Local raises funds creatively for UNICEF

Children of a sick AIDS patient, who Malibu resident Carol Levy was visiting on her recent trip to Uganda, gather around their home. Levy donates her time to UNICEF to help raise funds that go toward helping people in need around the world.

Uganda, one of the two poorest countries in the world, is one area where the international foundation, UNICEF, helps people in villages suffering from AIDS, poverty and lack of clean water.

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

Carol Levy trick-or-treated for UNICEF as a child and wrote her first donation check to a charity when she was 17 years old. Growing up the beneficiary of a significant charitable trust left by a grandfather instilled such instincts early.

Nonetheless, Levy, a Malibu resident, felt herself unqualified when she was asked to join the national board of UNICEF, the international foundation that champions global children’s health, education and civil rights, while in her early 30s.

“Working with UNICEF is like getting your Ph.D. in nonprofits,” Levy said. “I wasn’t sure what I could offer. I’m just a worker bee. But I ended up serving five years.”

When she transitioned out, the board asked her to relaunch a moribund local chapter and Levy ended up taking UNICEF’s goals far beyond the prodigious fundraising for which local chapters are famous.

“Well, Malibu has its fair share of celebrities and people who are in a position to really help,” Levy said, explaining how she tasked her Rolodex of acquaintances to help fund a charitable organization that sees more than 90 percent of its donations going directly to community aid. “They are able to keep administrative costs low because they are such a global institution that they already have centers in place when there are disasters, like the tsunami in Indonesia.”

Levy got creative with her mission, though, forming a “Giving Circle” of like-minded women to raise funds, organizing “giving events” like wine-tasting parties and art shows. “It’s not just about the money, but about creating awareness,” Levy said. “In Africa, one American dollar can go so far.”

It was on a UNICEF-sponsored fact-finding trip to Uganda, however, where Levy met a local UNICEF activist who headed the AIDS program there, Dr. Dorothy Ochola, when it got personal for her. “Dorothy asked me to visit an AIDS foundation that she and her husband started called Sikiliza Leo, which means Act Now in Swahili,” Levy said.

Ochola had set up orphan care centers in two small towns in eastern Uganda, and provides food, medical supplies and counselors to a population rife with HIV. “One clinic morning, there were 26 people waiting to be tested,” Levy recounted. “Six of them were positive.”

AIDS still carries stigma there and local people frequently don’t get tested for fear of results or until symptoms are already evident. Consequently, the citizenry is sicker, poorer and full of orphans who are HIV positive. “Caregivers-usually family members-are incredibly patient and loving,” Levy said. “But, oh, there is suffering there!”

So Levy was galvanized to help more directly. “When you donate to UNICEF, you can stipulate what country or program you want to help, but I wanted to send personal donations to Sikiliza Leo,” she said. She made a few phone calls on her own and was overwhelmed by community offers to help. “Within a couple of days, I had $10,000!” she exclaimed.

And she accompanied the funds back to Uganda, where she photographed the people of the villages of Lwala and Mulanda and carefully itemized all the donations purchased: three latrines for two orphan daycare centers, picnic style table/benches to serve 500 children for classrooms that had no furniture at all, school uniforms, a year’s worth of food supplements for nutritious lunches, art supplies and educational wall charts.

Levy also matched the donation and bought the AIDS clinic a year’s worth of HIV testing kits, supplemental medicines and an increase in salary for the AIDS counselors who also do home care.

“The response from the people there was immediately grateful and touching,” she said. “I was always amazed at how gracious these people were, even when they were really sick and had nothing.”

Levy has also visited Guatemala, in addition to Uganda, the two poorest countries on earth, in her work with UNICEF and hopes to visit more. But she said she knows she can do more important work here. “A lot of people are moved to volunteer in Africa, but really, what Africa needs is more doctors and more money,” she said. “The more I can raise here, the more it will help there.”

Deborah Collodel met Levy through Webster Elementary School, where both women have children enrolled, and became part of the UNICEF Giving Circle. “What I like about UNICEF is that almost 100 percent of their donations go directly to causes,” she said. “So I was thrilled to help Carol come up with interesting ways to raise money.”

Collodel helped organize an art show, featuring local artists, with 100 percent of donations from the door and a percentage of art sales going to UNICEF. “We raised a few thousand dollars and that goes a long way in Africa,” she said.

The lessons of Africa linger for Levy. “When I came home from Uganda, I realized how lucky we are to have clean, running water,” she said. “But there’s a Belgian company called Tibotec that donated money to build new wells in Lwala and that should help them.”

More information about local UNIFEF efforts by contacting Levy at carollevy@mac.com or by visiting the Web site, www.unicef.org