Nightly News   |  November 10, 2009

Alicia Keys uses voice for the voiceless

Nov. 10: Making a Difference: NBC's Lester Holt travels to Durban, South Africa, to meet with some of those who benefit from the charitable efforts of singer Alicia Keys.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> starting plavix.

>>> as you may know, all this week our "making a difference" segment is about the private kindness being carried out by five very public people, people and faces we've come to know. tonight the supremely talented and grammy winning singer alicia keys , a global star doing work around the globe and most of it for kids who need it. her story tonight from nbc's lester holt . * * hallelujah *

>> reporter: this girl wants to be a famous singer. you want to be a musician? at 15, the walls of the bedroom she shares at this orphanage outside durbin , south africa , are covered with her mostly american showbiz idols.

>> this is karen roland.

>> reporter: and most special of all to unalala is alicia keys . *

>> reporter: keys' connection with the children of the agappy orphanage runs far deeper than her music. most of these children have lost their parents to aids but they've gained the attention and support of this grammy winner .

>> it just touched me so deeply to know there were these amazingly inspiring young people who were just left with the world on their shoulders all by themselves.

>> reporter: it was on a trip to africa in 2003 keys saw for herself the enormity of the aids crisis. literally millions dying because they could not get life-sustaining anti-retroviral drugs.

>> and they just said, can you help us? we need the medicine, and we can't get it. can you help us get it?

>> reporter: they were looking at you as a successful, famous american with a belief that you could make this happen.

>> correct.

>> reporter: and deliver the medicine?

>> exactly.

>> reporter: and you could?

>> and i had to. and i did.

>> reporter: keys helped found keep a child alive , a foundation that provides drugs to hiv-infected patients in africa and india.

>> she doesn't turn up for the red carpet or she doesn't get paid to come. she does it every single day.

>> reporter: it's estimated that more than 10% of south africans are infected with hiv, that's 6 million people. what's more, only about a third of those who need drugs to control the virus are getting them. these are the trenches of the aids battle, places like the blue ruth clinic in durbin , a region where the hiv infection rate is around 40%. when keys first saw it three years ago, it was a vacant nightclub.

>> it's empty now but we can build something amazing.

>> reporter: patients like 20-year-old chili, once dying of aids, are rebounding thanks to medications and treatment in a place that turns no one away.

>> she gave me courage and told me that it's going to be okay.

>> reporter: how do you feel about life now?

>> i'm thinking of bigger things now and i hope that this disease doesn't get ahold of me like the last time, and maybe i'll be better.

>> this is a very emotional evening for me.

>> reporter: over the last five years, alicia keys has become a tireless fund-raiser here at home, recruiting celebrities to help get her message out.

>> what i saw to them is imagine those people that you love more dearly than anything in life standing before you and dying and you could not help them. *

>> reporter: her songs have made her an international sensation. * on the way to heaven *

>> reporter: but for these children, she is family.

>> it's like we got a new big sister , like alicia keys . * can you send an angel

>> reporter: and it is the song in her heart that sends them hope. lester holt , nbc news, durbin , south africa .

>> it's a terrific interview with alicia keys . and you can watch lester holt 's full interview on the web and learn how you can help in her efforts. that's our website, nightly.msnbc.com. tomorrow night here as we continue our special week, the actress glenn close talks about understanding and "making a difference" for people like her own sister living with mental illness.