'˜These kids might not be alive without us'
Around the world there are millions of children in poverty, suffering from life-limiting illnesses, starving hungry and with little or no education.
But charity worker Ellie Milner is doing her little bit to change that.
The 58-year-old from Southsea runs a charity called Arms Around the Child, which provides funding and support for children in need in deprived countries.
Here, she tells her inspiring story about how it all began.
‘I was working in the music industry with the management team for Neneh Cherry,’ she says.
‘She was invited to do a track on an album called Red Hot and Blue - a compilation album of covers to raise money for HIV and Aids charities around the world.
‘We had a friend who had Aids at the time and sadly he passed away. ‘I ended up working on it because I was so passionate about it. Then we released another one called Red Hot and Dance. Combined, the albums made about $7m.’
At that time, money was being raised for the international charity Keep A Child Alive.
Ellie had her two children, Moses and Nelson, now 25 and 23 respectively, and then she went into teaching. She got a job teaching music at South Downs College, having set up a new course there.
She was still involved in charity work and used to fly over to New York to help organise major events for the charity. Then, in 2008, Ellie was asked if she would set up Keep A Child Alive in the UK.
‘The mission was to raise money to buy some anti-retroviral drugs for children and their families in Africa,’ she says.
‘But over the years the drug companies started to make the drugs a lot cheaper. So in a way, the charity became a bit redundant because the government was providing the drugs.
‘But then we saw the children and the orphans that were being left behind from the Aids epidemic and children who had lost their parents to Aids.
‘The eldest siblings were left looking after the children. A lot of abuse started. The urgency to help children more was very evident.
‘That’s why we set up the charity – to look after the children who were living in extreme poverty.
‘They were often HIV positive, sexually abused and exposed to HIV. Sometimes there would be five or six siblings in a family. We work with organisations on the ground. We fund and support them and help them grow.
‘It’s our mission to find these amazing people who do incredible work within their communities. We support them financially and help them develop these programmes to help more children. It’s very expansive, the work that we do.’
The charity has supported children in deprived countries such as India, South Africa and Ghana.
In 2011, the charity was renamed Arms Around the Child.
Now it’s involved in Portsmouth’s Victorious Festival as Ellie knows the organisers having taught them at college.
Last year, for the first time, the charity had a stage at the festival and it is set to happen again this year.
‘This charity is my life,’ Ellie adds.
‘I put big events on. I produce corporate events and the production fees go to the charity.
‘There are lots of different fundraising pockets.
‘The organisers of Victorious made a commitment to give us a good donation. So it gives us an opportunity to fundraise as well.
‘One of the things that the charity has given me is links to people. I have had to beg and borrow to get people to come, but they have.’
And Ellie says she is thrilled with what has been achieved.
‘It’s amazing,’ she says.
‘The kids potentially wouldn’t be alive. We are looking after a lot of children. It doesn’t bear thinking about what could have happened to them.
‘With the children that we look after we need to make sure that they have the education in school so that they can get skills and become independent. We have to make sure that these children can re-establish themselves.
‘People say that there is so much that needs to be done in this country, but it’s never as desperate as it is for these children. We have running water and access to healthcare and food banks.
‘We are just on the tip of the iceberg. I can’t do it all. One of the devastating things about the work I do is the requests I get for funding. It’s heartbreaking. You never get those kinds of requests in this country because it never gets that desperate. That’s the most painful part of it.’
Since 2015, Arms Around the Child has run a volunteer abroad programme offering individuals and groups the opportunity to visit their partner organisations in Ghana, India and South Africa.
Volunteering abroad can give you life-changing skills, career enhancement, purpose development and a global perspective. If you would like to know more about volunteering abroad, fundraising and the volunteer programmes offered by Arms Around the Child; email [email protected] or visit volunteerinvest.org.
Arms Around the Child first met Vivek in India when he was aged nine. He lost his mother to HIV/AIDS and his father was unwell, living in abject poverty and unable to care for him.
It took a great deal of care and attention to gain Vivek’s trust, but eventually he opened up, becoming a talkative member of the community. He now receives ‘2nd stage’ anti retroviral treatment in relation to his HIV status and leads a healthy lifestyle.
Vivek has just completed his ‘12th board’ exams and now has a full-time job at a photographic studio.