NEWPORT BEACH — For Joanne Baker's 50th birthday, she asked for $500,000.
It wasn't for her, but for donations to children in South Africa affected by AIDS.
What the Hoag Hospital OR charge nurse got in 2001 was $35,000, but that was more than enough to fuel her fledgling nonprofit, Tias Arms, and provide financial support to multiple small organizations in KwaZulu-Natal.
The province located on South Africa's eastern coast is not only Baker's birthplace, but also "ground zero" for the country's growing AIDS epidemic, she said.
"The thousands of children being left orphaned were astronomical," Baker said, adding that child-headed households are so common in South Africa that they're recognized by the government as a population category.
About 1.8 million children have been left orphaned because of AIDS, she said.
Now celebrating its 10th year, Tias Arms has raised more than $385,000 and serves hundreds of children in KwaZulu-Natal, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth areas. Baker hopes to see donations reach $500,000 by her 60th birthday in January, she said.