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Visionary Women's  Centre   

Turbo, Kenya, East Africa
Founder: Lizette Gilday

                                 Supporting Kenyan women & girls to survive and thrive                                                                              in their families and communities


                                   VISIONARY WOMENS’ CENTRE

                                                            Turbo, Kenya                                                
Dear Friends,
It is always with a sense of anticipation that I sit down to write the latest Visionary Womens’ Centre 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.
With appreciation,
Lizette Gilday,
Founder and Administrator
Visionary Womens’ Centre
The Visionary Womens’ 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 loyalt

                                                     OUR PROGRAMMES
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:
                                                  Community Outreach
             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

                                          An all too typical story                   
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.
                                        WE HAVE A NEW PROGRAMME!

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.
 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 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.

                             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
-   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 means 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.
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.

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:
                                                                                 July, 2017
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 28.8.2017. 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


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 she 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 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.
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.
                                            Thank you for reading our newsletter.
Should you wish to support the Visionary Womens’ 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 protected]
With much love and appreciation from,
Lizette, Benter, Angela, the Mangement Committee and all of the women and children whose lives we touch.  






                                                                    VISIONARY WOMEN’S CENTRE                  
                                                                             March 2, 2016

                                         For more information and to make a donation visit our website:
                                                                             [email protected]                               
                                                                          [email protected]    
 Dear Friends,
Greetings, once again, from Kenya! As I enter the last month of my stay here let me bring you up to date on what we have been up to as well as news from some of the women we have been serving throughout the last year.
OUR LATEST PROJECT : Young and Pregnant Mothers’ Support Programme

We have been hard at work starting a new programme to support young mothers and pregnant women. The maternal death statistics for Kenya are grim. According to the Index Mundi Kenya rates 29th in the world for maternal mortality. While the country has a free pre- and post- natal service and free hospital delivery there is a problem, especially in rural areas, with use of these services. While global maternal deaths were cut almost in half between 1990 and 2010, Kenya’s maternal mortality ratio declined only slightly during the same period, going from 400 per 100,000 births in 1990 to 360 per 100,000 births in 2010. Maternal health advocates have argued that concerted action is needed to reduce preventable maternal deaths in Kenya, where less than half of all births are attended by a midwife or other skilled health worker.

A study titled ‘A Price Too High to Bear ’ was conducted from 2011 to 2013 by Family Care International (FCI), the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), and the KEMRI-CDC Research and Public Health Collaboration. The following passage is a quote from the study:                                                                    
  “The interviews which were conducted during the study illuminated the lasting, pervasive economic impact of a maternal death. Families in the study reported that the women who died had contributed an average of 61 hours per week of household work. Three-quarters of the deceased women had also earned an income, mainly by farming or running a shop or market stall. Nearly every family reported that the loss of their household and outside work reduced the family’s income and put it under significant financial pressure. Many families lost crops, or were forced to leave land uncultivated, because of the loss of the woman’s labour or reduced work by surviving family members. Others were pushed further into poverty when they had to hire casual labourers to work their fields. Many could no longer to pay school fees for surviving children; other families had to borrow from moneylenders to pay for the funeral. The result, in many cases, is a spiral of debt and poverty from which it is hard for the family to recover.”
 It has been my observation  during my time here in Kenya that if the mother who dies is a single parent the consequences for the surviving children are really dire. They are ‘farmed out” to relatives or sent off to live with their father who is likely to have re- married. The old stories of the wicked step mother are still very much a reality here in Africa and these children are often severely abused and underfed. If no other option exists they will be placed in an orphanage and lose touch with their siblings.

The Visionary Women’s Centre, in keeping with its grassroots approach, is developing a model which moves into the local communities and goes door to door to reach out to those women and girls who are too poor and/ or too ashamed  or uneducated to seek the pre- and post-natal support and hospital delivery that they need. Unmarried teenage girls who get pregnant bring great shame upon their families. In poor rural families there is an established tradition of home births. We counsel the girls and encourage them to attend our support group.  This gets them out of their homes and into a more positive environment.

