Priyanka Chopra reminding the world of Kenya’s worst drought crisis

Q&A with Priyanka Chopra

Priyanka Chopra Jonas, famous for her role in ‘Quantico’ thriller series, is an Indian actress, producer, model and singer. She is also the global Unicef Goodwill Ambassador.

Lilys Njeru caught up with her during her maiden trip to Kenya and they talked about a number of things including the drought situation in the country:

What brings you to this part of the world and is this your first time in Kenya?

It is! And I am here for a different reason than what I thought I would be coming for. I have heard of Kenya’s incredible beauty, hospitality, food and I have family here.

But I am here as Unicef Goodwill Ambassador in response to an emergency crisis affecting the horn of Africa — Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya.

I went to Turkana region where I visited homes, schools and health facilities to see the works that Unicef and its partners are doing on the ground to provide relief in terms of water, sanitation, treatment and food, specifically to children. I am here to implore the global community not to forget what is happening here.

A few days ago you posted a message on Instagram about the climate crisis and the drought in many parts of Kenya, how would you describe what you have witnessed on the ground?

What I witnessed is very difficult to describe. It was scary to see people drinking water from the same water holes as cows and children playing near dead animals.

I come from India, a country that has opposite extremes — poverty and affluence. But this kind of human suffering, especially of children dying of hunger, should not exist. And all of this is preventable.

The drought in some parts of Kenya is the worst to be seen in 40 years and it is attributed to climate change.

My presence and position is to remind the world that this is the worst these people have seen and they are bearing the brunt of the effects of climate change, largely contributed by developed worlds.

In yet another post you expressed hope that a solution can still be found for the drought and the climate crisis. What do you see as the greatest need right now in those regions?

This is a dire situation where money is needed. With funding, they can be able to buy food, create boreholes and pumps so they can get clean water, medication and enough health workers.

I visited a health facility that had just one health worker attending to dozens of patients every day.

As you have mentioned, children bear the greatest brunt of situations such as drought. What needs to be done to shield them from the worst of such crises?

I have to give credit to the government of Kenya because it has provided a lot of relief to them.

I think that the world needs to pivot its focus and understand that the climate crisis we’re experiencing right now is not something that we will see the results of in two decades later.

The effects of it are happening right now. What you are seeing when you look at these children is the face of the effects of climate change.

Our climate emissions need to reduce tremendously and it will only increase if it is not stopped.

You were appointed as Unicef global goodwill ambassador in 2016, how would you say you have used this role to champion for the rights of children?

My association with Unicef spans for over 10 years, way before I became their global goodwill ambassador.

What I have been doing is using my platforms, which have a global following, to amplify the voices of the children in need around the world.

Priyanka Chopra Jonas

Priyanka Chopra Jonas.

Photo credit: Pool

What do you see as the role of actors, singers and such other influential personalities in tackling the climate crisis and problems such as drought and famine?

I would say, advocacy. To use our platforms and influence to amplify these issues. Our social responsibility is very paramount because our platforms, especially in the entertainment business, give us access to many people.

In your memoir “Unfinished” you talk about being raised by parents who were physicians in the military, which allowed you to live and travel to different cities, how has this shaped who you are?

My life is anchored in service to the people as it is a big part of what defines my family. I feel that this is the greatest job I have besides everything else I do. I can give back using my platform to serve.

Also having discipline, a principle I borrowed from my parents who were in the military has helped me have a work ethic that has really held my career.

You are the 2016 Times most influential person, an awarding winning actress, in fact, the first South Asian actress to win People’s choice award for your role in ABC TV series ‘Quantico’, and the over 50 Bollywood movies that you’ve acted in. What is your success factor?

I don’t like to be stagnant. I like to grow. I think growth is very exciting. When I achieve something, I don’t throw a party and tout that I have made it.

I always look for the next big thing. I think that’s the hunger and ambition I have had since I was young. I don’t know what the end game is but I know I always want to take a step forward and keep moving.

You are very passionate about the girl child and women rights. As a role model for so many of them, what is your message for young girls and women watching you right now?

Women rights now are going through a very interesting and difficult time around the world. We have some women whose voices have been taken away from them.

Yet we live in the age of information where our collective voices can travel across the world.

Let’s band with our sisters who don’t have a voice and talk about the various issues affecting them. Sisterhood is beautiful to see.

In one of your interviews, you talk about being like water, fitting into any vessel. How would you contextualise this in your day-to-day life?

(Laughs)As I am growing older, I don’t know if I am as adaptable as I was but it is very important to adjust and adapt.

It is waking up every morning and facing life as your destiny leads you. You have to hold onto your values and principles. Don’t have an entitlement attitude as it won’t get you far.

 What have you learnt so far during your short stay in Kenya, do you plan to come back?

I definitely want to come back and I hope it will be under better circumstances. What I have learnt is that even through the most difficult times, human beings have incredible resilience, kindness and warmth.

Thinking of what I witnessed in Turkana, I don’t know what it would do to my mental state to see my child go through that suffering. I am a new mother.

But seeing women standing by their children, you know, sacrificing their meals for them goes to show that there is so much strength in human beings, especially in women.