Our newly formed Mothers’ Support Group sends their greetings.
Note: The Women’s Visionary Centre in Turbo, a town about 10 miles from my house in Lumakanda, was started two years ago by Lizette Gilday from Canada and Benter Obonyo from Turbo, Kenya. Their work and objectives are described below in their second annual report. Dave
A WORD FROM LIZETTE GILDAY
It is always with a sense of anticipation that I sit down to write the latest Visionary Womens’ Centre (VWC) newsletter. There is much good news to share. In a world where we are bombarded with perpetual disasters and from a continent where the challenges are so great it lifts my spirits, and hopefully yours as well, to be able to shine a light on the courage and perseverance of the human spirit as shown in the lives of the girls and women of a small rural community of Kenya.
Thank you for your interest and encouragement. It means so much to me and the team in Kenya to know that our efforts are deemed worthy of support and that the central importance of women in developing countries is recognized.
We hope you find our continuing story to be of interest.
Founder and Administrator
Visionary Women’s Centre
The Visionary Women’s Centre (VWC) is now in its’ third year of existence. It was only when our team began to work on our Annual Report and Financial Statement for 2016 that we began to fully appreciate what we have accomplished in the first two years.
During this time we have:
– Supported 45 mothers and grandmothers through our Mothers’ Support Groups
which means we have also supported their approximately 225 children
– Taught Life Skills to over 1500 school children and adolescents
– Provided financial support to 8 girls for school fees, supplies and uniforms
– Given out micro-loans to 50 women
– Counselled more than 150 women and girls on a wide range of issues
– Provided money for emergency medical support to women in distress
…and much more!
We are increasingly recognized in the community and are beginning to gain the respect as we become an established entity. Even our own Management Committee confessed to me during our Annual Meeting that they were now beginning to trust me. I was shocked to be told this and asked if they had not always trusted me. The reply was that so many Westerners show up in Africa and start projects and then disappear after a year or two that Africans are naturally wary and choose a “wait and see’’ attitude. Despite their initial skepticism all the original members are still with us and we thank them for their loyalty.
As we enter our third year it feels as if we are really getting established and finding ”our groove” in terms of what works and what does not and where we want to concentrate our efforts for the biggest impact. As a result, we have chosen five main areas of concentration:
- Supporting and educating mothers and grandmothers
- Teaching life skills in schools to adolescents
- Providing scholarship funds to very poor girls so they can attend school
Services Provided from our office:
- Assessment and referral to a wide range of social, medical and legal services
Linda, a young mother, visits our office for counselling and support. Her husband is a ‘’drunkard’’ as they say in Kenya. He contracted HIV and it was being controlled by the medications now available. Then he stopped taking his meds and the HIV virus became active and he transmitted it to his eighteen year old wife. She is very angry and bitter about this and who can blame her? She is being counselled by a member of our Management Committee, Ebby, who has been ‘’living positively’’ with HIV for over 22 years by strictly observing her medication regime. Linda has applied for a micro-loan from VWC so she can start a small business. We will continue to follow her and offer support. There is a high rate of suicide among young women who become HIV positive and so they need close supervision and education as to how to live “positively’’ with HIV.
A CLOSER LOOK AT OUR LATEST ENDEAVOURS
WE HAVE A NEW PROGRAMME!
THE MAGGIE SILVERSTON MEMORIAL SCHOLARSHIP FUND FOR GIRLS
The fund has been established in memory of my friend David Leesley’s wife, Maggie. It is called The Maggie Silverston Memorial Scholarship Fund for Girls. We have already enrolled eight girls in the programme. We are very grateful for this opportunity to help girls who are living in poverty to move forward with their education. We will be guiding them towards vocational training so they will be able to support themselves and their future families.
Over the past four months our two social workers, Benter and Angela, have been hard at work recruiting suitable candidates for the programme. We now have eight girls who are attending school thanks to the fund. Two of the girls are studying at the secondary level and five are at the primary level. Over time we hope to support more girls in secondary studies, but we want to take our time and find those who have the potential to succeed to a high standard and thus be candidates to move onto professional training of some kind. The homes of each girl will be visited three times per year, at the end of each school term. We will be receiving copies of their report cards. This will allow us to keep a careful watch on their performance and progress. We have strict criteria for the selection of candidates.
PORTRAITS OF SOME OF OUR SCHOLARSHIP FUND RECIPIENTS
GLORIA needs help with school supplies, uniform and expenses.
Gloria in her new uniform with Benter, Our Social Worker.
GLORIA graduated at the top of her primary school class but could not afford to attend a good high school. Both of her parents are dead and she lives with an aunt. She has endured deep trauma in her life. First her mother died of AIDS when she was young. Her father was so distraught at the loss of his wife that he lit himself on fire and eventually died of his burns in the hospital some months later. Despite all of this she has maintained a positive attitude and very high marks in school. Thanks to support from our new scholarship fund, she is able to go to a boarding school that will afford her a good education.
