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A chance meeting with an AIDS orphan inspired singer and entertainer Patti Boulaye to use her celebrity to make a difference to her home continent.

A chance meeting with an AIDS orphan inspired singer and entertainer Patti Boulaye to use her celebrity to make a difference to her home continent by setting up the charity, Support for Africa.ReConnect Africa speaks exclusively to the Nigerian-born international star.

RCA: What inspired you to set up Support for Africa?

PB: I conceived the idea of Support for Africa at the end of 2000 and established it in 2001. I set it up for many reasons. Over the years, I had served on a celebrity committee for an HIV charity. On one particular visit to Nigeria in 2000, I was taken to an orphanage called the Victory Children’s Centre and met a little boy called Victor, after whom the centre was named. Victor’s mother had abandoned him when she discovered his status. He was 1 year old and dying of AIDS, with only 2 weeks to live. I decided then that instead of going to governments for solutions, I could do something myself for this little boy. Victor died but, with 60 others in that home alone, I decided that there were many others I could help to save.

Realizing the size of the problem, I wondered why we could not address this through dispensaries. Growing up in Nigeria, we had dispensaries run by missionaries and others that provided basic health care. When I tried to find some of these dispensaries, I soon realized that none existed. I decided that I was going to replace them and started raising money to build the first clinic.


Harnessing Support

I asked (former British Prime Minster) John Major if he would be Patron of the idea and he agreed - which showed that he had confidence in me! Within 2 years, we had built the first clinic. I hired the Royal Albert Hall in London and put on a show that grossed £70,000. We found a piece of land in Asaba in Delta State, Nigeria, and built the first clinic with the funds raised.

From the beginning, we tried to get the community to take control of the clinic and to make is self-sufficient. This was tough, as they had become reliant on the charity, which was not a sustainable solution. I realized that if this were to work, I would have to build a second clinic and motivate them to compete for our scarce resources. We learned from this dependency risk, and for the second clinic, we changed our approach.


With corporate sponsorship, we were able to build a second clinic in Port Harcourt, River State which I am proud to say is completely self sufficient now. It is not only a health centre for HIV Aids, malaria and other infectious diseases, but also a community centre. Women are taught a trade such as craftwork and given support to promote their products. They then give a percentage of their profits to the upkeep of the centre. They have also raised enough money to build a flat for student doctors. When we visited it the clinic last year, it was so amazing to see all this that I cried.

We have now built a third clinic in Bayelsa State, which opened in June 2005. This is already showing signs of moving into self-sufficiency and following the model of the second.

RCA: What have been your major highlights since you started the charity?

“Although we are only 300 people, the magnitude of people we work with and the impact of what we do is so much.”

PB:Since I started this venture, the major highlights have included John Major saying yes to being its Patron and being the only charity allowed to fly our charity flag at the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. And, of course, the opening of each clinic is always a highlight and spiritually rewarding.

RCA: What impact has Support for Africa’s projects made so far within the local communities and how sustainable do you think this impact will be?

PB: The impact the charity has made is that - thank God - others are now thinking of doing the same for their villages, which is what I want to happen. It is wonderful to have Nigerians focusing on access to rural health. The fact that the projects are becoming self sustainable is fantastic, as it is seeing the back of the begging bowl mentality. The biggest programme we are going to fund is de-worming for children and dealing with river blindness. Ours is not a mobile clinic, it is part of the community. The community can hire the clinic to use for social functions like weddings, which helps to create wages for the doctors and for the centre. It also means that they have somewhere they can go and talk in confidence about HIV, which is important. We can give counseling, advice and education although we don’t yet have the resources to treat that disease. The impact of having medical care is incredible – you couldn’t put a price on that.

RCA: What would you say have been your main challenges to date?


PB: Trying to change the dependency mindset! It has been difficult and there are still people who think that seeing a celebrity name means we have loads of money! I run the charity without any paid staff or facilities and with only a phone and a computer. Our Vice-President, who is based in Nigeria, is also unpaid and she travels around and supervises the building of the centres. However, she finds it very rewarding and sees it as a blessing to do this work. I do not think there is another charity like ours.

RCA: How do you feel that your celebrity has either helped or hindered your goals in establishing Support for Africa?

PB:It has helped in the sense that sometimes I feel that God gave me this success for a reason. My mother always told me that He would let me know when He was ready. She was right because if I had not been a regular supporter of the Royal Albert Hall, I would never have had the opportunity to access this amazing venue. I have been blessed with success and I am trying to give something back.

The hindrance comes when people hear my name and think I am making millions of pounds from this. For example, some people thought that I earned millions from the charity event when, in fact, I paid for everything!

RCA: How do you combine your career with the demands of running a charity?

PB: It’s one day at a time. My family tells me off for sitting up working until the middle of the night but God does not give you anything you can’t handle. There are times when it gets on top of me but it’s no problem. I have grown-up children now who help when they can; if I have something I need to type, my daughter is often there to help. However, you always have to remember that you can always say ‘no’.

RCA: Patti, as a successful artist, parent and social entrepreneur, what lessons would you share with other African women who have to balance career and other commitments?

PB: The word ‘no’ is a good start! You have to prioritise. Sometimes you should not do something and you just have to go by your gut instinct. Women – especially today - have to be logical in our thinking but we should never discard that gut instinct. Learning to take a break and doing everything with a smile and from your heart means that it is never a burden.


RCA: How can ReConnect Africa’s readers become involved with or lend some assistance to Support for Africa?

PB: People can help in different ways, depending on their talents and on what they do. We have been able to harness a lot of goodwill to keep our costs down in building the centres. People are constantly shocked at how we have managed to keep our costs contained! People can come and work with us or can sponsor or donate funds to help us with building a centre.

If someone can donate a piece of land in a village, we can work together to identify resources in kind and cash – some cement, labour, whatever it takes!

For further information about how to contribute to Support for Africa, visit www.supportforafrica.org

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