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Experience #17 - Wagoma, Kenya

For me some Experiences are harder to put on paper. I’ve been learning so many things that I have difficulties to organize all in my head and afterwards tell them to you. It was like that during our first days in Kenya.

Since 2013 I began to cultivate a special care for this country, even before visiting it.

When I used to work as a lawyer, I earned as a gift one of the most special cases I had the chance to work with. Not by accident, before the first meeting with the client I felt butterflies in my stomach that resulted in a tight hug and a felling that I’ve already met them in other lives.

The clients, that today are my friends, are Ilaina Rabbatnd and Roshan Paul, founders of the genial Amani Institute, headquartered in Nairobi. The meeting was to discuss the legal viability to bring Amani to Brasil. For our happiness, we made it.

Amani is a school to educate new leaders and enable them to see the world with all its beauties and difficulties, becoming capable of thinking, creating and implementing ideas and projects that transform these realities. For your luck, now Amani is in Brazil and you can learn a lot, in theory and practice, about what we usually talk about here.

Ila was one of the first friends to get to know about the Empathy Experience idea and since the beginning she was one the best supporters of the project. When we arrived in Kenya it was not different. Thanks to her and her huge heart, we were introduced to some of Amani’s alumni who today are heading fantastic initiatives developed in the country.

The best of them was to go to RONA Foundation founded by Roseline Orwa, who takes care of vulnerable widows and orphans.

Rose is a being from another world. Until I met her, if I could choose to be somebody else, I would choose Ivete Sangalo, but after spending four nights with Rose, Ivete lost her place. I had the feeling that even Ivete would like to be Rose, if she wasn’t herself… Well, you will understand why (Ivete, I still love you hehe).

When we arrived by bus at Kisumu, a city in the southwest of the country, Rose was already waiting for us. When we looked each other, she opened a huge smile and her arms, as if we were only meeting again. Tight hug, of course. Dreamers’ things…

Even in the company of two of her esquires, we entered in the car and Rose took the steering wheel. It was when I shouted “Girl Power” and we made a “hi five”. I swear. Fe was already preparing a look of shame on you to me.

The way to RONA took almost two hours and after a long ride through a dirt road, we arrived at a paradise just aside the Lake Victoria, where there is no running water neither electricity (what doesn’t scare us anymore).

We dropped of the car and there was a choral of around twenty children singing and dancing cheery songs. The party took the rest of the day. We ate mango, laughed a lot and felt in love with the generosity and love they received us. One room was especially reserved to us and fresh fruits were put on the table every half an hour.

When the night came, they lighted the fire and we had dinner all together. Every night I was lucky and had the chance to have a little one sleeping on my arms, while some others caressed my hair. I like that so much that I almost paid them to keep doing it, but then I remembered that child labour is a crime.

Rose was born there, in Wagoma Village in Bondo. She is a daughter of teachers and grew up listening about the importance of education in a village where the majority of people suffer from HIV. It’s not for nothing that Wagoma is known as “Dead Village”. This is because the behaviour there is predominantly chauvinist. All men, including the married ones, usually date with so many women and when they discover they are HIV positive, they simply refuse to receive treatment, even less to avoid the contamination of their partners. This omission is the biggest responsible for the deaths, what leave lots of widows and orphans every year.

But Rose saw this negative cycle since she was young and had a feeling that she should do something against that. After married, living in Nairobi, Rose discovered she couldn’t have children. This was enough to ruin her marriage and, if she had allowed, her life. Following that the divorce came and Rose could not run from the stigmas imposed by the society upon a divorced and childless woman. Her house and office were put on fire, she lost her job in the government and a scholarship. All because the divorce.

Considering that so much is needed to take the brightness of someone who was born with an open heart, Rose met a new love and got married again. The marriage lasted enough for her to still talk about him with plenty of love. Rose became a widow eight years ago.

Again, she didn’t fall down. Rose already knew the path to ride and decided to do different. Slowly her house was becoming a meeting point to other widows that were facing the same challenge as hers. It was thrilling to listen to Rose saying that her great inspiration was her mom, Mama Patricia, who used to mobilise the community in favour of relevant matters when Rose was still a child.

In Kenya, as in most African countries – and worldwide – women live in a permanent situation of vulnerability in relation to their legal rights and obligations. The new constitution of the country from 2010, foresees gender equality between men and women in several aspects of civil law. But in practice, it’s not like that.

Even with this new law the local costumes, especially in rural areas, continue to be applied. One of them is the belief that man is the solely owner of the house and material assets acquired by the couple. In case of divorce or husband’s death, the woman loses everything, what in most cases is confiscated by the husband’s family.

