(Milana Vayntrub speaking at VidCon 2012. Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore)

Following a recent trip to Greece, Milana Vayntrub – the actress who plays the buoyant shop clerk in AT&T commercials – has found a new cause: the Syrian refugee crisis.

The actress was once a refugee herself, fleeing Russia as a child in the 1980s. In an essay for the website Popsugar, she writes:

My family fled the Soviet Union because of hostile circumstances for Jews in the late ’80s. I was too young to remember details of the yearlong journey, but my parents have told me stories about the poverty and constant uncertainty they faced before we were lucky enough to settle in Los Angeles.

With this experience in mind, Vayntrub was struck by the plight of Syrian refugees in Greece, who often risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean on rafts. According to the European Union’s border control agency – Frontex – 131,724 people have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe so far in 2016. The vast majority of these refugees have arrived in Greece, a nation still in the throes of a debt crisis and bruising austerity imposed by EU fiat. The prime minister of Germany Angela Merkel has recently underscored the additional assistance that the Hellenic Republic needs to cope with the ongoing crisis.

In her essay, Vayntrub describes the scenes in Greece that compelled her to not only ditch her vacation and help in the moment, but to also create a new nonprofit as well:

I’d never seen anything like it. As we rushed to the shore, people stepped off the rafts, some in tears, some celebrating. They passed their children off the boat to volunteers before jumping into the water themselves. Some people collapsed as they got off the boat because their legs had gone numb from spending an hour with 50 people on a raft only meant to carry a dozen. On the shore, volunteer doctors checked the babies’ temperatures and dried them off. I tried to contain my shock and concern, focusing on greeting people with a smile and a warm hug.

Moved by the experience, Vayntrub founded #CantDoNothing, a nonprofit campaign to raise awareness of the Syrian refugee crisis and to raise money for affiliated organizations working to ameliorate migrants’ tenuous and dire situation.

“I learned a lot in Greece,” writes Vayntrub, “One of the biggest lessons was that everyone has something powerful and important to contribute — something that can make the world a little (or a lot) better.”

Read the whole essay here and visit #CantDoNothing to learn how you can help.

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