I may be a Sprint customer, but I’m in love with the young woman in the AT&T commercials. OK, yuck, I’m old enough to be her father, or very young uncle. Forget I said anything.
Anyway, if you’ve seen any of AT&T’s commercials during the last year or so, you’ll know who I’m talking about. Young brunette named “Lily” who helps folks in the AT&T store pick out their latest phones and data plans.
Lily is really Milana Vayntrub, a just turned 29-year-old Jewish actor, comedian and producer who was born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Star Trek’s George Takei posted a link to a story about Vayntrub from a website called “A Plus,” a “positive journalism” website. What I read about her and an accompanying video both astonished me and lifted my spirits.
You have to start with the fact Vayntrub is a former refugee. Uzbekistan was part of the Soviet Union when she was born. Her family was persecuted by anti-Semitists and they fled in 1989, becoming refugees. They lived in Italy and Austria before trying to get into America. She and her family were actually featured in a television news segment about how the U.S. was blocking their and other refugees’ entry into the country. Vayntrub was a toddler.
In 2015, Vayntrub took a trip to Greece with her father. While she was there, she realized Greece was not only going through some of the worst economic turmoil in its history, but dealing with a huge influx of refugees, mostly Syrians being squeezed out of their own country by the fighting between government rebels and extremist groups.
One Greek island, Lesbos, is far removed from the rest of the country, very close to Turkey. Syrian refugees, Vayntrub explains in the video, are using small craft -- rubber rafts, at times -- to make a 6-mile crossing from Turkey to Lesbos. After learning about this, Vayntrub decided to skip her flight back home to the U.S. and, instead, went to Lesbos to see how she could help. She did this without having any idea of what she could do or how it would make a difference.
“I don’t want to be a passive citizen anymore,” Vayntrub says in the video. “I want to be a force for good.”
She hooked up with another volunteer at a meeting in Athens. When they got to Lesbos and drove to the beach she describes it as “beautiful resort land except for ... life jackets sprinkled on the trees.” They met up with a male nurse from Doctors Around the World, who told them even more refugees were arriving every day, multiple times a day. He estimated up to 2,000 people were arriving per day. Some boats don’t make it.
During the remainder the more than 13-minute video, Vayntrub shows off conditions in the refugee camps, talks about the steps taken to gather refugees’ information and the preparations to get them on real ships to go elsewhere. We never learn if they are Christian or Muslim.
The Aegean Sea is flat here, Turkey easily seen across the 6-mile gap. The rubber boats and other small craft bringing refugees are also easily seen as they come across. Volunteers, doctors and nurses rush to the shoreline to meet them, trying to help. They need more blankets as well as more people who speak the refugees’ language. Vayntrub is one of many just wrapping babies in blankets.
It’s obviously a very emotional experience for her as she follows these refugees and tries to tell their stories. It’s a 2-mile hike from shore to registration center. Vayntrub and her partner give a ride to one family; the young father describes how every building in his hometown has been destroyed. He wants to complete his masters degree in international law. Another man suffers an epileptic seizure, his medications left behind in Syria.
Vayntrub is moved by the refugees’ good spirits and friendliness, but appalled at what caused them to leave Syria and the conditions they face at the refugee camps.
Near the end of the video, Vayntrub makes a grocery run (“supporting the local economy”) to get food to take a refugee camp.
And so, this Jewish Uzbeki refugee from America forms a non-profit called Can’t Do Nothing to support a number of charities helping Syrian refugees.
Yeah, I’m in love with Vayntrub -- in love with her incredibly inspirational humanity.