When Abezash Tamerat, 31, an Ethiopian American artist, established her nonprofit group, Artists for Charity, in 2002, it was to help save a rape crisis center on the verge of losing funding.
But a year later, the focus of her group changed.
While visiting Ethiopia to learn more about where she came from, Tamerat met her young cousin, who was homeless and HIV positive. She tried placing him in various facilities, but they all had either reached capacity or turned him away because of his condition. When she eventually found a home for him, she noticed a bigger problem: Numerous children were battling similar struggles, once taken in by relatives only to be abused or abandoned because of their disease.
Tamerat returned to the United States with a greater sense of awareness and commitment to help Ethiopia. She continued having art events and, in 2005, Artists for Charity opened the Children’s Home in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
On Saturday, World AIDS Day, the organization will host its sixth annual Holiday Benefit and Art Auction to help raise money for the Children’s Home. The event, at 7 p.m. at the District Architecture Center, 421 Seventh St. NW, will include artwork by local and international artists, live entertainment by Ethiopian-born American R&B singer Wayna and traditional Ethiopian food and drinks. Tickets are $40 in advance, $45 the day of the event.
Artists for Charity’s Children’s Home provides housing, meals, medical treatment and counseling to HIV-positive orphans. Children are enrolled in school and are given routine physical examinations, antiretroviral medications and other treatments.
“If you water a plant, it will grow. If you give a child the basics, they will thrive,” Tamerat said. “We wanted the kids to feel like they had a home.”
Tamerat said her organization’s approach to talking “honestly and openly” with children about HIV distinguishes it from other groups. It has also enabled the children to take better care of themselves and each other, she said.
“None of these kids are supposed to be alive,” Tamerat said. “It’s like seeing something come to life. I am so proud of them all. I’ve been able to watch them grow.”
Cera Mattingly, 30, assistant to the executive director, said Artists for Charity is unlike any other organization that she has worked with because the group encourages overall success for each child.
“AFC is run with an incredible amount of integrity,” Mattingly said. “Each child is valuable and important.”
Artists for Charity is funded by donations from individuals and organizations and operated by volunteers throughout the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. Not all volunteers are artists. Many work in other professions, and volunteers collectively have raised more than $80,000.
In 2007, volunteers Hanna Tadesse and Bethel Tsegaye were students at George Mason University. While visiting Ethiopia, they volunteered at the Children’s Home and were transformed by the experience.
“We felt connected to Ethiopia and the children and wanted to stay connected,” Tsegaye said. “We volunteered ourselves to raise money from home.”
Balancing classes and exams while organizing a fundraiser proved to be a challenge, but they relied on their personal networks to organize the first auction. The benefit is now the group’s s leading fundraiser.
“There was a need, a scary one. Kids were thrown out. What does that do, eradicate the problem? It only hurts communities. We never failed those kids, no matter what was raised,” Tadesse said.
For the group, the measure of success has been the progress the children have made, including one who started college in September.
For information, visit www.artistsforcharity.org.