Then Rose realized that she could be the pioneer of a new movement against discriminations and stigmatisation of women. Why not creating a space where dozens of orphans, who were growing abandoned, could be taken care as well?

That is how RONA Foundation – Wagoma Orphans and Widows – was born and Rose, with her heart like a mother, quit her job and decided to bring life to the dead village.

Today almost 200 children and young orphans are supported by RONA. To some of them, the centre is everything they have. To others, there’s where they spend the whole day, have fun with their friends, have all the meals and afterwards go to sleep in some relative or neighbour’s house. This happens every day. Thanks to the resources donated to RONA, it’s possible to maintain almost all the children at school, once there is a fee per child for every quarter. Two of the youngsters that grew up at RONA are now in university.

To Rose, RONA has three main purposes today: (i) to promote #StopWidowAbuse campaign which aims to drive awareness for this issue and instigate the creation of laws to protect widows; (ii) to transform them in a role model of centres to support widows and orphans, that could be replied in many counties; and (iii) advocate to create a clear policy that protects widows and orphans when the husband/father passes away, once according to Rose, life insurance doesn’t really work in Kenya.

It doesn’t stop here!! Rose created a real army by reuniting widows from Wagoma, offering coaching to generate income, creating a community garden, donating goats and chickens to produce milk and eggs and realizing discussion forums about rights and obligations. She began to bring consciousness to women that didn’t even know that it was possible to say no to something prejudicial to them and, this way, they became more powerful and capable to overcome the stigmas and difficulties that their stories keep reminding them.

Furthermore, thanks to Rose sixteen houses were built to accommodate some of the widows and their children. Eight of them are still in the line to have their own too. We even participated in the construction of a mud house, which was built in just one day with the help of neighbours. It was a party! The movie shows more about this day.

The curious part about it is that the men responsible for the beginning of the construction went through a hard process to be convinced, once that working in favour of a widow would be against the costumes, even more building her a house.

Observing this, lately the men were exactly who gained more attention from RONA with the creation of a soccer team. This was the way Rose found to keep them close to the community issues and bring them into the needed discussions, such as the importance of HIV prevention and control and the campaign to stop widow’s abuse. Men, as always, are a fundamental ally to fight gender inequalities and the closer they are the easier it is to overcome obstacles.

It’s funny to realize how respectable Rose’s presence is! We had the chance to watch a soccer game between Team RONA and visitors (Fe also played and “taught a lot” as he usually jokes…). But even with the participation of Felipe Valderrama (his new nickname in reason of the long hair adopted), the game ended up in a draw and a speech of Rose. Calmly and very secure, she asserted that without dedication there is no winning and the first step to be taken should be to remove the sand hill that stays literally in the middle of the field hehe. You will see in the video.

And then I kept myself thinking how that woman, with a story built over challenges which also includes serious health problems and the loss of many relatives, was able to reborn and take over her own life, becoming the biggest reference on her community and the main inspiration I had so far. What do I have to do to become like this?

I’ve concluded that the first step is to make my voice stronger without using any additives.

The other answers Rose gave me herself when she said that we are not the ones how choose the path. It’s the path that chooses us.

She went further when she said that money doesn’t build anything. People are the ones who build and she is a proof of it. RONA operates through donations and Rose invested the little she had in this project. The dream is to slowly become a financially self sustainable role model that can be replicable in different parts of the world.

God and the same love that make us believe that happiness is only real when shared. Who is REALLY happy wishes everybody to be happy too and you can’t wish it ignoring the reality in which the majority of the world lives today.

While you are reading this post, the two hundred girls arrested in Nigeria in 2014 were not found so far, the Syrian refugee children are dying of cold during the hard winter in Lebanon and the millions of Brazilians who still don’t have access to water and sanitation. At the same time, 1% of the world population holds 48% of the world’s wealth (source: World Bank) and this means that you, me and Rose are part of the remaining 99%. So we are in the same boat, sharing the other 52% and we should help each other even more, right?

But if you are part of the 1%, please call me, because I have nice suggestions on how you can invest your money in a way that it will make you feel really happy for being. Not for having.

Who wants to be part of the change, access RONA Foundation’s website, understand more about the story, the projects and make your online donation, so that Rose can keep sharing happiness. That now is also yours.

To know more about Amani Institute click here and to participate in the #StopWidowAbuse campaign you just need to post a picture holding this quote (in a white paper) and include the hash tag. The more pictures we have all around the world, more chances Rose has to convince legislators about giving attention to this cause.



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