Focus Africa — helping women in need

Winnipeg group partners with African-led resource centre

Myrna Ronald, a volunteer for Focus Africa, with their display at Manitoba Farm Women’s Conference.

Focus Africa is a small group of Winnipeggers, half Canadian born and half African born, who partner with Beacon of Hope (BOH), an African-led resource centre in a slum near Nairobi, Kenya.

Myrna Ronald is one of numerous volunteers raising money to help Beacon of Hope. She has accompanied her husband (an Infectious Disease physician) to Africa over the past 30 years getting to know the people who have been directly affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. At a Manitoba Farm Women’s Conference in Brandon, Ronald had a display of clothing, bags, purses, and kitchen linens for sale, made by the women affected by AIDS.

“When in Africa I have taken orphans by bus to their doctors’ appointments, counselled teens about re-entering school, helped women to better their tailoring skills, learned how to build schools and made sure money allocated appropriately goes to designated projects. We leave this month for four weeks in Africa,” said Ronald.

Jane Wathome, the director of BOH, saw many women at work, church and in her neighbourhood caught in a cycle of extreme poverty, the sex trade and HIV/AIDS. She decided to pursue further training in counselling and theology in order to help. During her studies she partnered with MAP International, an organization that helps people living in poverty, and was introduced to a slum in Ongata Rongai.

Wathome and a group of friends arrived in the area in September 2001 where they met women living there who had taken initiative to deal with HIV/AIDS that was afflicting their families, and the creation of Beacon of Hope resulted from this in May 2002.

Some of the articles made in Africa by women affected by AIDS. photo: Joan Airey

The mission of BOH is to bring hope to women living with and affected by HIV/AIDS by empowering needs. Ongata Rongai has a population of 147,000, and to date BOH has helped over 7,000 women through training in income-generating programs, to be independent and have resources for their children to be fed and schooled. The vision of the women of Ongata Rongai is to grow to become a training centre for Nairobi, Kenya and other African countries.

Ronald said, “Our group in Winnipeg does two things to raise funds for BOH. Every October we have a fundraising event. This has been an African dinner or dessert and coffee evening with African drumming and stories. This year we finished paying for a birthing centre so women can have safe, clean deliveries. We also set up the African market several times during the year where we can sell the beautiful items, with all funds raised going back to the women of BOH.”

To learn more about this project on the Focus Africa Facebook page.

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