Ricki Lake’s nanny (and her 400 kids)

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Marie Da Silva (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

While taking care of the actress Ricki Lake’s children– first in NY, then in LA, Marie Da Silva lost more than a dozen of her family members in her native Malawi to AIDS, including her father and brother. Moved by the epidemic beyond her personal losses, she enlisted her mother to take in kids whose school was about to close and she sent back a third of her nanny salary, about a thousand dollars a month, to fund the venture.

The number of kids in need grew as the AIDS epidemic continued to claim lives and Da Silva resolved to help, even from half a world away.

“There would be times when my account was minus 11 dollars,” said Da Silva, who landed back in Los Angeles this week.  “I’d go up to Ricki and ask for an advance.  She’d always give me extra money which was pumped into the school. It was great working for someone who recognized my cause and supported me.”

The Jacaranda School

Small sums of cash in the Western world funded quite a lot back in Africa. But plane tickets between her new home and her adopted one were pricey, so Da Silva had to be content to use her perch in Los Angeles to get the word out about her cause.

When, in 2008, CNN profiled her as a “hero” and the steady drip of donations became torrential. That enabled her to build a proper school with toilets and running water, then quit her day job and  dedicate herself full-time to The Jacaranda School. It’s now home to 400 children.

For the next few weeks, Da Silva i’s making the rounds of local LA schools to talk about AIDS and Malawi; and students here have adopted the cause.  “An 11 year old raised $44 dollars for me the other day. One kid at Wildwood raised $2,000 and even came to Malawi on spring break this year.  A club at Santa Monica High School raises money,” she said.

Ricki Lake is among those hosting a cocktail party for the school this weekend in West Hollywood. Da Silva says it’s the first time a formal fundraiser has been held. In a few weeks, she’ll head back to Malawi–with Ms. Lake’s children in tow for the summer, where they’ll be volunteering at the school.