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 : http://www.canadahelps.org/CharityProfilePage.aspx?CharityID=d95557

A delicate matter …

Imagine being a 14 year old girl heading off to school with your menstrual period and not having a clean place to tend to your sanitary needs – or any money to buy sanitary towels for protection. This is the dilemma faced by young African women have no money for the luxury of sanitary pads.

Young African women have enough to contend with but when I visit African schools, the female students are quite vocal about this disadvantage. Schools recognize that girls miss a few days each month because they have no means of dealing with the problems caused by menstruation. This slows their ability to achieve at school and causes them to fall behind the boys.

Sanitary pads are expensive. Particularly if you are barely getting by with other school expenses or even food. In some communities there are initiatives for producing reusable, washable sanitary towels but even this requires a private place to look after your needs which is often not available.

The women at St Mark’s Church in Barriefield, Ontario heard about this problem at one of the schools that has been supported by the CanAssist African Relief Trust for the past few years. Provision of ongoing supplies and consumables is not within the mandate of CanAssist so we approached this Anglican Church Women’s Group for help. And they responded.

The ACW at St Mark’s have been providing funds to purchase sanitary towels and undergarments for the young girls at Kanyala Little Stars School for the past 18 months. And the reward has been better attendance from the girls who now can match the boys in academics. One young woman even got top marks for the region in the last set of standardized exams before secondary school.

Another Kingston couple came forward with a donation to CanAssist to build construct improved latrines and washing areas for the girls. What an improvement!

This problem is huge. But I commend the women at St Mark’s who have determined that they will help the young girls at Kanyala Little Stars with this somewhat delicate problem.

The school is running low on supplies and the St Mark’s ACW will be looking to send another $450 to help for the next few months. In order to keep this ongoing, I’m sure they would welcome a $10 from other Canadian women (or men) who would like to contribute.

Next time you see me, pass me $10 and I will be glad to send it on to the St Mark’s ACW and thence to the Kenyan young women. Evelyn Bowering (ebowering@cogeco.ca)would also be happy to be the intermediary to help bolster the ACW funds to keep this program going.

ACW friends
To quote Mama Benta “I have to congratulate those Anglican girls. They are good ladies!”