ‘the other’.

“But on the other hand, I also see amazing generosity towards refugees in many countries and extraordinary strength and resilience from refugees themselves. And it is not a hopeless picture. Just five conflicts account for two-thirds of all cross-border displacement — Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Myanmar. Change the dynamic there, and we change the picture for global displacement.”

Before the pandemic, you were doing a lot of work in Venezuela and Bangladesh. Can you tell us about some of the things you witnessed there and what the situation is now?

“I saw people at their most human, who’ve been through unimaginable violence or hardship, and who are just trying to take care of their families. Any of us would do the same in their situation. Like all of us, they want to be safe, they want to have a home, and they want to be free.

“The realities for refugees or displaced people are extremely hard. They are often victims of rape and sexual abuse. They are struggling with the same kinds of illnesses you find in any community during peacetime, but without access to the healthcare you or I would be able to rely on.

“And then, refugees often live in tents in camps that are extremely exposed to the elements. Last month, refugees in Bangladesh were hit by a cyclone.”

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Harper’s Bazaar Interview About Protecting the Vulnerable During COVID-19

In a new interview with Harper’s Bazaar, Angelina discusses the fallout of coronavirus.

In a brand new interview with Harper’s Bazaar, Angelina discusses fighting systemic racism, the importance of protecting the vulnerable during the Coronavirus pandemic, and how she, like so many others, has been getting through this time of self-isolation and -reflection. Read the complete interview below. Plus, two brand new photos of Angelina taken by Knox Jolie-Pitt have been launched and added to our photo gallery.

Has this period of lockdown prompted you to reconsider what’s truly important to you?
I was fortunate years ago to travel with the UN to frontlines around the world and put into perspective what really matters. Having six children, I am reminded daily of what is most important. But after almost two decades of international work, this pandemic and this moment in America has made me rethink the needs and suffering within my own country. I am focusing both globally and domestically; they are of course linked. There are more than 70 million people who have had to flee their homes worldwide because of war and persecution – and there is racism and discrimination in America. A system that protects me but might not protect my daughter – or any other man, woman or child in our country based on skin colour – is intolerable. We need to progress beyond sympathy and good intentions to laws and policies that actually address structural racism and impunity. Ending abuses in policing is just the start. It goes far beyond that, to all aspects of society, from our education system to our politics.

What advice do you have for teaching children about issues surrounding race and racism?
To listen to those who are being oppressed and never assume to know.

What have been some of the most faith-restoring things you’ve witnessed during lockdown?
The way people are rising. Saying that they are tired with the excuses and half-measures, and showing solidarity with each other in the face of inadequate responses by those in power. It feels like the world is waking up, and people are forcing a deeper reckoning within their societies. It is time to make changes in our laws and our institutions – listening to those who have been most affected and whose voices have been excluded.

What have been some of the most horrifying impacts of lockdown from your perspective?
I’m deeply worried about the impact of the pandemic and the global economic crisis on refugees. They are people who have been driven from their homes and countries by bombs, rape and violent persecution in all its forms, long before this virus. They live with xenophobia and racism and prejudice every single day and are some of the most vulnerable people in the world when it comes to the economic consequences of the pandemic.

The other horror is domestic violence. The reality before lockdown was that the most dangerous place for a woman to be was in her home. During lockdown, the abuse and level of violence has risen. Above all my concern is for the children. The number of children we know are being abused at this very moment keeps me up at night. There is a global health crisis for children from abuse, neglect and the effects of that trauma. And not nearly enough done to protect them.

Why do you think many have failed to take the extreme issues surrounding domestic violence seriously?
We still turn a blind eye to domestic violence. We often don’t believe survivors, we don’t put the rights of children first or take their trauma seriously. Our child-protection services are not adequately resourced and funded. They lack proper training. So do judges. In America, there isn’t even a nationwide register of child-abuse deaths or an agreed definition of death caused by maltreatment, meaning we can’t even track the scale of the problem effectively. It is my belief that not only those who commit the abuse but those who cover and dismiss it, must be held accountable. Everyone says that they are against domestic violence, but it is these kinds of very specific things we need to change – and the protection of children should be at the heart of it.

Millions of school- and college-aged young people have had their education disrupted by the pandemic. Are there some dangers that some children will never return to the classroom and if so, how do we guard against it?
When girls are out of school it leaves many more vulnerable to child marriage, child labour, sexual abuse and other violations of their rights. The pandemic looks set to have knock-on effects on girls in many countries. We know it but still there is inertia. The UN is warning that the pandemic could result in two million more cases of female genital mutilation and 13 million more child marriages over the next decade. That is horrific. There is no easy answer but sounding the alarm on this, urging governments to anticipate where girls are going to be most vulnerable and to act, is essential as a first step. And we shouldn’t buy into any rhetoric from leaders that says that other issues take priority. There is nothing more important.

You are a passionate advocate for change; what connects all the causes you support?
Human rights and equality. Some countries have more extreme circumstances, but the reality is that the struggle to live in safety and independence and to be able to work and provide for your family with dignity is the same fight everywhere, and it is getting harder for a lot of the most vulnerable people. Whether that is a refugee family or a family struggling with hunger and poverty in our own countries.

How did your partnership with Amnesty International on children’s books come about? What gave you the idea?
The reason rights do not reach a child in a country or home is that adults are blocking them. So in many cases, the child cannot depend on the adults. We are working on a book to help children empower themselves. It’s about what to do when your rights are revoked or not granted at the outset. We want to help kids, who are so engaged now, to use their knowledge and fight for their rights and claim them.

What have you been reading or watching in isolation, and how have you found this helpful?
I am in listening mode most hours of the day. I follow Time magazine, The New York Times, the BBC World Service and BLM activists online. Most recently, I’ve watched the documentary I Am Not Your Negro about James Baldwin and the civil-rights movement in America. Before bed, I’ve been reading Unreasonable Behaviour by Don McCullin and reflecting on how journalism has changed in the last half a century.

What have you done to ease anxious thoughts during the pandemic?
Like most parents, I focus on staying calm so my children don’t feel anxiety from me on top of all they are worrying about. I put all my energy into them. During the lockdown, Vivienne’s bunny passed away during a surgery, and we adopted two sweet little ones who are disabled. They need to be in pairs. They are so gentle and it has helped to focus on their care with her at this time. And on the dogs, and snake and lizard…

What is your one wish for life post-lockdown?
That the focus on efforts to make structural change to protect vulnerable people stays at the centre of our discussions. That we don’t turn inward and we work with even more awareness of our shared humanity.