We intend to  implement  the project  through the following strategies:

·      Conduct regular home visitations for maternal health education, encouraging mother to attend
        pre- and post- natal clinic and have a hospital delivery.
· Offer weekly meetings to encourage group solidarity and mutual support and to provide
       information about maternal health, child rearing, family planning, nutrition, kitchen gardens,
       breast feeding, hygiene.
·  Give training to empower women with financial and life skills, including Table Banking,
        communication skills, women’s rights and crafts and entrepreneurial skills.         
·  Follow up and support women who have defaulted from attending their pre- natal and post-natal 
· Provide iron and folic acid supplements for pregnant women and vitamin A and de-worming
        treatment to children under the age of 5 years in our programme
·  Support mothers to pursue greater economic independence and vocational trainings of their choice
·  Train Community Health Workers to assist mothers in reproductive health issues
·   Provide regular testing and support counselling for HIV within the community
 What we have accomplished to date:
Visionary Women Centre has already contacted 16 pregnant girls and women as well as new mothers and done an initial evaluation. We will continue to follow them through home visits.  In addition we have established a support group which meets once a week. We feel that it is important to offer the women and girls both individual counselling as well as the group support experience. We are supplying the pregnant mothers with iron and folic acid supplements and the children with Vitamin A and deworming medicine. We are also giving them beans and kale seeds so they can start kitchen gardens. The response so far from the women has been really enthusiastic.
In the future, as funds allow, we would like to reach out to more pregnant women and young mothers within our community.

And now for some news from “our women.”
Leah is definitely one of our stars!

 Her story is featured on our website. To briefly recap, Leah was one of the first women to visit our Centre last year when we had just opened her doors. She was very ill at the time and in a lot of abdominal pain. We were able to help her get treatment through our emergency medical fund  and when she felt better we were able to help her start a small seedling business with a micro-loan which she has paid back in full. Her seedling venture is thriving and she has now branched out into ducks and she is thinking of investing in rabbits that sells for a good price.
We visited Leah at her small rented mud house where she lives with her two teenage daughters. The house is on a small piece of land but Leah has maximized its use for her seedling and duck projects. She proudly told us that she was able to pay the school fees for her two daughters this year by selling some ducks. (School fees are a huge deal in Africa and parents are forever struggling to get the money together to cover them.) We asked Leah about her plans and she told us that she is ready to move to the next level in her seedling business. She has steady customers now and they want to her to begin providing them with a larger variety of trees including mangos and avocados. To make this happen she will need another micro-loan to install running water for her seedlings (she has been having to carry it in), and invest in bulk buying of the plastic tubes for the seedlings and seeds for the trees. She also intends to pay a small rent for a plot of land beside her house for her increased number of seedlings. As she has re-paid her first micro-loan in a timely manner, we were pleased to be able to offer her a second loan so she can move forward with her business. There were smiles all  around and much good feelings as we shared our appreciation of her success in just one short year. 
