Kat Graham stars in "The Vampire Diaries"
She recently traveled to Somalia, a country suffering from famine
As lawmakers on Capitol Hill mull over President Donald Trump’s proposed budget cuts, actress and singer Kat Graham issued an urgent and emotional plea to politicians: If you cut foreign aid, people will die.
“I’m not a politician, I’m not a lawmaker, but I know that taking away what makes America really great will ruin people’s lives … it’s almost murder. It’s murder,” Graham told CNN while fighting back tears as she recalled her firsthand experiences witnessing the refugee crises in countries like Somalia and Syria.
“I would say that it is up to us to not only reach out to each other, reach out to your government, your senator, whoever you need to, to demand that foreign aid not be cut,” she added.
US donations to foreign countries are given directly to foreign governments or to institutions like UNICEF and the World Food Programme.
Ultimately, it is Congress that will make that call as another budget battle looms. Foreign aid accounts for about 1% of the federal budget, but areas including military aid, debt relief, funds for long-term development programs and emergency aid are expected to get cut.
A request to the White House for comment was not returned.
“This is real. Listen, I’m not a politician, I’m not a news reporter. I make music and I act. I’m a human being and I’m on here just to beg anyone watching that this is serious,” Graham said, “and if we don’t pay attention now, if we ignore this crisis happening right now, then we will have another refugee crisis on our hands.”
Graham wants to be more than a celebrity who just tweets about causes, so almost immediately after she wrapped production on “The Vampire Diaries,” she was ready to get right back to work, traveling thousands of miles to Somalia in northeast Africa with an organization she calls her “saving grace.”
Graham is an International Goodwill Ambassador for “Empower 54,” a non-profit organization that provides humanitarian assistance – from medical missions, to agricultural programs to battle hunger and access to modern education for women and girls – in underprivileged communities.
As Trump’s administration seeks to significantly slash foreign aid, much of the burden to fill those gaps could fall on independent donors and non-profits like “Empower 54.”
“Sometimes what I think what the news is missing is the human element, the connection — the moment that you look into a little girl’s eyes or a father who has just left his family and risked everything just to try and survive,” Graham said. “People that have lost everything but the clothes on their back, who’ve had to leave all of their possessions behind because the miles to get to the camp or the miles to get to water or the food drop are just too exhausting. I’m meeting these people.”
Graham has been involved in refugee humanitarian work for years in the Middle East and Central America, but she said “Empower 54” allows her to be on the ground in areas that need the most help, which is what took her to Somalia, where according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, more than 1.2 million people have already been displaced.
While participating in a effort that helps get clean water to the people and communities that need it most, Graham recalled a defining moment, where she saw women and small children carrying big buckets of water for miles to bring it back to their families.
“When something as simple as water has that much importance, coming back into the world that I make a living in felt really trivial,” she said.