Alicia Keys and Keep a Child Alive
Superstar takes positive action to combat the physical, social, and economic impacts of HIV.
Alicia Keys, a world-renowned songstress and piano player, uses her global fame to make the world a better place. For years, her soulful voice and lyrics about hope, love, and freedom have inspired fans worldwide. As a classically trained pianist with 15 Grammys, she understands the power of music. She was signed to Columbia Records when she was 15 and has recorded megahits like No One, Empire State of Mind, If I Ain’t Got You, and Girl on Fire. Aside from music, Keys has acted in films such as The Secret Life of Bees and The Nanny Diaries.
Even though Alicia Keys’ powerful voice, undeniable piano skills, and star power are her claim to fame, that’s not the only way she wants to leave her mark on the world. Few people know that she is a human rights activist and a spokesperson for afflicted women and children around the world.
One of Keys’ most pivotal moments was when she traveled to South Africa in 2003. On that trip, sixteen years ago, she was invited to perform a charity concert in Cape Town for MTV. After her concert, she was given a tour around the country as part of MTV’s Staying Alive prevention campaign, an initiative to create a world free of HIV.
While touring the country, Keys noticed that the beauty of the landscapes were overshadowed by a growing HIV/AIDS epidemic in towns and villages. In South Africa, over 7.1 million people are infected with HIV/AIDS. As part of the trip, Keys met survivors of the disease, especially in Soweto, one of the most afflicted provinces in South Africa. Here she saw with her own eyes, the pain and suffering that children, women, and families had to endure due to this epidemic.
At that time, as a 21-year-old songwriter, it was heartbreaking to meet girls who were just 13-years old who traded sex for protection, or orphaned children who had to care for their siblings because they lost parents due to the disease. With the effects of the virus in her face, Keys decided she had to do something for the children. She decided that she had to “Keep a Child Alive.”
Keep a Child Alive
That same year, Keys and AIDS activist, Leigh Blake, founded Keep a Child Alive (KCA) as an emergency response to push life-saving HIV medication to children dying of AIDS in Africa. Antonio Ruiz-Gimenez Jr, Executive Chairman and CEO “believes deeply that no child should be defined by the circumstances in which they were born. Health and opportunity should be a right for every child — not be a privilege held for some”. The non-profit is designed to provide health care, housing, and cultural understanding to those affected by the epidemic in Africa and India. Currently, KCA funds nine grassroots organizations in five countries: Kenya, South Africa, Uganda, Rwanda, and India. KCA serves more than 120,000 affected people each year.
Blake and Keys thought it was important to create a system that not only treated the disease, but one that fought the stigmas associated with it. The founders believed that these subtle changes in treatment and attitude could make a resounding impact on communities. In 2017, the organization introduced music and healing arts into HIV care, and integrated technology to improve health services and connect individuals.
On the Front Lines
Programs offered by KCA are hands-on, working with community-based organizations. Here are brief descriptions of KCA’s programs:
Operation Bobbi Bear is a human rights organization committed to helping children who have been sexually abused. Operating in Amanzimtoti, Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa, the organization rescues and provides safe homes for abused children, works with criminal justice systems for prosecution, educates individuals and communities, and does much more.
Bobbi Bear, a toy, is a non-threatening means for child victims to communicate the nature of the abuse. Reported cases of child sexual abuse has risen 400% in the past nine years. An estimated 51% of adults aged 16 to 45 are HIV positive in Kwa-Zulu Natal. This is the same age group for perpetrators of sexual abuse, putting child victims at risk of contracting HIV.
Members of surrounding communities can visit the Illovo Tree Clinic run by Bobbi Bear staff and volunteers to receive basic health care, clothing, food, resources for HIV/AIDS, and care and support by other members. Operation Bobbi Bear helps children overcome the stress of sexual abuse, but also makes the community aware of the injustices and how to fix them.
Alive Medical Services (AMS) based in Kampala, Uganda offers comprehensive care, prevention, treatment, and support for HIV and other health needs using a holistic approach. AMS provides access to services for maternal and child health care, sexual reproductive health and rights, lab and pharmaceuticals, nutrition, and water purification.
As one of the highest-volume HIV clinics in Uganda, AMS operates 24/7, serving patients with love and dignity. AMS provides free anti-retroviral treatment (ART) to over 13,000 patients each year. Programs offered by AMS include peer-led community outreach that supports and follows up on patients where they live as well as provide support and livelihood groups and youth services.
Ikageng a community-based organization, cares for orphaned and vulnerable children in the area of Soweto, South Africa, providing access to food, clothing, education, healthcare, life-skills training, transportation, and psychological support. Their main focus is to ensure children have every opportunity for success, productivity, and realized potential.
