This is Part 2 of my 2 part story about Beldina Opiyo.
What I love about Beldina’s passion is that she is where she lived, she is on ground with her people, she listens to her community, she is not afraid to get hands dirty and help fight their battles that have to be won to help make a difference to help become the change, all the while ensuring her foundation is fulfilling its obligations and helping to improve the quality of life in the Amilo community. Beldina left Kenya to gain the education tools and skills she would need to return to Amilo, to start to build a foundation identifying and addressing the immediate needs of her village. As the AVFP grows deeper in size and experience, they are continuing to expand their capabilities to other needy areas, step by step. Starting small, and carefully serving those they can, AVFP hopes that little by little, and step by step, they can begin to make a visible difference, where Beldina is helping her community to “Become the Change”.
I will miss Beldina, she is an incredible inspiration and a source of information, and a truly wonderful friend during my 6 months in Kisumu, and I am extremely grateful and most fortunate for having a friend nearby in a place that is far from home. She helped me feel comfortable in Kisumu, she welcomed me, Christine, and all of the PULSE colleagues into Kisumu with the warmth of her friendship and her true Kisumu spirit; Thank you Beldina for your kindness. She has been a wealth of information about the area, the culture, and about what gets done, how it gets done, and what does not. Her generosity, warm heart, and helping hand at all times of the day, are so very much appreciated. “Beldina” is a person whose story I just had to tell.
(Quick transition to a short side story: Dr Steve Godin happens to be married to my wife’s best friend and college roommate from years back. When Steve found out I was going to Kisumu as a PULSE volunteer, he told me “You have to contact Beldina, she is one of the most genuine and generous people you will meet.” And sure enough, my first day in the OGRA office, I received a call from Beldina, and she picked me up at 5 pm, gave me a driving tour of Kisumu, asked me ‘what do you need to make yourself comfortable in your apartment?” I simply said a non-stick frying pan is probably No1 on my list. So, off we went to the MegaCity shopping center and the largest Nakumatt that just seemed so out of place in the town of Kisumu. Over time, we continue to run into each other in the stores, on the streets, and we (the PULSE team) have met with her and her family on numerous occaisions socially for dessert or for a really incredible traditional ‘chipati party’. I digress, yes, but my point is, Beldina has been an incredibly great friend to me and my PULSE colleagues, she has genuine interest in our projects and offers very constructive and sound advice how to become more successful during our limited time in Kisumu. Beldina is so well connected within the town of Kisumu, I never question who she knows, I often wonder, just who doesn’t she know.)
This past Friday, Victoria, Isabelle, JoJo and I visited Amilo Village Children’s Community Day, an event held prior to the World AIDS Day marathon in Kisumu held this past Monday. The afternoon was focused on the children, with 357 youngsters (up to 70% orphaned and vulnerable children). Games, music and dance, and plenty of laughter filled the air. Isabelle helped with many of the jump rope events, I saw Victoria dancing with a few of the children, and JoJo and I were milling about taking photographs and helping on the food line. Richard Brodsky (see Richard Brodsky Foundation, http://www.richardmbrodsky.org ) , a chief sponsor of the World AIDS Day marathon event in Kisumu) was also in attendance with family and friends (two who were physicians), participating in the activities and helping serve the many meals to all of the children. The doctors set up a small clinic inside the AVFP office to attend to the children most in need. The day quickly wound down as the sun began to set and the clouds began to look rather ominous. One poignant moment midway through the day, Beldina took the four of us on a short walk across the road to ‘her home’ where she was born and raised. We walked into her house and her bedroom where she grew up, sat beneath the trees planted by her father that now provided the much welcomed shade under the hot afternoon sun, bringing us full circle with Beldina and Mama Alice’s vision for the future.
About the Alice Visionary Foundation Project (AVFP): AVFP was formed, and she is the executive director. But Beldina’s impact is felt through her communications with people, she works with people on the ground, she supports the ethical part of working. She is compassionate, and prides herself on being down to earth, talking with the people, being effective as she becomes one of them, treating everyone as an equal. Beldina loves interacting with the people doing their jobs, getting to know each person, what makes them tick, what inspires them, she understands their issues and their challenges because she is there with them, learning alongside them, teaching and guiding them. She says many people working in NGO’s lack the passion and the connection with the community. Not Beldina—she talks openly and freely with every one because every person and their voice count. She wants to know how she can inspire you, motivate you, and make you an effective contributor to the community. All of her life’s experiences, her learnings from each and every job she had from secondary school until her ownership of AVFP, has been impactful influencing those around her. She stresses quality, quality at your job, quality in the products you make and the products you buy. Why pay for something twice that lasts half as long, when you can buy a better product that will last many times longs. She sees the long range vision and is trying to instill those beliefs upon her community.
In Amilo village, most village homes are made of grass and mud. Basic utilities like electricity, gas and running water are unheard of here. A large part of the children’s (mostly girls) daily waking hours is consumed in fetching water and firewood from as far as 20 kilometers (12 miles) away. The main food crops are maize, beans, some rice, cassava, millet, and green grams. Sugarcane, cotton, and livestock are the main sources of money from the farms. Off-farm employment however, is also a main source of income for some households in this area. Some of the wares produced for sale include consumer goods such as sisal products, baskets and pots. Low income, undeveloped local resources, high levels of unemployment and a high school drop out rate due to poverty, pregnancies, and HIV-related reasons characterize the general community. Her community being served by AVFP has long suffered the effects of HIV/AIDS. Beldina has witnessed firsthand the pain from loss of their parents, siblings, and children as well as the anguish of poverty. The average number of children per family is seven. It is very difficult to provide sufficient food, healthcare and education to all the family members on a low income. Women and children, whose status is low in the society, suffer from poor education and malnutrition. In the area of health and nutrition, there has been general decline in the provision of health services from the government. Infant and children under-five mortality rates have been on the rise. The HIV/AIDS pandemic has compounded the deteriorating health standards. In its wake, the pandemic has caused a steep rise in the number of orphans, growing destitution and unprecedented levels of poverty. The poverty line adopted in Kenya is US $17 and US$36 per month per adult in the rural and urban areas respectively. Kenya is ranked among the top ten low income economies. Through the AVFP, Beldina’s efforts are slowly creating positive effects in many of these areas and will continue to do so because of her endless energy to give back.
Back in July, Beldina met with Michelle, JoJo, Christine and me and drove us through areas around Kisumu that we would never venture into on our own, and she pointed out some of the urban revitalization efforts ongoing in the Manyatta slums. She took a genuine interest in all of our programs, is so well connected within Kisumu, providing us with information, guidance, and very honest feedback. As a single mother of 2 children, she instills an incredible work ethic whereby nothing is handed to you, that you achieve what you invest time and effort into. She lives what she teaches, she loves where she is, she is always investing her time, her energy into Kisumu and the Amilo community from whence she came. And with all of her energy and all of her commitment to wanting to bring her community forward, Belinda truly is Being the Change in the Amilo community in Kenya.
Starting Saturday: My 1st installment of my ‘Final 4’ starting with “What I Will Not Miss From My PULSE Experience”, to be followed by “What I Will Miss From My PULSE Experience”, followed by……….