AIDS is the leading cause of death in Africa, with statistics showing that roughly 6,000 Africans die each day from this disease. When Dr. Shirley A. Harris went to visit her sister Folami Harris in Johannesburg, South Africa, in April 2000, she was disturbed and unnerved by her sibling’s account of the pervasiveness of the AIDS virus and the country’s lack of resources and inability to educate the population about its prevention. Simple measures, such as the use of condoms, were not even considered.
“Seventy percent of the world’s AIDS cases are in Africa. I didn’t realize the impact of AIDS until I went there myself,” says Harris, a gastroenterologist with DeKalb Gastroenterology Associates in Atlanta.
Harris, her sister, and several other professionals immediately set out to make a difference. At the same time, they’ve created a way to empower the average consumer to also get involved in the fight against AIDS.
On June 1, 2000, Harris, her sister, and another concerned friend, Annemarie Eades, founded Art AIDS Africa, a nonprofit organization that uses the money from art sales to support organizations fighting HIV/AIDS on the African continent.
The other volunteer board members include Dawn Warner, Dr. Janet Kendrick, Dr. Lisa Robbins, Sharolyn Grant, Deborah Bradford, and Patrice Hickman.
“This is hard work and a bit of a challenge, since all of us board members are full-time professionals,” admits Harris. “None of us have ever been involved in retail or international work.”
Art AIDS Africa buys traditional art from artisans and craft cooperatives in the poorest sections of Africa and brings it back to the United States for sale. Every time consumers purchase a piece of artwork, their dollars are used to benefit AIDS victims. All profits and donations are sent directly to individual groups and organizations that sponsor HIV/AIDS programs in Africa.
Because art is bought specifically from cooperatives, Art AIDS Africa is also creating financial opportunities for local artists. “We are assisting them with employment,” explains Harris. “We would also like to help create new cooperatives.”
Art ranges in price from $5 to $700 and is sold on the Website (www.artaid safrica.org), at private shows, and at arts festivals.
Since its inception, Art AIDS Africa has raised more than $20,000 in sales and donations, including $12,000 in unrestricted grants from the founders and pharmaceutical companies Pfizer, TAP, Novartis, and Astra-Zeneca. The first grant was sent to Diepsloots, near Johannesburg, which is the poorest town with the highest number of HIV/AIDS cases, to build a $10,000 AIDS prevention center called Vuselela Ulwazil Wakho Drop-in Center.
In addition, the organization has donated food, clothing, toiletries, medicine, and medical supplies to an orphanage in Johannesburg and hospital clinic in Zambia.
Art AIDS Africa is also constantly looking for volunteers. Those interested in helping to stop this deadly disease should contact it via the Website.
African American organizations focusing on AIDS:
Contact these groups to find out how you can help in the fight against this deadly disease.
Art AIDS Africa
The eighth conference (October 25-27 in Memphis) will focus on the fight against AIDS.