OWN
07/30/2014 10:33 am ET Updated Aug 01, 2014

How Kendall Ciesemier's Selfless Crusade Has Made A $950,000 Impact In Africa (VIDEO)

Kendall Ciesemier was 11 years old when an hour-long television show changed the course of her life. That's when the Illinois native watched the ChristmasKindness episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show," where she saw Oprah and her staff travel to South Africa to bring Christmas joy to 50,000 schoolchildren and orphans devastated by the AIDS epidemic.

Hearing the children's heartbreaking stories touched Kendall instantly, and she was determined to help as well. "She came downstairs with an envelope stuffed with $360 of her own money," recalls her mother Ellery in the above video. "She said, 'I'm adopting an AIDS orphan.'"

All $360 of Kendall's life savings went to Banite, an 8-year-old girl in Mauritania. But as Banite's life was getting better, Kendall's was beginning to fade.

Born with a rare liver disease called biliary atresia, Kendall had experienced a lifetime of medical challenges. A few months after sponsoring Banite, Kendall underwent two liver transplants, and, from her hospital bed, asked her loved ones to donate to children in Africa rather than giving her gifts. Kendall's fundraising took off from there.

By 2007, she had raised $100,000 and founded her very own organization called Kids Caring 4 Kids. Others were starting to take notice -- including President Bill Clinton. During his appearance at Kendall's school assembly that year, the president shocked Kendall by inviting her to join him on stage. He told the nervous teen that he was surprising her with a day off and taking her to meet Oprah and appear on an episode of "The Oprah Show."

Sitting in between Oprah and President Clinton later that day, Kendall revealed her next big fundraising goal: raising $1 million for AIDS orphans in Africa. That's when she received another big surprise.

"Kendall, a man who came here with me today wants me to tell you that he is going to give you a half a million dollars," President Clinton told her, as the audience erupted in applause.

In the seven years since appearing on that show, Kendall has raised $950,000 for Kids Caring 4 Kids. "Oprah: Where Are They Now?" recently caught up with the college student from her dorm room at Georgetown University to find out what else has happened once the cameras stopped rolling. In addition to those continued fundraising efforts, Kendall says that she still keeps in touch with the former president.

"He wrote me back and forth a few letters, and I wrote him when I was going to go to Africa for the first time and asked him for advice," she says. "He comes on campus at least once a year, so every time he comes, I get to say Hi."

Kendall, who has an internship with HuffPost Live this summer, has her sights set on a career in journalism -- a dream that stems back to the "Oprah" episode she watched when she was just 11. "When I think back on Kids Caring 4 Kids and why I started it, it was because of watching an 'Oprah' show, watching the story of a 13-year-old girl who had lost both of her parents. That changed my whole life. I just really want to be able to do that for other people," she explains.

Though she still struggles with her health, Kendall is determined to keep moving forward. "I want to be certain I'm living a life that has an impact," she says. "That's a really powerful concept, to know that even in our most powerless times, we can be powerful for other people."

"Oprah: Where Are They Now?" airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on OWN.

Like Us On Facebook |
Follow Us On Twitter

ALSO ON HUFFPOST:

PHOTO GALLERY
HuffPost
BEFORE YOU GO
QUIZ: How Well Do You Know 'The Oprah Winfrey Show'?
PHOTO GALLERY
QUIZ: How Well Do You Know 'The Oprah Winfrey Show'?

CONVERSATIONS