Christine is a new member of our clientele. She is handicapped and uses crutches to walk. A year ago the municipal government in the nearby town of Eldoret decided to forcibly remove Christine from her spot where she had a small stall which sold a variety of goods. The men who came to remove her did not even give her time to remove herself and her wheelchair from the stall. They ran over her wheelchair and crushed it and destroyed all of her stock and left her sitting on the ground beside her crushed wheelchair. Since this time she has been trying to get compensation for the wheelchair so she can purchase another, but the municipal clerks are giving her the run- around and nothing is happening. So she came to our Centre for advice and we were able to refer her to the paralegal services with which we share our office. They are supporting her in pursuing her case, but it is not that likely that she will ever see the money for a new wheelchair.
In the meantime, and on a more optimistic note, Christine has shown courage and determination in the face of adversity. She spent the last year working for other people doing laundry and even digging in their fields despite her handicap. She  saved enough money and to have  a new kiosk built her village. She does not have much stock so Visionary Women’s Centre is giving her a micro-loan so she can buy more items to sell. She also makes donuts to sell in her kiosk.
Christine wanted to come and visit the centre last Saturday but none of the piki piki motorcycles would drive her, saying she was too much trouble. So we have arranged for a pik pik driver to go and get her and bring her back home. Chrisitine and Benter
Our Management Committee is always most supportive and helpful. Each member has her or his talents and generously contributes to the on-going needs  whether this is making our Financial Report, managing the micro-finance loans or assisting with the Life Skills program in the schools.
I would like to introduce you to the members on an on-going basis as I find their stories interesting and inspirational.        
Ebby Opisa is an active member of our Management Committee. Like other members she helps Benter in our Life Skills Program in the schools. She works as an Adult Educator as an English teacher. In addition, she is a Community Health Educator which allows her to move about in her community and counsel people regarding health issues, in particular how to live with HIV/AIDS.
Ebby, herself is HIV positive and has been living with this condition for 18 years. She has remained healthy throughout this time thanks to the anti-viral drugs that are now available. She recently went for her routine check-up and was thrilled to learn that her “viral load” is now 0.5% . This is almost at zero. She is such a good role model for others who are living with HIV?/AIDS. They are often ashamed and afraid to “come out” about their diagnosis, even to close family members. Living with such a heavy secret is very stressful and Ebby helps people to find the courage to be open and honest about their condition. In addition to “living positively “, which is how people describe living with HIV/AIDS in Africa,  Ebby, who is single, has raised her two nephews from a young age as their parents both died of AIDS. She has been their sole parent for the last 12 years.
Ebby describes her experience of being a Management Committee member as very inspirational as it has given her the opportunity to reach out in new ways into her community. We thank Ebby for all of her support and hard work and for her true inspiration to us all as she maintains an incredibly positive and optimistic attitude towards life despite her challenges.

