Milana Vayntrub, AT&T Ad Star and Former Refugee, Launches #CantDoNothing Campaign to Help Syrian Refugees

Feb 03, 2016 10:31 AM EST
As the Syrian refugee crisis continues to worsen, one actress is using her platform to encourage Americans to take action by sharing their money, time or voice instead of sitting idly by while thousands suffer.
Actress Milana Vayntrub appears in an AT&T commercial. YouTube

As the Syrian refugee crisis continues to worsen, one actress is using her platform to encourage Americans to take action by sharing their money, time or voice instead of sitting idly by while thousands suffer.

While vacationing with her father in Greece, actress Milana Vayntrub, best known for playing the bubbly Lily Adams character in a series of AT&T commercials, was struck by the thousands of Syrian refugees risking their lives to cross the sea and find safety for their families.

After witnessing the crisis firsthand, Vayntrub was even more disturbed by the number of Americans who are oblivious to the devastating situation, or simply unsure of how to help.

"I had an embarrassingly little amount [of knowledge of the Syrian refugee crisis before going to Greece]. It's not something that came up in a lot of my social media, and the American news covers it an embarrassingly small amount," she wrote in a recent essay for Pop Sugar.

"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."

According to the UNHCR, 4.6 million Syrians are refugees, and 6.6 million are displaced within Syria; half are children. Most Syrian refugees remain in the Middle East, in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt, while about 10 percent of the refugees have fled to Europe.

In an effort to make a difference, Vayntrub started an organization, #CantDoNothing, which helps everyday individuals have a real impact and assist refugees globally, whether it's donating money or signing on with volunteer groups. She also made a mini-documentary about the crisis, which she recently posted to YouTube

"#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 explains.

One of the simplest -- and most effective ways -- people can get involved is through social media, the actress says. She encourages individuals to spread the word online with the #CantDoNothing hashtag.

"Spreading awareness is one of the goals of #CantDoNothing, and that's what the social movement is about, too. That's why the hashtag 'CantDoNothing' is really a way for us to get the word out..." she writes.

"Some people would say we live in a much more complacent generation, even though we have more information than we've ever had. In the '60s there were revolts and revolution - and now there are hashtags. How do we use that to create a revolution online?"

Although the movement was launched less than a month ago, #CantDoNothing is already supporting a number of thriving organizations such as The Syria Fund, Boat Refugee Foundation, and Off Track Health.

For Vayntrub, the crisis hits close to home, as she is herself a refugee. In the late 1980's, her family was forced to flee the Soviet Union amid widespread persecution of Jews.  

"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," the actress told the Huffington Post. "So I definitely feel close to the plight of an immigrant, let alone the plight of a refugee."

She acknowledges that the issue is controversial for many, particularly amid concern that the terrorist groups may be using the refugee crisis to smuggle extremists into Western countries.

However, Vayntrub urges people to adopt an attitude of mercy and remember that many of the refugees are fleeing the very groups that Americans fear, having themselves been victims of terrorism.

"We're all on the same team," she writes. "America is a wealthy country with a lot of resources - that are allocated in some ways that are appropriate or not appropriate - but there's this quote I once read that's stuck with me: 'When you have more than you need, build a longer table, not a higher fence.'"

To learn more about #CantDoNothing, visit CantDoNothing.org.