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Joaquin Phoenix, Donna Karan, and Salman Rushdie Urge Ubuntu at Urban Center

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If there are any people on earth who can teach us about the lessons learned from living in an unjust society, while seeking every opportunity to reinstate core human rights and caring values, it's the people of South Africa.

A group of South Africans, and their friends and supporters were out in full force at the Urban Zen Center in downtown New York, this past week to celebrate, A Spring Evening, by raising funds for organizations that help South African children.

With Joaquin Phoenix, Donna Karan, and Salman Rushdie as co-hosts of star-studded attendees including Spike Jonze, Michael Stipe, Wynonna Judd, Karen Elson, Rain Phoenix, Estelle, Ty Pennington, Erin Fetherston, Waris Ahluwalia, Anjelique Kidjo, Zac Hason, Mickey Sumner, Mark Seliger, and Jimmy Choo, the event launched the New Growth Partnership between the Ubuntu Education Fund and The Lunchbox Fund, which provide life-saving food, health care, education, and mentoring to orphaned and vulnerable children in the townships of Port Elizabeth and Johannesburg, South Africa.

These initiatives are inspired by the South African concept of Ubuntu which according to Bishop Desmond Tutu evokes the truth that:

"You can't exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can't be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality - Ubuntu -- you are known for your generosity.

We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity."

"We talk about it, they live it," said Donna Karan, the famed designer and founder of the Urban Zen Center. "Going to Africa changed my life."

Karan pointed to Topaz Page-Green, founder of the The Lunchbox Fund and Jacob Lief, founder of the Ubuntu Fund, and told the guests. "If anyone needs mentorship in how to do philanthropy, these people are the real deal. The Lunchbox Fund and the Ubuntu Education Fund support a new generation of global leaders. If anyone is looking to make change in communities anywhere in the world, these two models of excellence are there be followed."

Green and Lief met on a New York subway (on the Six line) and formed a partnership committed to that change.

From her experience of growing up in a country riddled by poverty, racism, oppression, and violent clashes, Topaz Page-Green forged a determination to provide new opportunities for a better life to the children of South Africa. The Lunchbox Fund provides a nutritious lunch -- which is often their only meal of the day -- to impoverished and at-risk students to help them attend school in South African townships.

"We help children who have been abused, raped, impoverished, and left at the bottom of the barrel and we turn their lives around," Lief said. The Ubuntu Fund provides in-depth quality health services and educational resources to help children reach higher education and employment. To date, 24,000 South African children have been served. Recently, Lief spoke to someone who believed that intervening in the lives of children was not a "sustainable" undertaking. Lief countered, "There's nothing more sustainable than investing in a child every day of their lives."

Their joint New Growth Partnership will focus on healthy nutrition as foundational to the next generation, and as a vehicle for positive social change. With performances by the band, Roots, and The Gift Horse Project with Karen Elson, Zac Hanson and Rain Phoenix, the event also featured a sell-out raffle.

You can now support Ubuntu via your cell phone. Your $5 donation can be made by simply texting the word 'UBUNTU' to 20222 with more information provided on the Ubuntu Fund website.

You can watch a moving documentary about the Lunchbox Fund here.

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