Ikageng promotes social development through professional intervention at individual, family, community, and civic levels by working with departments of education, social development, health, and local authorities. The organization helps improve the quality of children’s lives and promotes creating a safer environment in which to thrive.
Zoëlife, based in Durban, South Africa, focuses on health and personal development for children and their families. The organization develops tools that fill gaps in the systems around them, helping to restore and strengthen support networks. Zoëlife’s work is centered on three main areas starting with the individual, their place in the world, and then their future potential.
Their Kidzalive program addresses childhood chronic diseases in communities by ensuring children with conditions such as HIV, TB, and malnutrition are correctly identified, diagnosed, and supported. The program supports caregivers and works to capacitate health facilities and communities to better serve children and their families.
WE-ACTx for Hope in Kigali, Rwanda has served over 2,500 patients, providing medical care for women and children displaced by the 1994 genocide and also helps rape survivors who contracted HIV. A dedicated team of Rwandan health care providers operate local chapters with the support of WE-ACTx, grassroots community partners, and Rwandan government health agencies.
Their youth support group program serves 600 children and teens facilitated by indigenous young adult leaders from the WE-ACTx clinic. WE-ACTx also organizes income generating cooperatives, an annual youth summer camp, and yoga classes for both children and adults.
Family Care Clinic (FCC) in Mombasa, Kenya offers comprehensive, state-of-the-art pediatric HIV services to children and young people. It provides support services to over 1,600 children and families.
Started as a pilot program within the Coast General Hospital, it became the inspiration for Keep a Child Alive. The early success of the Mombasa model proved that keeping a child alive was not only morally imperative, but also an ideal that was achievable. FCC is proud to serve as a model program and leader in pediatric HIV care within Kenya and elsewhere.
Saahasee, which means “being courageous,” is the Society for Empowerment of Women & Children operating in poor urban areas of Mumbai, New Delhi, and Pune, India. Their mission is to empower dignity and justice while promoting equality and equal opportunity. They offer programs focused on micro-enterprise, water and sanitation, skill development, social enterprise, TB and HIV intervention, and disability inclusion. By leveraging all their interventions, women are empowered to gain participation, interdependence, sustainability, and the enhancement and sharing of knowledge. Partnerships with community-based organizations help bring positive impact on community economics, health, education, housing, and infrastructure, resulting in improved quality of life.
Through its Community Reinforcement Education project, children in slums receive quality education, develop sustainable livelihoods, build life skills, and learn entrepreneurship. As a channel to encourage saving money in banks for future use, the project enhances the lives and livelihoods of street and working children.
The Community Health Promotion and Management project provides a broad range of services such as community worker training, family-based awareness creation, and education referrals to specialists and hospitals. Other services include facilitating community-based access to quality health services for managing reproductive and children’s health, TB, HIV/AIDS, and substance abuse. These services impact the lives of over 500,000 families.
Prayas is a non-governmental, non-profit organization based in in Pune, India. Members work to protect and promote public interest in general and especially the interests of disadvantaged sections of society. Their areas of work include energy, health, resources and livelihoods, and learning and parenthood.
In the area of health, Prayas serves HIV/AIDS affected communities in Pune and around Maharashtra, providing subsidized clinical care, counseling, and related services. Their belief is that if equipped with information, sound analysis, and necessary skills, even the disadvantaged can overcome their problems and build their own future.
Sahara Aalhad Centre for Residential Care and Rehabilitation is a peer-led organization in Pune, India. They work with vulnerable and marginalized communities affected by HIV/AIDS, TB, and substance abuse, providing outreach and advocacy activities as well as medical services. The organization is committed to serving the poorest of the poor, in the belief that every person has the right to treatment, care, support, and a life of dignity and security.
Sahara also provides access to services such as nutrition, counseling, educational support, psychosocial support, mentoring, and advocacy. Through its supportive environment, individuals can recover and become empowered productive members of society.
KCA is one of the few organizations focused on ending pediatric AIDS and has been at the forefront of the crisis for the past 15 years. It continues its mission to create awareness and facilitate solutions to make the world HIV/AIDs free. The organization’s family-focused approach engages communities and their clinics to effect lasting change.
By providing medical treatment to those who are poor, uneducated, sick, or of different sexual orientations, KCA is knocking down barriers, creating a better future for survivors, encouraging the next generation to be virus-free, and tackling the biggest epidemic of our time.
Some upcoming plans include forming a KCA team for the upcoming New York City Marathon, rebuilding a clinic in Rwanda, expanding Operation Bobbi Bear in Malawi and South Africa.
For more information and to find out how you can help, visit keepachildalive.org.