MARION needs school supplies, books, uniform, bag school, fees.
Marion in her grandmother’s compound
Marion and her cousins with their grandmother Margaret
MARION MAKUNGU is in primary school. Marion is 8 years old and lives with her grandmother. Marion’s mother abandoned her together with her brother at their grandmother’s place three years ago. Since then efforts have been made to trace their mother but all is in vain. It is said that occasionally Marion’s mother makes calls using strange telephone numbers but one can ever reach her using the same number. As a result the poor grandmother has assumed the responsibility of taking care of the abandoned children, Marion and her brother Elvis who is 4 years old. The old lady is a widow who struggles on a daily basis to feed and clothe her grandchildren. They do spend some days with no meals because there is no food to prepare. When Benter and Angela visited them they were in pathetic condition but they could still afford a smile. Marion has been accepted onto our new Maggie Silverston Scholarship Fund for Girls.
Some of our elementary school girls who are being funded by the scholarship fund,
all dressed up in their new uniforms.
WHY EDUCATE AFRICAN GIRLS?
We would like to share some statistics with you in order to clarify the importance of supporting African girls in their education.
– Girls who receive a primary school education will have an increase in their income. For every year of secondary education their income will rise by 10% to 25%.
– Educated mothers are more than twice as likely to educate their children and reinvest 90% of their earnings in their families.
– Educated girls will be three times less likely to become HIV positive. They will marry later and have smaller and healthier families.
– Educated girls will resist gender-based violence and discrimination and change their communities from within.
These are some of the key statistics which show the importance of educating girls. There are now many organizations worldwide whose primary goal is to facilitate the education of girls. The main stumbling block is the lack of money in poor families who often have to choose between feeding themselves or paying school fees, buying uniforms and supplies so their children can attend school. Girls are not given priority.
MOTHERS’ SUPPORT PROGRAMME
Our Mothers’ Support Programme is really thriving! I visited the groups regularly while in Kenya. The first time I visited the women each spoke to me about what the programme meant to them. I had heard good reports from Benter and Angela but nothing could have prepared me for the remarkable sharing by the women themselves. There were 14 women present and each on rose in her turn and spoke about how the Mother’s Support Programme has touched her life and that of her family. Angela acted as translator from Swahili to English. The first thing that struck me was how each woman rose with grace and self-assurance to speak. Then they spoke so well, clearly describing how the program benefits them. Some of them spoke of the new found self-confidence the group has given them as well as a sense of purpose in their role as women. They no longer feel like ‘’second class citizens.’’ Others reflected on the important information they receive about reproductive health and safe child delivery. A show of hands indicated that the majority of women are using birth control. Still others expressed appreciation for the support offered in their role as mothers and grandmothers. While the initial target group of this programme was mothers we have expanded it to include grandmothers who are taking care of orphaned & abandoned grandchildren.
Our Mothers’ Support Group visiting a newly widowed member for moral support
and a donation towards the funeral costs.
THE KITCHEN GARDEN PROJECT clearly is of great value. As part of our Mothers’ Support Programme it allows the women not only to better feed their families but to make some money by selling the surplus produce. This, in turn, enables them to save some of their own money (often for the first time in their lives). The savings in turn mean that they can take care of unexpected family needs such as a need for medicine for a sick child, school books, shoes.
AFRICAN CLAY SAVING POTS
Mothers with their saving Pots
In order to allow for a safe place to keep their savings we provide the women with the famous African Clay Saving Pots. As you can see from the photo they are round. There is a slit at the top to put in money. When the time comes the pot is smashed open and the savings are retrieved. For many of the women last year was the first time they had ever saved money for themselves by using their savings pots. They were thrilled and empowered by the combination of their Kitchen Gardens and the savings they generated.
In addition to group meetings every other week, we visit each of the women in our Mothers’ Support Group at their homes. This allows us to assess their individual needs and to explore more private issues such as health problems, family planning, domestic violence and challenges with children and grandchildren.
A Home Visit with a member of our Mothers’ Support Group took place in a field near her house as she was experiencing abuse from her husband and did not feel safe discussing this issue inside the home. She is the “Second Wife” and suffers disrespect and abuse from the First Wife and her children as well. This is a common occurrence in much of Africa as husbands have more than one wife living in the same house.
LIFE SKILLS FOR SCHOOLS
We continue to give our Life Skills lectures in the local schools. Both the staff and the students express appreciation for these presentations which cover topics such as AIDS prevention, family planning, career planning, family relations, communication, drug and alcohol addiction. We always give a “feminist slant’’ to our talks. We tease the boys and ask them if they want to be ”modern African men’’; prod them on how many wives and children they plan to have all the while celebrating and supporting the girls.
A Message from Benter and Angela regarding the Mothers’ Support Programme and The Maggie Silverston Memorial Scholarship Fund for Girls:
We hope that you are well. We are all okay but election moods are at climax in Kenya. We are all praying for peace during this transition time.
