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Women’s Economic Empowerment Groups Change Life in Rural Kenya

In Kenya’s Kitui District, home to a million people, Janet Mumo is the only woman ever known to ride a motorcycle. She must, she said, to reach her rural constituents.

Mumo will visit the University of Virginia on Oct. 18 to give a talk on "Transforming Lives: Community-Based Development in Kenya" in Minor Hall’s auditorium. A reception will follow. The event, which begins at 5 p.m., is hosted by the U.Va. Women's Center.

She is the founder and director of the Kitui Development Center in southeastern Kenya. Its mission is to build leadership in village women, who then improve the quality of life for those suffering from severe drought, famine and other effects of poverty. In just one Kitui program, Mumo works with 1,753 women who feed 7,400 children.

Their strategy: Women pool their small resources to buy seeds, goats and chickens; start small businesses; and use their aggregate income to provide school fees, schools, medicine, clean water and more for their children and their communities.

One past project involved helping women get started in planting and harvesting sunflowers, along with beekeeping. The sunflowers provide bees with nectar, and they produce more honey. The sunflowers also provide edible oil to the community, and the sunflower seedcake is used as animal feed.

To respond to the many children orphaned by the AIDS epidemic, the center strengthens the agricultural self-sufficiency of rural village families, who feed scores of orphans and care for them in their homes. Mumo’s center does not provide money, but teaches a wide variety of skills to rural Kenyan women, who then work in small groups to transform lives. Other projects focus on water, health and positive youth development. The women are especially determined that their female children, as well as their young boys, are allowed to go to school – a privilege most of them were denied, said Sharon Davie, who directs the Women’s Center and is writing about women’s programs in Kenya.

Full of energy, with an unflagging sense of humor and a deep belief in human potential, Mumo – the only woman on the Kitui Town Council – has been recognized in Kenya and internationally for her strategic approach to community-based development.

Her visit is co-sponsored by the Women, Gender and Sexuality program in the College of Arts & Sciences, the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African American and African Studies and the African Development Project at St. Paul’s Memorial Church.

The event is free and open to the public, but an RSVP should be sent by Oct. 15 to Bri Goode at wcevents@eservices.virginia.edu.

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