And finally some personal news:
Benter is a dedicated church goer and I always go with her at least once when I am here. It is not for the faint of heart! There are two one hour sermons and two hours of singing and dancing. The singing and dancing are my favourite part. I find myself thinking “These people really know how to enjoy themselves at church.”
Well, this is all the news for now. There are more stories still to come. In the meantime should you wish to send along a donation you may do so by going to our website: www.visonarywomenscentre.org and clicking on the Donate or Subscribe buttons  Small monthly donation is really helpful as it allows us to count on a steady amount each month but one time donations are equally welcome.
Thank you for your interest in and support for our project!
With appreciation from,
Lizette and Benter

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A Letter to Interested Friends        Montreal May 2015

Dear Friends,
I have now been back in Canada for seven weeks and the  re-entry has gone well . I would like to thank the many friends who have read my blogs and the sincere interest that you have shown in my ‘Africa Project’. I am sending along the last one for now, but plan to keep you abreast of developments over the coming months in the form of Newsletters. Before we get to The Blog let me give you some background information about the Visionary Women’s Centre, beginning with its origins.
Why have I chosen to open a women’s centre in western Kenya? At this stage in my life as I enter “The Golden Age” I am wanting to contribute in a way that is deeply meaningful, feel part of our global community and have exotic adventures. So this project feels like the classic win-win situation and I am grateful to have the health and the means to realize this dream.
When I began working as a Counsellor in the mid 1980ies my first job was at the Montreal Women’s Centre on St. Urbain Street. At the time I was impressed with the concept of a special, safe place for women to come for referral and information as well as counselling and workshops which enabled them to learn and grow and step into their rightful place. Fast-forward 30 years: after working for an AIDS orphans’ program in Uganda for five years and taking into account the global research regarding the effectiveness of supporting women and girls in raising the standard of living for a community, I felt called to create a Women’s Centre based on the Montreal Women’s Centre model but adapted to rural Africa.
Where and how to begin?
I had learned many things about running a not-for-profit project in Africa during my years of volunteering in Uganda. First and foremost it is essential to have reliable local professionals running the project. I was fortunate to have become friends with a very competent Social Worker named Benter Obonyo during my time in Uganda. She lives just over the Ugandan border in Kenya. She works part time with a project funded by US Aid which supports people who are HIV positive. Upon discussion last fall we agreed to work together to open a women’s centre in her district. It is Benter who chose the name Visionary Women’s Centre and she worked hard to research the best way to proceed and how to set up our official Community Based Organization (CBO). She also put together our Management Committee and found us a room to house our centre which is small but  makes a comfortable office and we can sit over 20 people for workshops.
The location of the Visionary Women’s Centre is thus in Benter’s home town of Turbo in  western Kenya. This area is known as the breadbasket of Kenya. It is also famous for producing world class marathon runners as it is situated on a high plateau 4000 to 8000 feet above sea level. I stayed in Eldoret at the Hotel WinStar  when I first arrived in Kenya and it turned out that this hotel is owned by a world famous marathon runner by the name of Mary Jepkosgei. We were able to meet and she told me she used to run 10 kilometers to school each day. As is usually the case in Kenya, she was  delightful, warm and modest  despite her stature on the marathon world stage. Mary recently placed second in the London Marathon.
 Our centre provides a range of services including  information and referral, personal counselling,  tips on starting a small business, financial management, family planning, parenting, medical information, healing from trauma and dealing with abuse and addictions. We make referrals to other services including medical, legal, financial, addiction and educational groups. We also give adult and adolescent Life Skills workshops both at our centre and in the community, including in local high schools.  We have an Emergency Medical Fund to allow us to take quick action if a very ill woman arrives at our office and is in need of immediate medical care.  We also have created a Small Business Loan Project of $500 which we intend to monitor for the next year. This money will allow us to provide immediate help to women who are in dire need and want to start a small business right away
The annual expenses needed to run our centre  begin with a  part timvisionary Women's Centre.come salary for the Social Worker/Manager, Benter Obonyo. She will  be providing information and referral as well as counselling services and  life skills workshops both in our office as well as in the community. She is an excellent administrator and has extensive connections within the community. The other expenses include rent, electricity, telephone, internet, travel in the district as well as the Emergency Fund and the Small Business Loan Project
