Image: Susan Sarandon
Giacinta Pace/NBC NewsWire
Susan Sarandon wearing the Vacheron Constantin Quai de L’ile watch in support of the Afghanistan World Foundation in New York on Oct. 22.
NBC News
updated 2/2/2009 1:50:04 PM ET 2009-02-02T18:50:04

Each month, Cause Celeb highlights a celebrity’s work on behalf of a specific cause. This month, we speak with actress Susan Sarandon about her involvement with the Afghanistan World Foundation. The foundation provides support for the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan, focusing primarily on education and emergency health services, especially for victims of land mines. Sarandon was interviewed at a recent benefit in New York for the foundation held by Vacheron Constantin, manufacturer of Swiss luxury watches.

Question: What isthe cause that you've come out for tonight?

Sarandon: As a U.N. ambassador, I was exposed to a lot of facts about women and refugees in various countries. When this organization was brought to my attention, I jumped on board, because it's nonpartisan, and there's an enormous amount of suffering going on in Afghanistan, as there is in many other countries.

But, this woman [Sonia Cole Of Afghanistan World Foundation] has focused just on Afghanistan because she's from Afghanistan. This whole question of land mines and the problems that poses, especially to children and women, I don’t think we hear enough about the cost of these wars on civilian populations. So, I'm really happy when a group focuses on their needs, because we spend an enormous amount of money on the war machine itself, but not on the problems that these conflicts cause to the civilian populations. Even in Iraq, you look at how many people have been displaced there. We don’t receive these refugees into the United States, so it’s not always easy to know what is going on.

So, I'm really pleased that they're doing as much as they are. They've established hospitals, [and] they're focusing a lot on land mine casualties and education. I just thought it was worth trying to shed a little light on, and I think that this group [Vacheron Constantin] is helping them financially, which is really great. It’s always great when a company chooses a charity that is not well known by everybody and kind of bring some attention to them.

Q: In these trying financial times, how do you motivate people to give to charities like this one and get companies like Vacheron Constantin to be involved with sponsoring awareness and raising money for these charities?

Sarandon: Vacheron Constantin was already aware, and I think it's again really interesting, because they're not an American company, that they had that kind of worldwide perspective. You know what I say to people, there are so many different ways of being involved, and, when there’s an economic crunch, it’s even a bigger reason why people that have any kind of money should continue to give, not just in the flush time.

What’s really wonderful about working with grassroots [organizations] — and time is just as valuable as money — is the people that you meet. [Such organizations] would be what someone in the United States who’s not donating a lot of money in their neighborhood would be involved in, whether it’s your school system, or hospitals, or AIDS organizations, or environmental organizations. The people that you meet really counteract all that feeling of being overwhelmed, being despondent, and being depressed because the world is in such a mess. You need these people. They really dedicate time and effort, and they are just joyful, wonderful people that are making a difference one person at a time.

So, I would say, if you can’t give money at a time when money is really needed, then give up your time — whether it’s serving in a soup kitchen, or doing volunteer work, [or] holding babies at a hospital. I think that it’s really very selfish, because you end up feeling so good, not because you’re so great, but just because you can see that you’ve made a difference.

You meet people that you know who have been doing that kind of volunteer work for 20years, 25 years. It was funny because when I was volunteering at Ground Zero, I was running into the same people that were building houses for Habitat for Humanity for instance, the same retired schoolteachers that were working for another group that I work with, City Harvest. So you find that it’s all connected. Just like all the bad guys are all connected, all the good guys are connected, too.

Q: Because you are so involved in a lot of different causes, what energizes you to help people?

Sarandon: Sometimes I think that I really make a mistake because I say yes to too many things. I think of Bette Midler who’s just focused on one thing and accomplished so much, and I think maybe that’s what I should do. Now that my kids are getting older, I probably will start to be even more hands-on and maybe be able to take more trips. My youngest is 16 now, and he’s very happy to have me out of the house.

First of all, if you’re an actor, the skills that you develop are empathy and imagination. Once you imagine yourself in the shoes of a woman who’s lost a child or whose child is sick, it becomes very difficult not to empathize. Once you empathize, you can’t just stay at home. I guess it is just part of my job training. It’s just that simple once you get some information.

The thing that I can do most effectively is just make sure people get information. That’s one of the reasons I’m here tonight, because it helps a little bit to publicize this group, which might appeal to somebody out there that would say, “That sounds like a need. I’m maybe not feeling so great about this war, and I’d like to make up for whatever damage we’re doing.” Maybe, [that] would be one way of looking at it.

Interviewed by Giacinta Pace, NBC News

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