Whitney Johnson & her "boys"


Whitney Johnson & her "boys"

Whitney Johnson & her “boys”

When Sandy Hook happened, the headlines wept for the 20 murdered children. We all wept. But who is weeping for the millions of young people, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, dying at the hands of a serial killer on a rampage for 30 years?

Ubuntu Africa is. And not just crying. Making a difference in the lives of afflicted young people, particularly though not exclusively in Africa.

Ubuntu Africa is the latest addition on the Telluride AIDS Benefit’s short list of nonprofit beneficiaries in the business of prevention education and helping people of all ages living with HIV/AIDS.

According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 3.4 million children were living with HIV at the end of 2011, 91% of them in sub-Saharan Africa, most of whom acquired HIV from their HIV-infected mothers during pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding. The Stephen Lewis Foundation says that of the 16.6 million children (aged 0–17) who have lost one or both parents to AIDS, 14.8 million are in sub-Saharan Africa. But only 21% of HIV-positive children in the region in need of antiretroviral treatment were receiving it in 2010. Adult and child deaths in 2010 due to AIDS-related illnesses: 1.8 million worldwide, 1.2 million of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa.

As the definition of the world shrinks through telecommunications and tragedy, countries become communities like Telluride, with different constituencies but similar challenges. AIDS is one problem we all share. Yes, still. The Telluride AIDS Benefit is a model nonprofit: the organization asks for very little in monetary support from the greater Telluride region, but puts Telluride on the world map in a good way: TAB’s welcomed embrace extends from the Front Range all the way to Africa.

TAB’s relationships in Africa began in 1999, when it teamed up with the African Mayors Initiative for Community Action on AIDS at the Local Level (AMICAALL) and the United Nations Development Program in a pilot project utilizing a “sister city” approach to combating overwhelming odds. Over the years, the Telluride AIDS Benefit  has maintained ties with Manzini, though under a different umbrella. Another TAB beneficiary is the Ethiopian Family Fund.

And now Ubuntu Africa.

Ubuntu is a name based on an African philosophy which is all about the connection among all human beings. “I am because we are” is a phrase commonly associated with the philosophy. Ubuntu is based on mutual support and sharing what you can to help others.

“Ubuntu [is] that profound African sense that we are only human through the humanity of other human beings,” explained Nelson Mandela.

Ubuntu Africa’s mission flows organically from that philosophy. The organization is dedicated to improving the health and well-being of HIV-positive children in under-served communities by establishing community-based programs that provide lifesaving health and support services. Ubuntu Africa is also committed to fostering an empowered attitude towards HIV/AIDS among young people worldwide and engaging them to participate in improving conditions for people affected by global health challenges.

Specifically, Ubuntu Africa provides services in Khayelitsha, the second largest township in South Africa, home to an estimated 1 million people. In addition to having high rates of HIV, the Khayelitsha community also faces high levels of poverty, unemployment, and crime. Many HIV-positive people in the community lack easy access to clinics, nutritious food, antiretroviral drugs (ARVs), and indoor plumbing, making their illness particularly difficult to manage.

Kids in Kayelitsha thank Ubuntu Africa

Kids in Kayelitsha thank Ubuntu Africa

There are few support services offered to children in Khayelitsha who are living with HIV. After being diagnosed with the virus, young people in Khayelitsha are often left to bear the burden of the disease completely alone.

How did Ubuntu wind up on TAB’s radar? The answer is six degrees of separation.

Former Telluride local, Kathryn Brown met Doni Belau for lunch to talk about  Doni’s website, Girls Guide to Paris and events in general in the City of Lights which Kittie now calls home.

Doni Belau has worked as fundraiser, activist, and a political and not-for-profit consultant for over 10 years. Her professional involvements have included many political  (from local to Presidential) and issue-based campaigns. She currently serves as a Democratic district leader in Bedford, NY. Doni taught at the Women’s Campaign School at Yale and is a former board member of Riverkeeper, a not-for-profit organization focused on environmental issues. She recently made a right turn in her career, giving up politics to start a website, Girls Guide to Paris, and is co-founder of Ubuntu Africa (UBA).

Doni Belau, co-founder,  Ubuntu Africa

Doni Belau, co-founder, Ubuntu Africa

Kittie Brown is a close friend of Jodie Shike Wright, who has chaired TAB’s board since 2006.The rest is history in the making.

Ubuntu’s founder and CEO is Whitney Johnson, an ardent activist and youth leader. She graduated Colorado College in 2006 with a degree in psychology.

Inspired by her experiences while studying abroad in Cape Town, South Africa, where she volunteered in an orphanage in the nearby township of Khayeltisha, Whitney was drawn to the plight of HIV-positive children. She noticed a gap in services and sustained assistance for children living with HIV and wanted to do what she could to help those young people live long and healthy lives.

Realizing her vision, she established Ubuntu Africa with Doni’s help six years ago when she was only 22 and had just graduated college.

To learn more about Ubuntu, click the “play” button and listen to my interview with Doni & Whitney.


You can link to this video to learn more:

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