Lange Speaks of Horrors in Congo War

08/14/2003 AT 10:35 AM EDT

Recalling her recent four-day humanitarian visit to the war-torn eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Oscar winner Jessica Lange tells PEOPLE that "there was no way to prepare myself for what I saw."

Lange, 54, the newly appointed UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, visited hospitals, clinics and camps in order to highlight the plight of women and girls -- some as young as 9, others as old as 70 -- affected as a result of the conflict.

"Sometimes just raping them and using them as slaves is not enough for these militia," she says. "Some of the girls we spoke to were in terrible shape because they had been punctured with sticks or knives. There's terrible mutilation. You can't even begin to comprehend the atrocities and the brutality."

According to UNICEF, the conflict in DRC, which has claimed an estimated 3.3 million lives since 1998, is one of the world's worst humanitarian crises. Women and girls are raped during military operations, allegedly for "supporting the enemy" and to bring fear and shame to their communities. Close to 30 percent of rape victims test positive for HIV.

Lange hopes her visit will raise awareness, and she plans to set up a fund to help give victims a future by helping them finish school and train in a profession.

How can someone thousands of miles away help? Lange suggests petitioning Congress, volunteering or donating money. Cost per month to provide schooling for a child: $3.

"You could put an awful lot of children through school for a small amount of money," Lange said.

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