'The Walking Dead' 's Danai Gurira: 'We Need a Helping Hand' for African Families Living with AIDS

Danai Gurira tells PEOPLE she's "always been connected to the issues" surrounding HIV/AIDS due to her own experience growing up in Southern Africa in the '80s and '90s

Photo: Chelsea Lauren/Wireimage

On Saturday, The Walking Dead star Danai Gurira will speak out for HIV/AIDS education and eradication in Africa by presenting a special video (from Johnson & Johnson) at the Global Citizen Festival in New York City.

The video, which follows the lives of children living in the Nyumbani Village (a sustainable AIDS community in Nairobi, Kenya), is a project that is very near and dear to her heart.

The village, which was founded to support elders and children who are living with AIDS or orphaned due to AIDS, has become a model of support for communities affected by the AIDS pandemic. All of which the Zimbabwean American actress has witnessed with her own eyes after growing up in Southern Africa.

“I grew up in Southern Africa in the ’80s and ’90s so I witnessed what was happening around the issues of HIV and AIDS in various ways and I’ve always been connected to the issues as a result of that,” Gurira tells PEOPLE. “Growing up, what was devastating to watch was how homesteads and families were dismantled by this disease.”

Gurira is optimistic that the documentary will shed more light on how there’s hope in sustaining stable villages in Africa that have been torn apart by the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

“The documentary allows the audience to see and reach out to support Nyumbani Village and hopefully ignite more attention around this being a really exemplary model of helping facilitate others that deserve to be facilitated. But we need a helping hand,” she says. “I truly believe in the power of the image and telling a story, and I hope that because it will receive such a wide audience … that everyone [sees that they] have the power to connect with others and to make change.”

She continues to say, “Doing that one thing can enact change and allow people to learn not only about the Nyumbai Village but other wonderful organizations out there that are doing fantastic work. There are lots of them.”

The 38-year-old wants people to know that there are countless organizations that need support.

“From where I’m from in Africa, there are such amazing organizations created by and led by Africans who understand the issues and know how to make things better, but [they] need support,” Gurira adds. “They don’t need to be told what to do, but need facilitations.”

With so many organizations out there, the actress insists that people, like her, make time and “plug in where they feel passion.”

“To me it just feels like an organic connection to how I’m built from being at all these places,” she says of balancing work with philanthropy. “So, I have to make time, because that’s who I am. It doesn’t feel balanced to me, if I’m not involved. That just doesn’t feel right to me. It doesn’t allow me to actually feel in a state of well-being.”

Adds Gurira, “For people to get out and care and connect is really important in where we go next as a community.”

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