Recently honored by CARE, Richard Gere talks about his passion for human rights and cultural preservation
WL: CARE’s efforts are community-based and focus particularly on women and children. Is it important to start small to have a big impact?
RG: CARE’s infrastructure on the ground is extremely effective, which you need in order to hear human information. The listening factor is how they know what works in a particular community, not what we think they need. I traveled to clinics in Mozambique with them this past summer. I don’t think you can go to Africa and not feel the weight of the world.
WL: What are some of the greatest challenges for us here at home?
RG: In public health? AIDS. The perception in America now is that it is not a death sentence. But even those who have the very best care and access to medicine are still dying.
WL: You established the Gere Foundation India Trust in 1999 to support humanitarian programs in India, with a focus in the fight against AIDS. How has India’s approach to the pandemic changed in the last decade?
RG: (CARE President and CEO) Helene Gayle and I met around the HIV/AIDS program in India. I have been going to India for 40 years now and have a huge personal and emotional investment there. It was a place where very little was being done for AIDS. Now advocacy work is touching people who had never been embraced before.
WL: What is the best way for those without star power to help in the fight against poverty?
RG: It’s extremely important to find the right people who are effective in communities. The NGO actually does the work on the ground, but they work with many other resources to make an even bigger impact. Media plays an important part in combating any of these problems. If you tap into cultural icons – tap into a partnership between media and icons – and that partnership can be built on being responsible, then you can be powerful. Working with the business and religious communities is also very important. We can all stay informed and get involved. Every one of us can play a role by volunteering our time, resources and, of incredible importance, our voice.