Audiences of CW’s Reign know Rachel Skarsten as Queen Elizabeth I, the fierce scarlet-haired British monarch. Off-screen, the actress holds court as a change-maker.
“I think sometimes it’s overwhelming for people to think about changing the world because there is so much left to do to make it better,” says the actress, who counts among her causes the Children’s Book Bank and NightLight, an international support network for survivors of human trafficking. “But small actions ripple out and reach farther than you could even imagine.”
As a board member of the Nyantende Foundation—an Ontario non-profit organization that her brother Jonathan helped establish in 2010 while a student at Queen’s University—Rachel is doing her small part to help children in the Democratic Republic of Congo forge their future.
Through donations made to the foundation’s education fund, the cost of enrollment into academic institutions is supplemented for youth living in Bukavu and the Greater Nyantende area. Today, in partnership with 17 regional schools and universities, the charity has empowered 217 students with education.
A passionate advocate for equal rights, Rachel speaks with infectious enthusiasm when sharing her motivation. “I’ve been lucky enough to grow up in a country where education is a right, but in so many places in the world, it’s a privilege—especially for women. This incredible privilege—the gift of knowledge—has never been lost on me,” she says. “When you are fully educated, you’re armed in a different way. It changes everything. I think ignorance breeds everything bad; it breeds intolerance; it breeds cruelty; it breeds fear and then hate.”
The Nyantende Foundation is steadily growing, boasting chapters at Queen’s and McGill. With plans to expand across the country’s campuses, Rachel is confident in the possibility of a future where every child has access to education.
Hope is in the results. She recalls the experience she shared with a young man she helped send to university through the foundation. “It was one of the most beautiful moments of my life,” she gushes. “That’s what’s so exciting about kindness in any way. No other accomplishment—nothing—can give you a high like that.
Energized by her endeavors, the actress grips tight to the knowledge that change can begin small—it can begin with helping one person. “I don’t have to change the whole world or move mountains all at once. I just have to start with one.”
Read on to find out why Rachel is happy to be “a single muscle in the greater body of change,” as she makes strides towards closing the education gap.