A number of you have expressed an interest in contributing money to assist the Visionary Women’s Centre. This is much appreciated as I am presently the sole funder of the centre. The approximate annual budget is $7000 a year.
The goals of this project and thus the budget are modest in nature. We intend to remain small but effective and hope to increase our reach by working closely with other community groups. So we are looking for a dedicated group of funders who can provide steady support for this worthwhile project. Consistent, albeit small, contributions will help make our centre prosper. I will cover my own personal expenses including air fare and accommodation, so all of donations will go directly into running the centre. I intend to pay the shortfall in funds which may be needed after counting the kind contributions from donors. 
With warm regards,
Lizette Gilday
Returning Home
Dear Friends,
Here I sit in the Nairobi Airport, ensconced in the Java House Café, waiting for a 4:45 AM flight to Istanbul and then on to Montreal. The cheap fare on Turkish Airlines seemed like a good idea from the comfort of my own living room, but a nine hour layover through the night now seems absurd, but here I am nevertheless. On the bright side this lengthy interlude gives me time ”between the worlds” of Africa and Canada; between all of the newness I have just experienced and the familiarity of home; time to contemplate and reflect and to share a thought or two.
When I first arrived in Kenya and was resting alone in my hotel room I had a moment where I thought to myself, “Am I completely out of my mind bringing such a western concept as personal counseling, goal setting, information and referral to rural Kenya? What happens if no one comes?” I need not have worried! In the first four weeks we have had local women come through our doors with a range of issues, stories and challenges typical to Africa in their particular details but reflecting the challenges that women face all over the world. The courage determination and resilience displayed by the women I have met has touched me very deeply.
The last five and a half weeks have been an extraordinary experience.The Visionary Women’s Center, which was but an idea six weeks ago is now launched and has been well received by the community. The gracious expression of appreciation by Kenyan women and men alike has been most touching. All are agreed that there is a great need for support for women and girls throughout Africa.
Who is coming to our newly opened Visionary Women’s Centre?
Here are three stories among the many we have heard. The women whose stories we tell have granted us permission to use their names and their pictures.
Adelaine is a small, soft spoken, middle aged widow whose husband died ten years ago. Although it was her legal right to inherit their land so she could feed  and support her children, her late husband’s mother and brothers had other plans. They began by cutting down a large stand of trees on her land and selling the wood. Then they planted crops which they would not allow her to harvest. Adelaine kept repeating that she could not even take food from her own land to feed her children. As time went on she was pushed out of her house and felt forced to leave the district and move into the Turbo  area. Despite her efforts to get legal help and support from local community leaders, Adelaine has not been able to get her land back.  The latest move on the part of her husband’s family is to threaten her life.  There is no one in Adelaine’s own family who can help her as they are all overwhelmed by their own financial needs.
 How to help Adelaine? We began by counselling her to accept that she would not be getting her land back and that she needed to move on with her life. We helped her to see that she is wounded, but not defeated. We explored what her options might be so she could let go of the past and begin to move on.
She had a dream to start a poultry business whereby she would buy chickens cheaply from a supplier and then sell them at local markets for a small profit. We helped her make a basic business plan which included a pay-back schedule for the small loan we gave her. When she returned to the centre a few weeks later Adelaine was smiling and looking much happier. She explained that she could not go ahead with the poultry business as there was a poultry virus which was making the chickens sick. So instead she had started a small business whereby she would but firewood or soap or corn and sell it at the market  for a small profit. She was able to better support her children  and  make her first repayment to us on her loan. She said she felt proud to be building her own small business. We will have to wait to see if our faith in Adelaine is well placed. We hope she will succeed as she endeavours to leave the past behind and create a new life for herself and her children.
Millicent  or Milli is a widow who has no home and is “ squatting” in an abandoned railroad station with her four children. She is HIV positive as is her ten year old daughter. They are both being followed by a U.S AID program and are receiving the anti-viral drugs which keep them healthy and functional. She is also on the five year program for long term birth control. Milli’s biggest concern is that she does not have the money needed to pay her children’s school fees. So with the exception of her seventeen year old son, the younger children, aged 10, 7 and 3 are not in school. Milli completed Primary 6. Milli earns what money she can washing the local motorcyles which are used as taxis in Kenya.  She stated that she was feeling so desperate that she felt she had no choice but to place her two younger children in an orphanage. This was an option because their father was dead.  Benter, our centre manager, used her extensive social network to find out if there were any openings in local orphanages. Unfortunately there were none. 
