On December 1st, World AIDS Day this year, Keep a Child Alive proudly launched our Digital Death Campaign. Created by the compassionate mind of Lisa Topol and her team at TBWA\Chiat\Day, endless hours outside of their normal work day were spent working to arrest the public's attention in a very difficult time for fundraising. What they did not anticipate because they are kind-hearted is the immense apathy that exists toward the poor black people who populate the Continent we love: Africa.
When recently interviewed for CNN I was asked "You have been fighting AIDS for so long, aren't you sad that you are still doing it 25 years later?" I am so sad that I still am. There isn't a vaccine yet, African parents and professionals are dying slow, painful deaths in front of their children, children are heading households, grandmothers are caring for numerous grandchildren in their later years - it's a disaster of epic proportions. And let's not forget that these people are our ancestors. Every single one of us walks about with African DNA in our body.
But the American people are skeptical. They are too often asked to pay for services their Government should fund and asked to sit by while the rich get richer, the gap gets bigger and the banks, financial institutions and their higher echelon staff get paid bonuses from our taxes. The powers that be seem to want to reward the rich instead of educate the poor.
It's not surprising that Americans would be tired of having to fix the worlds' problems. But the tragedy is that we could if we wanted to. We (the United States) are the richest nation on earth. If only we would resist war, campaign for peace and stop electing megalomaniacs who take us to war on a whim killing millions in our name and recognize the danger we are in because of extreme poverty in other nations. If all of the costs of war in this last 10 years had been channeled into the eradication of extreme poverty, what a safe and equitable world this would be for our children.
Last week, I watched George Clooney in Sudan on Nightline. Do you really think we could have watched an hour long documentary on the genocide in Sudan on network TV without George? At this point every charity or humanitarian institution needs a celebrity to get media attention to fundraise for their cause. And every celebrity is bombarded every week with hundreds of desperate requests from charities to have them support their organization.
Personally I think celebrities/artists are a great way to help the public understand an issue - there isn't any 'university speak' for those who cannot follow it, no political bias and no election to win.
The woman we owe all of our success to at Keep a Child Alive is Alicia Keys. In the past 7 years, she has raised $27 million for our organization, which we have honestly channeled into community-based clinics, orphan care centers and sexual abuse organizations in Africa allowing them to care for as many children and adults in need as possible. 10 centers in 5 countries receive our ongoing funding to save lives and bring human dignity to those left behind after AIDS deaths. One young woman -- over 300 thousand lives touched and changed for ever.
Would we really know and be as activated about Global Warming without Al Gore? Would we know as much about the Sudan without George Clooney? Would we know as much about Haiti today without Sean Penn or Wyclef Jean? Would we care about Refugees without Angelina? Would we care as much about Africa without Bono? And would we know about the issues of the world and in our own backyard without the daily missives of Oprah Winfrey? I declare not. And AIDS? Look at this recent report, a travesty of justice for those suffering through the worst health crisis of our time.
Disasters are great fodder for news shows because they have "live" footage that the networks and cable shows can show over and over again. But with AIDS, we don't have any "live disaster" footage. Just long, slow agonizing deaths over months. We don't have buildings falling on top of people - we have people buried on top of people instead. We have parents dying in fear that their orphaned children will be taken as child soldiers or raped or trafficked because of the ruthless among them. We have children who are left to survive and are stigmatized in their communities. I have seen 9 year olds scavenging for food, or allowing themselves to be raped for money to feed their siblings. This is where hatred of the West breeds. Where are we when they need us?
Born and raised in London my hero is and was always Sir Bob Geldof. I will always remember Bob on UK TV begging people to contribute to Africa. "Just send the f------ money", he would say exasperated, shocking the anchor.
We are getting some flack from the media because we did not raise a million dollars in a day from our latest campaign. We never meant to raise a million in one day. It's impossible unless you are doing a telethon for a huge unexpected disaster like the earthquake in Haiti. But Justin Timberlake, Lady Gaga, the Kardashians, Usher, Janelle Monae, Jennifer Hudson, Ryan Seacrest and all the rest were with us in the struggle. They ignored the negativity and held fast and true for this everyday disaster for the exact amount of time we suggested at the onset. And even in spite of our herculean efforts to save lives and educate the public about AIDS, people still want to criticize and be negative. And while they lie, people die.
15 million African AIDS orphans will get angry one day if we don't help or guide them and act to stop them from being pilfered and being raised by extremists. And 15 million AIDS orphans are worth fighting for, don't you think?
Imagine this is your life. You know you must walk a mile to the only tap in your village and there is no electricity or food. People jeer as you walk down the street because you have no detergent to keep your clothes clean and they are filthy and torn. You are discriminated against and stigmatized. No one is caring for you. You have no toys and you have no parents. But your siblings need food, so you beg. Or worse you give your body to someone who will pay so that you can feed your family. You remember your parents and wish they were still here but this disease has wiped all your grown relatives out. You are on your own. You are nine years old.
Can you honestly say anything we are dealing with in the US of A is worse than this x 15 million?
We don't think so.