The actress spent time in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo

By Sheila Cosgrove Baylis
Updated June 18, 2015 07:15 PM
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Jordi Matas/UNHCR

In early June, Kristin Davis returned to Africa – she’d been there before to visit refugee camps with the U.N., but what she saw still shocked and saddened her.

The actress traveled to Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In Uganda, her trip focused on the South Sudanese refugee crisis. And in the Democratic Republic of Congo, she met with the Nansen Award winner, Sister Angélique, to discuss a new project to support women affected by sexual violence in conflict.

Davis, 50, spoke to PEOPLE exclusively about her journey with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and her hopes for change.

“The most shocking thing I learned on my trip with UNHCR about the crisis in South Sudan is that 85 percent of the refugees are women and children,” Davis says.

“When the doors opened and the new arrivals to the camp started to come out, I couldn’t believe how many children there were, and mothers with tiny babies, just months old,” the mom to 4-year-old Gemma Rose adds.

“I can’t imagine being a mother of a little baby having to flee my home just to survive. It breaks my heart to even think about it,” she says. “But at the same time, I was so honored to be at the camp with the staff. The UNHCR is the only option for these people, and it is an honor to be able to help in their important work. It is the most beautiful and basic human exchange to be able to provide food and shelter for people who have been trapped in horrible circumstances through no fault of their own.”

Her journey not only taught her more about the refugee crisis, it also encouraged her.

“I have been inspired and energized by what I saw on my trip with UNHCR,” Davis says. “If these people who have been forced from their homes can show such kindness and strength, I know we all can. Visiting the refugee camps makes me feel a renewed sense of hope about the capacity of the human spirit.”

And as for what inspired her to work with the organization, she says, “At this time in history, when there are so many conflicts around the world, I wanted to work with the UNHCR because the refugees need help. I wanted to go to the source of those giving the help – the UN Refugee Agency and see the situation so I could come back and help share what I witnessed.”

Davis adds: “The crisis in South Sudan has only 10 percent of the funds that are needed. After seeing the strength of these people and hearing their hopes of changing the history of conflict in their region through education, the trip makes me want to help even more.”