Carey Mulligan was first blown away by Oscar when he was just an early teenager speaking about the trauma he went through as a child refugee

By Ale Russian
December 18, 2018 10:01 AM
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Credit: Courtesy Children in Conflict

Carey Mulligan was first blown away by Oscar when he was just an early teenager speaking about the trauma he went through as a child refugee.

The now 17 year old spent part of his childhood in a refugee camp in Uganda after his family was forced to flee the Democratic Republic of Congo during a violent civil war. Conditions were harsh and Oscar sadly lost his mom, leaving him to care for his two younger siblings until they were relocated to the U.K. when he was 10.

Oscar then made it his mission to help other children like him, leading to a partnership with War Child U.K., and most recently their sister organization Children in Conflict in the U.S.

“My desire is to change the world, especially to help those who are in unfortunate situations that are out of their control,” Oscar tells PEOPLE. “Because I am a child raised and born in a war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I have witnessed so many atrocities that no adult, let alone child should ever have to witness. But I understand that many children around the world continue to go through similar things that I have had to go through, and so I work very hard to try and extinguish a lifestyle of conflict and war.”

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Carey Mulligan
| Credit: Maarten de Boer

Through War Child U.K. and now Children in Conflict in the U.S., Mulligan, 33, and her Mumford & Sons frontman husband Marcus Mumford, 31, have gotten the chance to get to know Oscar. They first heard him speak in 2014 and invited him to once again share his story and wisdom at their latest fundraiser Winter Wassail in New York City last week.

The special event, put together by the couple, featured John Oliver as host and Mumford & Sons as performers. They ultimately raised around $1.7 million for Children in Conflict.

“One of the great privileges of being an ambassador has been meeting Oscar,” Mulligan tells PEOPLE. “He’s an unbelievable ambassador because, you know, Marcus and I have been to the field and we’ve seen the work, but there’s no one who can really speak about what children in conflict need better than someone who’s actually lived it. And he’s so skilled at talking about what it’s like to be a child who’s been through trauma and how hard it is to recover from it, and how much help is needed.”

Mulligan and Mumford first got involved with War Child U.K. when the conflict between Palestine and Israel was reaching a boiling point. The actress says she remembers tuning into the radio every day in London and hearing about countless children dying in the midst of conflict — a devastating problem that has only gotten worse with wars growing more violent all around the world.

“I just couldn’t believe that this was a daily occurrence, these tiny, tiny children and teenager and kids of all ages were just caught up in this abominable conflicts. We just felt really hopeless,” she says.

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Carey Mulligan and Marcus Mumford
| Credit: Ray Tamarra/Getty

It was during a trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo with War Child U.K. that she first got the idea to hold a fundraiser with the couple’s famous friends to raise money for the organization. That action was born out of a desire to combat the hopelessness she felt, and their resolution has only gotten stronger after the couple became parents twice over while being ambassadors. Mumford and Mulligan married in 2012 and welcomed 3-year-old daughter Evelyn Grace in 2015 and 1-year-old son Wilfred in August 2017.

“I think we both feel even more passionately now having children — it just heightens everything a little bit,” she says. “We both feel so privileged to meet children who are incredible brave and courageous who have endured unspeakable things, but they shouldn’t have to be brave. They should go to bed at night the way our children go to bed at night, feeling safe and warm and knowing there’s someone looking out for them.”

She continues, “That’s what Children in Conflict does to many of these kids, they’re providing that comfort that we are lucky enough to be able to give our own children. They can go to bed knowing they’re okay, and I think that’s what Children in Conflict’s mission is, to try and make children feel safe. That definitely feels so much stronger since we’ve had our own kids.”

Carey Mulligan splitting beans with girlPC: James Marcus Haney
Carey Mulligan in the Democratic Republic of Congo
| Credit: James Marcus Haney

Oscar says this seemingly small gesture is exactly what children who have survived a war and been displaced need in order to move on. The young activist stresses psychological help as the most vital requirement for children to overcome the trauma they’ve experienced.

“Psychological help and support is one of, if not the most important help that children in conflict situations need as they have had to go through traumatic, disturbing and violent acts,” he says. “All these experiences stay in their minds and without support and treatment, they do leave children mentally destroyed and scared, leaving them feeling like there is nothing left and they don’t matter, which is not true. These issues need long-term support and it is very challenging to break down those barriers.”

He continues, “[These kids] need someone to trust and a safe, secure space. They need to know that there is someone out there that knows of their existence and is willing to help and is helping to improve their lives and give them a bright future.”

WATCH: Carey Mulligan calls for action to protect the rights of children fleeing war

While that call for action may feel to abstract and overwhelming for well wishers hoping to find a way to help, Mulligan says that taking action is actually very simple.

“If you feel powerless when you’re watching the news and you feel like the problem is too big, it isn’t,” she says. “We can actually do something. There are a million ways to fundraise and volunteer. $5 really makes all the difference, and it’s such a small amount of money that can save a child’s life. It could be that your $5 donation makes the difference between a child surviving a conflict not just physically, but emotionally. We can’t expect this generation of children who’s been scarred and traumatized by war to recover on their own.”

For more information and to donate, visit War Child U.K. and Children in Conflict.