Vampire Diaries star Kat Graham has paid an emotional visit to Syrian refugee families in Jordan for the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR).
“Three days in January changed my life forever,” she wrote in her diary from the trip, Impressions from Zaa’tari Refugee Camp. “The love, the support and the compassion of the human race can be remarkable.”
The stunning actress, who plays Bonnie Bennett in the cult TV show, expressed her awe at the enormity of the UNHCR’s desert camp, which hosts more than 80,000 displaced people. At least 500 new Syrian refugees cross into Jordan daily, with 6-10 babies being born every day in Zaa’tari.
“In mere months they have built what is essentially a city on top of a piece of flat desert ground,” said the 24-year-old. “With roads, electricity, waste systems, and where they coordinate all services, water and food distribution, schools, health centres.”
the image below for a full gallery of Kat’s journey.
Kat admitted that upon arrival she was expecting to find “a heavy fog of sadness”, but instead she found that, not only were the families she met incredibly hospitable, but she was taken aback by their generosity.
“They shared with me coffee, tea, their family meal,” she remembered. “Whatever they had, which really wasn’t much, as offered to me.”
What especially moved Kat was the strength of the refugees’ children, who continued to play and have fun despite their situation. “Alongside stories of deep trauma there is also the reality of children being children,” she said. “Running, smiling, uncovering the joy in the little things, like Hassan who only owned a few precious marbles to play with, but insisted that I take one as a gift.”
Kat, who is also a singer, is engaged to emerging actor Cottrell Guidry. The couple have been together since 2010, and she recently revealed that their wedding would be “any day now”.
“I feel like we are already kind of married,” she joked. “I already have this future that I’m having with this person now, so it doesn’t really feel that different.”
“I planned the wedding,” said Kat. “It went really good. We’re like done. We just did everything in two weeks – I’m low maintenance.”
With her own nuptials in mind, the bride-to-be was particularly touched to meet Um Murad, a refugee whose wedding shop was burned down in Syria. “I met a woman that, a few months shy of my own marriage, showed me the true depths of commitment,” she said. “How far someone will travel and how much someone will sacrifice to take care of their family.”
“When she arrived in camp she started doing hair and make-up from her family caravan,” revealed Kat. “Now she has a small shop where she has prepared over 700 brides since opening.”
The Swiss-born American actress was moved by the stories she heard as she met with various Syrian families, many of whom had suffered violence as they fled from their war-torn home. “These women are strong, these men are resilient,” she said.
“When you think of refugees you often think of people rendered powerless,” she said. “But when I think of the people I’ve met, I think of qualities that I aspire to have. These are people making lemonade out of lemons, building fountains in front of their caravans with rocks from the desert because it reminds them of home, marshalling every last spirit of enterprise and innovation that runs deep in their veins to support the ones they care for most. I see new depths of love, commitment to family, community spirit and generosity – incredible values that we can all learn from.”
To read Kat’s full story or make a donation, head to www.unrefugees.org/katgraham