The Hollywood/Africa axis has never been greater. A-listers are not only using their influence, they’re rolling up their sleeves and lending a hand to help solve the continent’s devastating problems.
The good news: Charlize Theron, Alicia Keys, Ben Affleck, Jeffrey Wright, George Clooney, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Brad Pitt, Edward Norton and Sigourney Weaver are all seeing real results for their efforts.
In 2007, Theron, a U.N. Messenger of Peace, launched the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project. The mission: to help prevent HIV among African youth by supporting community-based orgs. The program has provided funding to Mpilonhle, a community-based South African non-profit that provides mobile health services to secondary schools.
“And the newly created Home Field Advantage complements the mobile health programs, and includes clean water sources, soccer fields, sanitary toilet blocks, laundry facilities and school food gardens,” thesp says.
In South Africa alone, more than 300,000 people die of AIDS each year. An estimated 5.6 million are living with HIV or AIDS. Has progress been made?
“Definitely,” Theron says. “HIV prevention among youth is not a quick fix. But the youth are talking about sexual health openly with peers, which is something that wasn’t happening five years ago.”
Keys is another powerful force in the fight against AIDS. Launched in Kenya in 2002, Keep a Child Alive provides life-saving AIDS treatment, care, nutrition, support services to children and families affected by HIV/AIDS in Africa and India.
Only 44% of the 15 million people who need treatment have access to it. Keep a Child Alive works to increase access by providing free treatment through the clinics they support.
Wright, co-founder and chairman of Taia Peace Foundation, first traveled to Sierra Leone in May 2001, toward the end of the country’s civil war. Through a hybrid of commercial and philanthropic investment, the org and its sister company, Taia Lion Resources, have built a new model for mining in Africa that focuses equally on mineral rights and human rights. “The organization raises funds to assist local communities in addressing development challenges that they’ve identified as most urgent and also provides these communities a commercial partner in co-developing the natural resource potential of their land,” he says.
Founded by Affleck in 2009, the Eastern Congo Initiative is a U.S.-based advocacy and grant-making org involved solely on working with and for the people of eastern Congo. “We fundraise in the U.S. and the money goes directly to the grass-roots organizations,” says Affleck, who has testified before Congress.
Not on Our Watch focuses global attention and resources towards putting an end to mass atrocities. Co-founded by Clooney, Damon, Cheadle and Pitt, the org generates humanitarian assistance and encourages governing bodies to take immediate action in such places as Darfur, Sudan.
On May 16 Clooney, the NAACP’s Ben Jealous and others were arrested during a protest at the Sudanese Embassy in Washington, D.C. “We are here really to ask two very simple questions,” Clooney said at the time. “The first question is something immediate — and immediately, we need humanitarian aid to be allowed into the Sudan before it becomes the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. The second thing is for the government in Khartoum to stop randomly killing its own innocent men, women and children. Stop raping them and stop starving them. That’s all we ask.”
Ed Norton, through his Crowdrise.com fundraising platform, advocates for the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust. “It’s a fantastic community conservation effort working the Maasai people of Kenya to preserve their ecosystem and create sustainable benefits for local people,” he says.
Sigourney Weaver has been involved with the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund Intl. since her 1988 film “Gorillas in the Mist.”
“I wanted to do what I could to save the mountain gorillas,” Weaver says. “Dian had initially envisioned the fund as a fund to save gorillas. But our vision has changed. We know that animals can only survive where people are not under too much stress. So our vision is of gorillas and people thriving together in sustainable forests.”
The org, founded by Fossey in 1978, not only works on poaching, habitat destruction, disease transmission, animal trafficking, but also supports people so they don’t participate in those activities.
“Often people are ill with the same parasites that gorillas are, so we’ve built clinics, and encouraged people to get heath care so that we can reduce the number of parasites in the area, in whoever has them.
“After Dian died in 1985, we had to understand that we could only work in concert with the Rwandan government. We’re also tying to work with the Congolese government — to work on these things that not only affect the gorillas, but the people and the habitat.”
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The Variety Guide to Entertainment Philanthropy