AP Interview: Priyanka Chopra urges more Syria refugee help

The world must do more to help Syrian refugee children get an education, actress Priyanka Chopra said after chatting and joking with young refugees at an after-school center in Jordan’s capital.

Individuals can make a difference with donations if governments don’t step up, said Chopra, a UNICEF goodwill ambassador and Bollywood and Hollywood star.

“We need to take it into our own hands because this is our world and we only have one of it,” Chopra told The Associated Press at the end of her first day in Jordan.

“I think the world needs to understand that this is not just a Syrian refugee crisis, it’s a humanitarian crisis,” she said in an interview Sunday.

Without sufficient support, “this can be an entire generation of kids that could turn to extremism because they have not gotten an education,” she said.

Some 5 million Syrians have fled civil war in their homeland since 2011, many settling in nearby Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. The influx has overburdened host countries, including their schools. More than half a million Syrian refugee children of school age, or one-third of the total, are not enrolled in school or informal education in the host countries. Meanwhile, UN and aid agencies supporting the refugees routinely face large funding gaps.

On Sunday, Chopra, a light gray scarf slung over her hair, visited a UNICEF-backed children’s center in Jordan’s capital of Amman. The UN child welfare agency supports more than 200 such “Makani” centers, Arabic for “my space”, in Jordan, along with other refugee education programs.

In the center, preteen girls and boys sat around low table or on the ground, coloring or gluing glitter on paper. Only a few children knew who she was, but easily engaged with her.

A young boy told her he wanted to become an actor. She told him that one of the prerequisites is not to be shy and then challenged him to a staring contest. They locked eyes until she stopped, laughing.

Chopra later said she was moved by the hopefulness of the children she met.

“Some of them want professional careers, some of them want to go back to their countries and rebuild,” she said. “Parents … want that for their children.”

Chopra, 35, shot to fame as Miss World in 2000 and has acted in several dozen Indian movies and is increasingly making her mark in the United States.

She stars in “Quantico,” a TV drama about FBI trainees on ABC, now entering its third season. She appeared in the “Baywatch” movie and has two more coming out, “Isn’t It Romantic” with Rebel Wilson, Adam DeVine and Liam Hemsworth, as well as “A Kid Like Jake” with Claire Danes, Jim Parsons and Octavia Spencer.

Chopra said that she didn’t realize until working in America that it’s “difficult for a woman of color” to be cast in a wide range of roles.

She said change will come when “people like me and other people, other actors that are coming in from other parts of the world, in global entertainment …we dig our feet in and say I don’t want to only play the stereotype of what you expect me to be.”

“It’s a fight, it’s a battle, and I am not afraid to fight it,” she said.

She recalled being insecure about her looks as a teenager.

“I was considered darker toned, so in my head, I was not pretty and that’s the ideology,” said Chopra, who once did an ad for a skin lightening cream, a decision she later regretted. At the same time, she said she’s seen “a lot of girls who are light-skinned in America who say, ‘I am too pale, I’m not pretty’.”

In India, she has become selective, preferring more complex roles to the pretty girl parts of her early days.

Chopra is also producing films in regional languages, to create an outlet for artists who might otherwise by overlooked by the dominant Hindi-language movie industry. The latest is a film about two refugee children who come from Nepal to India.

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