WorldAfrica

Hollywood takes notice as Congo's unrest grinds on

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Much of the world seems to have written Africa's problems off as insolvable, and nowadays, if you ask a lot of Americans to name an ongoing tragedy, they'd probably point first to the U.S. economy.

Hollywood's political activists are trying to pitch in on both fronts.

Several weeks ago, the glitterati came out to discuss how to get involved in assisting U.S. food banks. Feb. 18, many of the same stars will gather at the House of Blues in West Hollywood to honor the International Medical Corps for its work in the tormented eastern regions of Congo and to draw attention to the local Children Mending Hearts group, which assists the corps.

The event's hosts are producer Grant Heslov ("Good Night, and Good Luck") and his wife, Lysa, who founded the children's group and traveled to eastern Congo last month. The stars who'll be turning out to support the two causes include Ben Affleck, Diane Keaton, Joel Madden, Felicity Huffman, Nicole Richie, Forest Whitaker, Kevin Spacey, Kate Walsh, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Vinessa Shaw, Elizabeth Berkley, Hank Azaria, Patricia Heaton, Tate Donovan, Deion Sanders, Heather Graham, Marshall Faulk, Laura San Giacomo and foreign policy advisor to the stars John Prendergast.

With Prendergast (and others) constantly prodding, Hollywood has not lost sight of just how dire the situation is for so many Africans, particularly women and children victimized by war and put at risk by the destruction it leaves in its wake.

Sheryl Crow will be among the stars providing music at the House of Blues gathering, which is being sponsored by Wonderwall.com, a new celebrity website. CNN's globe-trotting anchor Anderson Cooper will receive a special humanitarian award for his reporting from Africa. (He may have been personally responsible for making a well-filled black T-shirt the garment of choice for the tropics; no more bush jackets or white suits.)

The International Medical Corps' work in Congo is, as the Heslovs are keen to point out, vital. Fighting of one sort or another has been going on there for more than two decades, and 5.4 million have died, more than in any conflict since World War II. As many as 3 million people have been made refugees. Violence against women -- 54,000 rapes since 2004 -- and children is widespread. Lysa Heslov's Children Mending Hearts is working to provide art therapy for many of those traumatized children and then helping them exchange their work with at-risk children in Los Angeles' public schools.

Good turnout Para los Ninos

Speaking of art, more than 1,000 people -- among them young art collectors and celebrities -- attended an art exhibition and sale in Santa Monica on Saturday evening to raise funds for Para los Ninos, a group that provides educational and family support services in Los Angeles' neediest communities.

Among those attending the event, hosted by the McCall Family Foundation's Fresh Start, were Felicity Huffman, Christa Miller, Shaun and Patrick Cassidy, Tracee Ellis Ross, Arden Myrin, Dan Futterman, Jennifer Westfeldt, Ed Quinn and Colin Ferguson. More than 100 Los Angeles artists -- among them Jonny Detiger and Megan Whitmarsh -- provided pieces of art for auction. About $100,000 was raised.

"The positive impact of art in the development of our young at-risk students is immeasurable," said Gisselle Acevedo, president and chief executive of Para los Ninos. "Through art, they are discovering themselves and the world. For these children and youth, art is a great equalizer."

tina.daunt@latimes.com

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