At a loss…

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.

Benta banner 2

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.

Mama Benter Odihambo.

Mama Benter Odihambo.

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 :

12 thoughts on “At a loss…

  1. Thank you, Dr. John, for your words and pictures; we are deeply mourning this loss.

    Last year, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies flew Mama Benter to Geneva to film a video of her speaking about the amazing work she has achieved in Kenya. This video is now on display in an exhibit called “Refusing fatality” in the Red Cross Red Crescent Museum; the room is called the “Chamber of Witnesses”.

    It is my understanding that this video of her will run for many years, where she will continue to inspire the world.

  2. So sorry to hear of the loss of Mama Benter….although I never had the opportunity to meet her personally, I have heard so many stories over the years from John about the incredible life that she lived and work that she did daily to provide care, support and love for so many others. I know she will be deeply missed.

  3. I spent the entire last week with her in Mbita and we shared a lot and she had moral and biblical teachings to all of us every single day.
    I still cannot believe that she is no more. May the Almighty God rest her soul in peace. FARE THEE WELL!

  4. As a family we have lost a greater pillar, indeed my mum was a hero i don’t know how i can express the love she had for us. Personally as his son she was my mentor. I have been writing a story book about her. When i went home last week i told her that the book was almost done. I had finished writing the story book and i promised to take it for her to read before looking for means to publish/produce it. Truly the death of my mum has come a time when we were not prepared for it. But we believe in God. Mama had shown as the light,she started the race and gave us the button we are sure we will accomplish the race. The life and memories of Mama will continue glowing even in her grave.
    The title of the book is “A mother of all and other incredible life changing true stories” Any person that will have any interesting comments or lines about mama Benter can forward to me through my mail that is
    I wish i could publish or produce few copies before she was buried.

  5. As a sister in law to my mother i knew Mama Benta as antie she was an amazing lady so loving mother she was all in all beautiful.Auntie rest in peace and bless the people you left behind.

  6. This was one of the greatest living humans in Kenya. A real epitome of a local solving local problems by using local solutions. She empowered very many people. What most of us who were brought up in her house remember is her big heart, bigger laughter and biggest sense of justice.

  7. She is my Grandy and I will miss her a lot,any time we meet my name would change to Mzee. Aunty Benter as she is known to her immediate family. We will dearly miss you Nyar Ogindo.


  8. Truly she was an icon. It is good she has finished her race. She has given us the button so we need to work extra hard so as to achieve her wishes and dreams. I will love forever MUM. R.I.P

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