How to help Milli? To begin with, we hired her to come every Saturday to clean our new office. To date she has arrived on time and done an excellent job. We planned to explore possible small business options with her at our next meeting.  In the meantime, Milli said she already feels much better. At the end of our first meeting she spoke from her heart in a very moving way. She said. “Everywhere I go people blame me for not having my children in school. When I go to the health clinic for my HIV medication the nurses  blame me and make me feel ashamed. So now I am afraid to go to the clinic, although I know I must. My family blame me and all of my neighbours blame me. I was fearful to come to your new women’s centre, but I searched for my courage and came to see you.  Now I feel supported and respected and I am very grateful that you are here to help us women. Thank you, thank  you for being here. 
Milli dropped by our office a few days later to share her good news. The day after she returned from our meeting a neighbour visited her and offered her a fairly large plot of land to use for planting and harvesting. Benter visited the plot and reports that it is big enough to allow Milli to grow sufficient food to feed her family for a year!!! We were able to offer Milli a loan to buy the seeds and fertilizer she needs to plant her crops. We are hoping to assist with a short term loan so she can send her children to school when it starts again in May. A repayment schedule has been set up. We wish Milli well as she plants her seeds and prays for a good harvest.
Edna is a young widow who works as a waitress in the small restaurant housed in the same building as our centre: Kogo Plaza. She came in one day and told us her story. She is a widow who has an adolescent daughter. When her daughter was younger Edna’s mother and sister tried to trick her into giving her to them  so they could take her to Mombasa and sell her into the sex trade. Mombasa is the big tourist destination on the Indian Ocean which  is the “hot spot” for the sex trade in Kenya. Edna stood up to her mother and sisters all on her own with no support from anyone and has kept her child safe.  Edna’s principal problem is poverty. She does not make enough money as a waitress to fully support herself and her daughter. The biggest challenge is paying the school fees. This is one of the most common sources of financial stress in Africa. We started to explore  small business possibilities. At first she  was not certain about what to do. After our first meeting she went home  and asked for guidance. All of a sudden the word “bricks” came into her mind. So the next day she set about gathering information about how to set up a brick business.  She then wrote up a business  plan which she shared with us at our second meeting. We were impressed with her approach and her plan and offered give her a small business loan with a clear repayment schedule. While it may seem odd that a poor Kenyan woman who works as a waitress would move into the brick making business, it is common in Africa for women to be in small business ventures. Bricks are made locally from the earth and then piled up into a dome shape and fired by lighting a fire with logs from within the centre of the dome. There are many young unemployed men who can be hired to do the heavy work while Edna can be the manager of the project. We wish Edna well in her brick making venture.
A note regarding the loans which we have been giving to the women in these stories: we do have a small loan fund as mentioned above, but it is very small ($500) and over time we know that it will not be able to fund all of the small business start up needs of the women who will be coming for help. As I was on-site and these women were the first visitors to our new centre I must admit that I could not resist putting my hand in my pocket to assist them. But going forward we will need to refer the women to established microfinance programs. At the same time, Benter and I are curious to see what happens to these projects that we are funding. How many will succeed? How much of the loans will be repaid? Could they be a model for some kind of loan program in the future?
A note regarding the large number of widows in Kenya/ Africa: the AIDS epidemic has taken the lives of many millions of men and women. As a thirty year old said to me one day, “ We Kenyans do not take it for granted, like you in the West, that we will live to be elderly. We know that we could die at any time.” It was not said with any bitterness or self pity but more as a simple statement of fact. It gave me pause and cause to count my blessings with a deepened sincerity.
Above are some of the stories that women have shared with us at the Visionary Women’s Centre during the first weeks of its operation. We look forward to working closely with these and many more women in an effort to help them create viable lives for themselves and their children. Thank you for listening and for the interest that you have shown.
With appreciation from,
Lizette  and Benter

