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Ben Affleck on Mercy Mission to Congo

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Karel Prinsloo/AP

As Thanksgiving looms, Ben Affleck is on his fourth trip in a year to the war-torn Central African nation of Congo – where at least 250,000 people have been displaced by the violence –. Affleck’s aim: to tour refugee camps and consult with aid workers.

“I’m not an expert in international affairs or diplomacy, but it doesn’t take that to see the tremendous suffering here,” the actor and filmmaker, who has made a documentary about the struggles there, told the Associated Press on Thursday in the regional capital of Goma.

“It’s not something that we as human beings can, in good conscience, ignore. My hope in being here is primarily to bring attention to the fact that there’s a real lack of [assistance agencies] here, a real lack of money going to these folks.”

Years of intermittent fighting in eastern Congo intensified in August, when violence erupted between the army and those loyal to rebel leader Laurent Nkunda.

Affleck’s Awareness

Affleck, 36, first focused his attentions on Congo when he learned of the country’s 1998-2002 war that claimed the lives of an estimated 5 million people. “This is a place where I can have a really big impact,” he said, noting how other big names had concentrated on equally daunting problems in Darfur.

“I think that, for better or worse, people with some profile in the arts have some currency to spend as celebrities,” he said. “And for a time, I didn’t spend that in any particularly productive way. And I got to a point where I thought, this is wasteful.”

There are fears that the current crisis in Congo could again sill into neighboring countries. The 1998-2002 war divided the vast nation into rival fiefdoms and drew in half a dozen African armies.

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2002: Ben rallies to raise wages for blue-collar workers at Harvard
2007: Oprah opens a $40 million school for impoverished girls in South Africa