Mia Farrow may have made her name as a fashion model and award-winning actress, but she left that life behind long ago, eschewing celebrity comforts to travel the world's trouble spots as a children's rights activist. Since having her eyes opened by the Rwandan genocide, Farrow has been everywhere from the refugee camps of Congo and Darfur to famine-stricken Somalia and earthquake-ravaged Haiti, fighting to protect kids from famine, pestilence and war.
Backstage after speaking at last month's We Day event in Waterloo -- a travelling youth rally staged by Craig and Marc Kielburger's Free the Children organization -- Farrow spoke to Huffington Post Canada about Somalia's road of death, the Republican candidates ("they're definitely not presidential, that's for sure"), the connection between Occupy and Arab Spring and why she's so willing to put herself in harm's way.
Q: I heard a freak November snow storm in Connecticut left you without electricity for a week and a half.
A: It's the harbinger of things; this is the new weather.
Q: The famine in Africa is part of that, right?
A: Yes, and at the very edges of the world that is inhabited, people are on the move, driven toward arable land and water. People who have lived in villages for centuries find themselves now sheltering in the scrubbiest brush. I was in a place in Western Sudan where this Sultan was telling me "the camels are dying." What he didn't say was that the children were dying. But I was with UNICEF so I quickly went to where all the mothers had gathered hoping for some rations for the children. And just as far as the eye could see were hungry children. They didn't have IVs or anything like that but UNICEF had this plumpy nut, it's a peanut paste, and so some children were saved. For some it was too late.
Q: This was your recent trip to Somalia with Free the Children's Craig Kielburger?
A: We went to Dadaab refugee camp where some people had walked for three or four weeks from Mogadishu and other places in Somalia, as well. It's called the road of death, because they have to leave all that they have and all that they know to take this weeks-long walk and they're already so depleted.
This flow of refugees into Dadaab, which is on the Kenya-Somalia border, has tapered off somewhat because it's just so dangerous for the people. They have to deliberate [whether] to risk the rest of their children dying along the way or stay there and probably starve to death or be killed by the violence.
Q: What makes this famine differ from, say, the one in Ethiopia in the 1980s?
A: Well, here we knew it was coming and there was no need for there to be a famine. The droughts are coming with greater frequency, we know this. We also know that, with savvy planting, there are crops that can withstand the drought. There are irrigation systems so that when the rains come, you can gather the rain and make it work for you through most, if not all, of the rainy season. So with help this could have been avoided. What is a factor, again, is humankind and the nature of violence. People wouldn't be dying like this if there wasn't this Al-Shabaab extremist group in Somalia, which has caused chaos.
Q: What impact has the Great Recession had on the wealthier countries coming to the aid of places like Somalia?
A: Two things are happening. One is the price of food is rising so grain prices are becoming prohibitively expensive, both for the people in the areas that are affected and for the aid groups trying to purchase those grains to try to dispense to people. And undoubtedly, the amount of money people might have donated to the world food program and those organizations that are actively on the ground like UNICEF is less, too.
I share my photographs of dying children and people say, "Oh," and yet it's pointed out to me that there are people eating dog food in the United States of America. It's very hard when economic times are that difficult for people in your own country.
Q: During the debates there have been a lot of Republican candidates denying climate change and talking about eliminating foreign aid.
I just don't even want to talk about these candidates. Each one is worse than the next. I'm going to say right away I'm a Democrat and there's no Republican who's stepped up that can touch Obama in terms of intellect, ability, integrity and so forth. And watching these people flounder is excruciating. I'm sure they're really nice to have as neighbours or family members, but they're definitely not presidential, that's for sure. Herman Cain on the topic of Libya -- that was a hoot. Oh, my lord. And Rick Perry with his brain freezes and all the rest of it and then all of them jumping up and saying "Waterboarding isn't torture." I could go down the list of stuff. I guess they're just not going to be president, that's what I have to hope.
Q: What do you think about their whole philosophy of isolationism?
I think that the people that you're listening to who have articulated that notion haven't travelled and haven't demonstrated any understanding of foreign policy and how connected we are, whether we like it or not. So foreign policy is an absolute must. Isolationism isn't a possibility.
Huntsman's the only one who knows anything and he's got like one per cent.
He's the only one -- and he would have been a worthy candidate.
Q: How did you feel about Occupy Wall Street being cleared out?
It's an agonizing thing to see in my own country. I think they have succeeded in a lot of ways and, of course, I'm with them because they have changed the questions that are being asked, they've changed the dialogue in my country and around the world. And even though they're moved out of one spot, their voices remain and they'll find another spot, so really that's inconsequential. It's just an awful thing to witness on television; it's just an ugly thing to see any kind of violence against civilians. But they've won because the statement is there, the question is there and people are no longer going to take this kind of inequality. Now how it resolves itself, I don't know. But the reason they formed was a good one and a righteous one and they have succeed in bringing this into the level of the consciousness of the highest halls.
Q: Occupy has been focused on America or Canada. Do you see this movement incorporating the concerns of the developing countries where you've been putting your effort in?
I don't know if it will go there yet, but it's been in, I don't know, 900 cities around the world and it's not that different from Arab Spring, in a way. It's connected to young people rising up to say we need a just government that represents us. But when you talk about people who are just struggling to get through the day, their concerns are different: just to get food, water, and protection. And the fourth thing is always education, no matter what the circumstances.
Q: You go to a lot of really dangerous places. Not that many celebrity activists do that. What made you want to not just speak out but actually go and get your hands dirty?
One thing that really galvanized me was the Rwandan genocide and the absolute failure of the international community and my country. Your hero Romeo Dallaire, who is all the world's hero, was one of the few who stayed and tried, but it was a profound failure of everyone: my church, my country, the United Nations and all the countries in the world. I left Catholicism because of that, and that was hard because I was a very, very passionate Catholic. There are lots of reasons to leave but that was the trigger.
But then when I heard another genocide was unfolding in a remote western region of Sudan, a place I'd never heard of, Darfur, I was already galvanized. I had no idea how I could get there, what I would do, but I knew it involved doing my utmost. I tell my children that with knowledge comes responsibility.