March 23, 2015

Newsletter 2

March 16, 2015

Dear Friends,
I have just returned from a ten day visit to  Bududa, Uganda where I have been involved for the past five years as the International Coordinator for a program that works with western sponsors to support Aids orphans and other poor children in the Bududa district of eastern Uganda on the hills of Mount Elgon. I am leaving my position  so as to be able to concentrate all of my efforts on our new Women’s Center in Kenya. I have grown most fond of the  lush mountain landscapes and have made very dear friends in Bududa so I hope to return there each year as part of my annual trip to East Africa.
While in Bududa, I had the teachers from the Carpentry Department at the Bududa Vocational School make  furniture for our new women’s centre office. The cost is much lower in Uganda than Kenya. We now have a desk, cabinet, 2 benches and small corner table for the equivalent of $140.  All items are hand built and made from local wood. I travelled back to Kenya with an American couple. We loaded the furniture  onto the top of our van and set off for the border, where our driver from Uganda dropped us off to wait to be picked up by our driver from Kenya.  We sat surrounded by our luggage and the furniture in the parking lot of the Ugandan immigration building, eating hard boiled eggs and crackers for our lunch and waiting for our Kenyan driver to arrive. As we waited we sat on one of the new benches to which we kept sticking because the varnish had not fully dried. So there we were, three western retirees laughing and congratulating ourselves on having found a way to keep ourselves young at heart and vitally interested in the world around us while we lunched in ‘no man’s land’ waiting for our ride to come. Robert, out driver, arrived and we loaded up his van and set off, with a sense of relief on my part, that the office furniture was on the final leg of its journey. Our office now looks “very smart” as Benter puts it.
The  American couple with whom I travelled from Bududa are called Joe and Kathy Ozman. They are Quakers and are in the process of writing a book about a Quaker organization in East Africa known as African Great Lakes Initiative (AGLI)  which was founded by an American Quaker by the name of David Zaremka over 25 years ago. Under David’s vision and leadership AGLI has been providing workshops to help heal the trauma of war in places like Rawanda  and northern Uganda as well as presenting models of leadership and conflict resolution through peaceful negotiation in some of the more violent places in East Africa.
 It was through AGLI that I met the Manger of the Visionary Women’s Centre,  Benter Obonyo. Two years ago she came to animate a team building workshop for the staff of the Bududa Learning Center. I was most impressed with her skills as an animator. She is among dozens of East Africans who have been trained as workshop leaders by David Zaremka. She first came in contact with AGLI when she was interned in a displaced person’s camp after the  violence in Kenya after the 2007 elections. Her ethnic background made her a target but fortunately the UN moved quickly to gather those who were at risk and move them into camps. While staying in the camp, Benter heard about a training session for peace animators. She found her way to the room where the training was taking place and joined the class. She performed very well in her exam and impressed the teachers with her  class participation.  So they gave her her certificate and she joined the AGLI team as a workshop animator. Such is the determination of Benter Obonyo. Her life is a story of a rise from rural African  poverty through courage and a refusal to give up.
Benter now supports her 12 year old nephew, Mark, whose mother (Benter’s sister) died when he was five years old. He was taken in by Benter for a short time, but then his father came and took him away. He lived with his father and his new wife for three years during which time he was physically and emotionally abused and deprived of food. At one point he was sleeping in an abandoned car so as to escape the brutal treatment of his father. Finally, Mark, who was then nine years old,  had had enough and he set off one morning early in a local bus. He must have convinced the driver to let him ride for free. He showed up at the place where Benter used to live when he was with her three years before. A neighbour recognized him and took him to Benter’s new home. Everyone was surprised and relieved to see him again. He was thin, scarred and wearing rags.It took many months for him to be able to tell Benter about the treatment he had received. So here was Benter, a single working woman, with a nine year old boy to support. She called me in Canada to discuss what her options could be and we both agreed that the best course of action was for Mark to go to boarding school. This is a very common practice in Africa and part of the social norm. So we pooled our resources and Mark is now in his third year of boarding school. Benter says he is a quiet boy. He is doing well in school, which, given what he has been through in his short life, is impressive. His dream is to become a pilot, but he will need quite high marks to get into Flight School. So time will tell. In the meantime, he has a loving and secure home thanks to his Aunt Benter and his Aunt Florence who lives with her sister Benter in the same home.
There are more stories to tell. I hope to tell you about some of the women we are supporting at our centre. We are already seeing a very positive response and an expression of appreciation that there is now a safe place for women to come and receive much needed information and guidance. There are only ten days left until I begin my journey home and we still have things to do in terms of setting up our centre. But we are well on our way  and feeling  relief that the ‘basics’ are now in place as well as a sense of excitement at the potential for making a positive difference that has been created.
With warm regards,
Lizette Gilday

