“If we all want to sit here and speak about how we believe that a better future lies with the empowerment of women, then we have to put our money where our mouth is and we have to actually support them,” the actress said of the importance of educational opportunities for young women on the continent.
Charlize Theron and David Oyelowo sat down for a Q&A about philanthropy and their friendship at the GEANCO Foundation’s 2019 Annual Gala held at the SLS hotel on Thursday night.
The GEANCO foundation name is an anagram of the first initials of the family that created it. Led by Afam Onyema, who is a first-generation American of Nigerian descent, the organization is dedicated to providing educational opportunities to African girls, as well as leading surgical missions and building improved medical facilities in Nigeria.
Oyelowo, who attended with his entire family, spoke to THR about why this is a vital cause to support.
“Studies have shown that the way to end world poverty is to educate girls across the world and to be able to be a drop in the ocean of that in my country of origin, Nigeria, where girls are being marginalized along educational lines is something that I am very, very honored to do because its a fairly simple solution to a huge problem,” he said.
Guests enjoyed wine and cocktails as well as passed appetizers such as sliders, egg rolls and boneless chicken wings at a reception before the panel. There was a silent auction where attendees could bid on luxury items such as a stay at the Nobu Hotel in Los Cabos, an Egard watch and bottles of wine.
Following the reception there was a conversation between Theron and Oyelowo that touched on everything from their own friendship to the work that each of them is doing in Africa to improve people’s lives. At one point, Oyelowo leapt out of his chair to deliver a hug to an audience member who said they were attending the panel after having had wrist surgery that morning.
Theron told the audience how their relationship grew after Oyelowo helped her through an emotionally difficult time while they were shooting a movie together.
“There are very few people that are that selfless. That see others before they see themselves. It was 3 a.m. for him. He wanted to go home. He had completely forgotten about himself. He was only thinking about me and how he could help me and so that is who David is and that is why I love him and his family so dearly.”
Theron and Oyelowo shared the real-world solutions they were supporting to rectify the overwhelming issue of poverty and lack of opportunity for girls in Africa.
The actress spoke to the importance of celebrities doing more than speaking out and actually engaging directly with the issues they’re trying to solve in Africa.
“The devastating, unnecessary loss of potential. That’s what scares me the most. And when you get to do this work, when you’re fortunate enough to do this work and you get to meet the people, the young girls and adolescents who find themselves in circumstances they didn’t ask to be born in,” she said. “If we all want to sit here and speak about how we believe that a better future lies with the empowerment of women, then we have to put our money where our mouth is and we have to actually support them.”
Following the conversation, Onyema highlighted some of the work that the foundation had done in the past year, including rebuilding a maternity clinic and leading a medical mission that performed free hip and knee replacements for Nigerian patients.
While much of the evening was devoted to discussing the solutions to serious problems, there were also light-hearted moments, such as when Oyelowo led the entire audience in singing happy birthday to his son Asher, who was celebrating his 18th birthday that day.