June 23, 2008 — -- Actor, writer, producer and director Ben Affleck traveled to Africa's Congo region three times over the last eight months, hoping to understand firsthand one of the world's worst humanitarian crises of this century.
"Nightline" producer Max Culhane and photographer Doug Vogt joined Affleck on his most recent trip to document his journey. Affleck and the "Nightline" team traveled through refugee camps, hospitals and clinics, meeting with warlords, relief workers, child soldiers and members of parliament in an effort to better understand the place where over the last decade more than 4 million people have died in the deadliest conflict since World War II, according to a 2008 report by the International Rescue Committee.
"Congo is in terrible shape," Affleck said. "What's going on [in Congo] is humanitarian disaster."
Affleck says the mission of his journey was to help people understand that the situation "could have a real ripple effect down the road" and hoped that his video essay "will be one small incremental step in that."
"The people here in my experience are really extraordinary people, and they're dealing with sometimes some extraordinarily difficult circumstances, sometimes even horrific circumstances," he said. "But I don't see them as victims; I see them as people who are doing extraordinary things and who deserve to have some attention paid to what they're doing. I want to kind of bring people along, and if they might not tune into this unless it was some celebrity involved in it -- either because they're interested in the celebrity or want to see the celebrity make a fool of himself -- then so be it."
"People should see actors on television doing charitable work and be suspicious of that, and at the end of watching this I hope they find themselves less suspicious of that and more interested in this and perhaps involved in it," he said.
Since 1998, a decade of fighting, combined with disease and starvation, continues to take approximately 45,000 lives each month in Congo. As Affleck found in his travels, one in five children die before reaching the age of five, and those who survive are often forced to serve as child soldiers for militia groups who continue to terrorize the population.
"I think the more painful something is, the more you want to distance yourself from it," Affleck said. "I think the hard part is actually to let some of that go and to realize that when you see some of these images of people suffering in some way or another, to kind of remember that these are people who are in fact just in different circumstance than you are, but that are kind of dealing with [those circumstances] in a pretty brave and enduring way."
"As I go there I see that as a pretty remarkable and courageous thing."
Watch Ben Affleck's video essay from Congo Thursday on "Nightline" at 11:35 p.m. ET