* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“The rate of sexual abuse of children is shockingly high around the world and with this campaign we hope to sound the alarm, not only bringing attention to the problem, but to the amazing work of Operation Bobbi Bear,” explained Peter Twyman, CEO of Keep a Child Alive. In an interview, we discussed the Dare to Bear campaign and child sexual abuse in South Africa, the battle against HIV/AIDS on the continent, their new specialty clinic for youth opening soon in Kenya, and how best to join the fight.
Peter Twyman has been an activist and leader in the HIV/AIDS field, both in the U.S. and internationally, for over 20 years and joined Keep a Child Alive as CEO in 2012. He believes strongly that health care is a human right and in the power of communities to end the AIDS epidemic.
How did the Dare to Bear campaign come about?
"Dare to Bear" is a campaign to support the incredible work of Keep a Child Alive’s local partner Operation Bobbi Bear near Durban, South Africa. Bobbi Bear courageously addresses an issue that too often remains in the shadows—child sexual abuse. Started by a phenomenal woman named Jackie Branfield, who has spent her life as an HIV/AIDS and child welfare advocate, Bobbi Bear literally saves children who are in abusive situations. Partnering with the local police, they take kids out of danger, provide post-rape care, including drugs to reduce the risk of HIV transmission, and then start the long road to recovery.
They use a teddy bear as a counseling tool to help children tell the story of their abuse. Each child is given a marker and band-aids, and supported to show on the bear, where and how they were abused. It’s heart wrenching, but it is a critical step not only for the child to heal, but also for the process of prosecuting the perpetrators.
What is the situation like on the ground?
The rate of sexual abuse of children is shockingly high around the world and with this campaign we hope to sound the alarm, not only bringing attention to the problem, but to the amazing work of Operation Bobbi Bear. Bobbi Bear works in Kwazulu Natal, South Africa, which has one of the highest rates of HIV in the world, so on top of the tragedy of a child being raped, there’s a good chance that they will be exposed to HIV. In 2015, Operation Bobbi Bear touched the lives of over 20,000 children in the greater Durban area, and with the funds raised through this campaign we hope to dramatically increase that number.
What else is on the horizon this year for Keep a Child Alive?
We are ramping up our efforts to get more children and youth living with HIV into care and on treatment across all our programs. For example, later this year, we will open a model specialty clinic for youth living with HIV in Mombasa, Kenya. While we’ve made tremendous progress, AIDS is not over. 70% of children living with HIV are not getting the life-saving treatment they need—mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa—and AIDS is the number one killer of adolescents in Africa.
Our annual fundraising gala, the Back Ball, will take place on October 19th at the Manhattan Center/Hammerstein Ballroom in New York. It’s always an amazing event hosted by our co-founder Alicia Keys, and one that is filled with inspiring stories showcasing the impact of our work, and a one of a kind concert experience with Alicia and other musical guests. Stay tuned for announcements about guest artists!
How can citizens and activists alike get involved?
The Dare to Bear campaign runs through May 15th and in addition to raising awareness, we are aiming to raise at least $100,000. 100% of donations received as part of this campaign will go directly to Operation Bobbi Bear in South Africa.
Beyond Dare to Bear, we are always looking for new supporters to join our mission. We have an amazing community of people who do fundraising campaigns on our behalf by donating their birthday or wedding, or running the marathon. Alicia was part of our NYC Marathon team last year! We also have a great team of people joining our AIDS Walk NY team this year and would love more people to join. Finally, people can follow us on social media and sign up for our emails to stay connected and get updates from the field.
Keep a Child Alive provides support to community-based programs in Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda and India that work tirelessly to provide loving services for children and families living with and affected by HIV and AIDS. In addition to financial support, KCA works hand-in-hand with their local partners to ensure that they have the tools they need to implement impactful and innovative programs. They are currently serving over 70,000 people.