How “Council Of Dads” Star Sarah Wayne Callies Is Giving Back This Holiday

Sarah Wayne CalliesPhoto Credit: Sarah Wayne Callies/IRC

On Saturday, December 14th, the LEGO Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to childhood education, set up a one-day pop-up installation inside at the Holiday Market at The Oculus with the intention of sending messages of hope to children who have been impacted by the humanitarian crisis in East Africa. An according to attending actress Sarah Wayne Callies (whose credits include playing Sara Tancredi in Fox’s Prison Break, Lori Grimes in AMC’s The Walking Dead and Katie Bowman in USA Network’s Colony as well as NBC’s upcoming series “Council of Dads” ), the purpose of the installation was not only to bring encouragement and support to children, but also to shine a spotlight on the lack of access to proper education experienced by displaced children of the “forgotten crisis” in East Africa. This installation is one, but four are happening across the world as sister pop-ups took place in London and Copenhagen, as well as one which will be in Geneva next week for the first Global Refugee ForumWe sat down with the 42-year-old actress to discuss her work with the foundation, why giving back is so important, her upcoming show and whether deciding to leave The Walking Dead (it was her decision!) was really the right choice after all.

Sarah Wayne CalliesPhoto Credit: DFree/

Why did you decide to get involved in this announcement?

Because education for a kid who is a refugee can be a lifeline and make the difference between losing an entire generation and turning them into people who can lift their communities up from the inside. Without education we’re squandering massive human capital – we can be better than that.

What is the “forgotten crisis” in East Africa and why is this issue so urgent?

There are a record number of displaced people around the world – over 70 million, half of which – 35 million – are children. The war in Syria and the crisis at the US border tend to be the crises that immediately come to mind, but the majority of the 3 plus million refugees living in East Africa have been displaced for as long as three decades. This means that many of these children spend their entire childhood not only living as a refugee but often without a chance to an education.

Can you explain what learning through play is for our readers? Why is it important?

Play is the most natural way for children to learn and develop skills required for holistic development. It provides comfort, helps kids overcome trauma and builds resilience. And it is also a reminder of what it means to be a kid!

Can you describe the work that The LEGO Foundation, IRC, and partners are doing to help address the problem?

The IRC and the LEGO Foundation is bringing the power of learning through play to children impacted by crises in East Africa. This new initiative, PlayMatters will bring the power of learning through play to nearly one million children, teachers and caregivers. It will improve education outcomes for children and reach primary caregivers and teachers, who will receive training to engage in learning through play with children who have faced adversities.

Sarah Wayne CalliesPhoto Credit: Markus Wissmann/

What’s your “message of hope” for children impacted by the refugee crisis?

You are not forgotten. We see you, and we will do our best to lift you up until you are what you were meant to be – safe and equal and dignified.

On a personal level, what are you teaching your children about giving back?

That service is a responsibility. We have everything, those of us who live in health and safety. I remember [actor Jon Bernthal] telling me that, one night he had to evacuate his home at like 3 am because of a forest fire and he looked in his truck, saw his wife and kids and dogs were safe, and realized that everything he needed was in the truck. He’s right- for those of us who’s kids and spouses are safe – it’s on us to make sure those in danger get what they need.

Now, on a professional level, your new series in debuting in February. What can you tell us about “Council of Dads”? Why will viewers want to tune in?

We redefine the contemporary family – we bring everyone in. It’s not about blood, it’s about love, about who shows up… and I don’t know about you, but that reflects my experience. Families are deeper and more complex and include more kinds of folks than we’ve given them credit for on TV. It’s a healing show in a lot of ways – we’re going to make you cry, but not out of despair. We’re going to make you laugh, but not out of judgment. It’s a hell of a ride.

Sarah Wayne CalliesPhoto Credit: Monique Jaques/IRC

How has filming “Council of Dads” differed from “The Walking Dead,” “Colony” and “Prison Break”?

It’s a totally grounded show – there’s no device – no zombies or aliens or government conspiracy. It’s people living deeply human lives with all the pain and joy and mystery and chaos of a real life. You’re going to want to live in this family…. well. I do, anyway.

Was one of those shows a personal favorite for you? Why? What made the experience so special?

Shows are like children. They’re all your favorite.

Do you ever regret convincing “The Walking Dead” writers to kill your character off? Why or why not?

Nope. It served the story. That’s my job.

What to you is the greatest luxury in life and why?

Time. There’s never enough of it. Also rubies. I love them.

Sarah Wayne CalliesPhoto Credit: Monique Jaques/IRC