Newsletter 1

March 6, 2015

Dear Friends,
Greetings from East Africa! I am fortunate to be on my annual winter trip to the warmth. This year I  am visiting both Kenya and Uganda. The purpose of this year’s visit is twofold.
In addition to working with an Aids orphans program in Uganda,  I am beginning another chapter of my involvement in east Africa. I now feel ready to move onto a project that has been ‘calling me’ ever since I first came to Africa five years ago which is to open a women’s centre. The research worldwide  shows that if communities support women and girls in their work and education those communities show an increase in  prosperity. When women are given the tools to earn  even a little money and manage the family finances the level of marital abuse decreases and children stay longer in school.
The location of our new women’s centre is in western Kenya on a high plateau (6000-8000 feet) which is the home to some of the world’s best marathon runners. It calls for a special person to take on the start up of a project and that person is a Kenyan woman named Benter Obonyo. She is a social worker whom I met three years ago when she came as part of a team  to give a leadership workshop to our group in Uganda. We have remained friends since that time and are now joining forces to realize the dream of establishing a centre for women and girls in her district.
How the story has unfolded so far:
Last October  I woke up one  day and said to myself, “I believe the time has come to move forward with the founding of a women’s centre in east Africa.” I phoned Benter in Kenya, and discussed this idea with her at some length. She was enthusiastic and offered to talk to her colleagues about the feasibility of such a project. The information she gathered showed a positive response. The consensus was that there was a need for this kind of service. Throughout the fall and early winter we  worked to define the goals, budget and the legal status of our project.
The goals include providing information and referral for all issues that touch the lives of women including  health, family planning, child rearing, financial planning, education, small business development. We are in the process of developing an information bank which is relevant to the needs of the local community. In addition, we plan to offer life skills workshops both at the Centre and in the local high schools.
I have witnessed the legal costs involved in becoming and maintaining a non-profit organization in Canada and Africa. These are substantial on a yearly basis. As we are starting with a very modest annual budget we decided to become a Community Based Organization or CBO as it is called in Kenya. This allows us to have a recognized legal standing without using the services of a lawyer and an accountant. Benter  worked hard to set up the foundations of our centre. She  rented a lovely, bright office and recruited the  executive for our group. I  wrote the First Draft of our Constitution.
So, having set the stage as well as we could while I was in Canada and Benter  was in Kenya, I set off for Kenya on February 13th. It was with much anticipation that I flew into  Eldoret, the closest city to Turbo which is the small town where the women’s centre is located. This is the area which produces world class marathon runners. It is on a high plateau which ranges from 5000 to 9000 feet above sea level. The warmth, kindness and humour  of the Kenyan people  touched me deeply when I first arrived. They have a remarkable graciousness about them.
 Benter joined me in Eldoret and we proceeded to go on a shopping spree in order to buy all of the “basics” for our new office which included everything from paperclips, to 20 plastic chairs, to a filing cabinet. We met a lovely driver named Robert on the street who helped us transport our supplies back to our new office in Turbo in his van.
In the first week and a half we furnished and opened the centre and had our first Board meeting. The women are coming into the centre with a range of problems of which the most common are medical issues, domestic abuse, child rearing problems with adolescents and educational costs for children.  Benter has been invited to come into the local high schools over the next year to give Life Skills workshops to the girls and the boys, with a special emphasis on sexual education. As we begin our journey in this endeavour we are learning and being challenged on a daily basis.
On a lighter note, let me share some of my favourite things about being in Africa. The first is  riding on the back of motorcycles along beautiful country roads. This is the main form of transport and it is a lovely feeling cruising along with the wind in your face. We wear no helmet and are acting in a most irresponsible manner but somehow this adds to the fun of it all. We do tell our driver to GO SLOW or as they say in Swahili “POLI POLI”.
It is also very sweet to sit out at night under the full moon and the stars. The air is a gentle coolness on your skin and there are virtually no bugs. There are not any lights so despite the fact that there are hundreds of families living on the surrounding hillsides all is dark and quiet. Unless there is a wedding or a funeral in which case there is music playing off in the distance all night long for three nights running!
I will sometimes stand under the stars and muse on the fact that this is where we began. So  as I stand and stare  at the night sky I know that our most distant ancestors stared at the very same sky thousands upon thousands of years ago.
As I end the first part of the account of my “African Adventure” I would like to take a moment to honour and thank Barbara Wybar who is the founder and moving force behind the Bududa Learning Center. She has been my mentor and teacher during the last five years and has taught me an enormous amount about the running of a charity in Africa. So I send a big thank  to my dear friend ‘Bubby’ for  the wonderful times we have shared and for all that she has taught me.
 With warm regards,
Lizette Gilday