I was stunned this morning when I logged onto my Facebook page and started a chat with one of my friends in Mbita, Kenya. As we talked he received news that CanAssist’s dear friend and associate, Mama Benter Odihambo, had just died at the Mbita Hospital. Kennedy lives across the street from the hospital. I was getting the news before most of her community knew.
This is indeed sad news for everyone who knew her.
Benter was a cheerful, gentle, nurturing leader in her community on Rusinga Island, Kenya. A widow with a large extended family, she was the epitomy of the strong African grandmother who is wise and caring, not only to her family but to her entire community. I will cherish the memory of the afternoon she and I spent together in February, chatting as parents, grandparents and dear friends.
She founded the Little Stars Academy – an elementary school for vulnerable children that is on the edge of Mbita town.The school has grown from a few tin buildings with about three classes to a larger school that graduated students last year who will now go on to secondary school. Their school had top marks in the region and both the top boy and girl won scholarships to continue their schooling.
Benter was a dear friend and an adopted mother to many Canadians as well. She was always cheerful and helpful to students from the McGill Canadian Studies in Africa Program, some of whom came to know her well after their studies. She worked with the CanAssist African Relief Trust to improve her school and established the prototype school garden near her home which provides nourishing food for the children and income for the school. She worked with the women of St Mark’s Church in Barriefield Ontario to help establish a program to supply sanitary pads for the older girls at the school so they would not miss school during their monthly cycles. She, along with other members of her family, even had a part in the upcoming movie “Nightrunners”, shot on Rusinga Island in February of this year.
The sadness I feel at her passing is like losing a family member. I know that many people in Rusinga, Mbita and Canada will mourn her loss. At the same time we must resolve to continue in her spirit to help people who are vulnerable.
I will append some photos and videos of Benter that will remind us of her grace.
In 2013, CanAssist will continue the good work started by Mama Benter by helping to renovate classrooms at the Kanyala Little Stars School. Friends who would like to donate to this project in her memory can do so at : http://www.canadahelps.org/CharityProfilePage.aspx?CharityID=d95557