Our Mothers’ Support Programme is moving on very well. We didn’t know that a small gesture like visiting the bereaved family for the purpose of consoling them would create such a huge impact.
The group members are very optimistic and their cohesiveness has increased. We had a very fruitful group session today. Our topic of discussion was about “DEBT” and the importance of settling ones` debts. The members felt challenged and also encouraged by the topic of the day.
Generally most members are now self motivated to come for group meetings and are very impressed with what VWC is doing in the community. We also discussed with the second group about challenges facing women in relation to birth control measures. We learned that some men still don’t support them hence women are forced to take birth control measures secretly otherwise they risk being confronted by the wrath of their inconsiderate husbands.
Our vegetable project is on-going even though not as well as last year. There have been catworm attacks plus irregular rains have really affected our crops.
School have closed so all students are at home for holidays. Our scholarship sponsored students have performed well although we are still waiting for some report cards. The schools will re-open on 28 August 2017. School calendar has been altered due to the forth coming election.
We are very grateful to have this opportunity to work alongside the brave women and girls of our community.
With regards from,
Benter and Angela
SOME STORIES ABOUT THE WOMEN WE SERVE
Christine sitting outside her house.
Christine’s is a sad but typical African story. She used to live in Nairobi and had a good job. She purchased land in the Turbo area and built a house while still working in Nairobi. African women are very entrepreneurial this way. Then she contracted the HIV virus from her husband (the usual perpetrators). With time her health began to fail and she could no longer work. She moved to her house she had built with her two sons, aged twelve and four years. There is a small amount of land around the house which allows for planting maize and other food crops to support her and her boys for part but not all of the year. When Benter and I visited Christine in February she presented as very ill. She could hardly walk and her older son, now age sixteen, had dropped out of school to care for his sickly mother. As Benter asked questions she came to suspect that Christine was not taking her HIV anti-viral medication. This could account in some part for her failing health. While it seems counter intuitive for people with HIV not to take their life saving medication it is actually quite common in Africa. The meds are supposed to be taken on a full stomach. If taken on an empty stomach they can cause serious pain which acts as a deterrent. Thus while various government programmes provide those with HIV with anti-viral medication, if they do not have enough food to eat, they do not take them because of the stomach pain. There is no VWC budget for a situation such as Christine is facing. Sadly, we cannot supply food to the hungry in Africa. I often succumb to the tragic stories I find in Kenya. Each time I arrive I tell Benter not to let me get “carried away’’, but I inevitable do. So in this case we set up a weekly food budget for Christine and her two sons of $10 a week until their harvest starts to ripen in August. We also purchased the maize seed so they could plant food for themselves.
The maize almost full grown
Christine’s two sons
Edna was one of the first women to visit our centre when it first opened. She was working as a waitress at a local restaurant and earning very little money. She had to walk one and a half hours each way to work and when she got home she had to prepare dinner for her drunken, abusive husband. She took out a micro-loan with us for a project that did not succeed, but she nevertheless has paid back her loan and at the same time was able to access another loan which allowed her to buy a little restaurant. We are so proud of Edna!!! She is now her own boss and earning a decent living. Her restaurant is right beside the market grounds where the large market days take place twice a week so she has plenty of business. She understood the concept of ‘’location, location, location.’’ She is able to hire her niece and have her children with her after school. Edna embodies the fierce determination and entrepreneurial spirit of African women and we salute her.
Edna with her niece, her son and Lizette outside her restaurant.
PLEASE KEEP KENYA IN YOUR THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS
Kenya’s national election has been successfully contested at the Supreme Court and a second election will take place this fall. There is great concern that there may be a repeat of the post-election violence that took place after the 2007 election. The area where the VWC is located is at high risk for violence and Benter and Angela are at high risk for being targeted as they are not one of the local tribes. So please keep them and Kenya as a whole in your thoughts and prayers. Thank you!
Thank you for reading our newsletter.
Should you wish to support the Visionary Women’s Centre please go to our website at www.visionarywomenscentre.org and click on the DONATE buttons at the top of the first page. Monthly or one time donations are both welcome! Should you experience any difficulties please contact Lizette at email@example.com
With much love and appreciation from,
Lizette, Benter, Angela, the Mangement Committee and all of the women and children whose lives we touch.
VWC’s ever faithful management Committee
Benter, Lizette and Angela in front of sign for the new office.
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From 1998 to 2016, David Zarembka was the Coordinator of the African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams. He continues his peacemaking work in East Africa with Transforming Communities for Social Change (TCSC) and Friends Church Peace Team (FCPT). He has been involved with East and Central Africa since 1964 when he taught Rwandan refugees in Tanzania. David is married to Gladys Kamonya and lives in western Kenya. David is the author of A Peace of Africa: Reflections on Life in the Great Lakes Region.
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