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Bendettah´s journey!

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Bendettah´s biggest dream was to become a teacher. But her father, who had ten children with two wives, could not afford to send her to college.
Now she is in charge of the Nikumbuke´s Women Center, where she and her staff teach and support more than 600 women and girls in everything from reading and writing and human rights to health protection and how to run your own business.
Bendettah Muthina Thomas is 44 years old and started the NGO Nikumbuke Project in 2012 after having been part of a similar organization for four years, but run by another woman.
– “Now we have activities in six villages apart from LungaLunga”, she says with pride in her voice.
One day a week the women gather in one of the villages for a two hour meeting in order to get education in English reading and writing, and mathematics. The classes end with a discussion about the importance of health and hygiene, but also about family planning and how to avoid HIV and malaria.
For many of the women, these hours are the highlight of the week. It is not only about learning, just as important is the social part of the meetings where they support each other in an often-challenging everyday life. To many women Bendettah is like a rock to cling on to when they need help and advice.
When one hears Bendettah tell her story it is easy to understand that her unlimited strength and devotion to help others has been a fact all through her life. She was not able to go to a teachers college, but for some years in her twenties she did teach, as a teacher´s assistant, in a primary school. Most schools take on extra teachers, who are not educationally qualified but good at teaching. Bendettah worked as an assistant teacher for five years, but had to give it up, because the pay was so low she could not support a family.
– “I earned less than 1500 Kenyan shillings per month (about 1400 Swedish Krona). We could not live on this, so I had to quit although I loved the job”, Bendettah says.
Instead the young family moved far – to the remote village of LungaLunga in South East Kenya – where she sold second hand clothes in the market for over ten years. The rumor about her teaching skills were soon spread in the new neighborhood and parents started to send their children to her for tutoring, especially in mathematics – Bendettahs´ favorite subject.
Thanks to those private lessons, Bendettah was handpicked to manage a new center for vocational training and adult learning for women. The Nairobi based NGO Project Africa opened the center in LungaLunga in 2008. At that point Bendettah had already been involved in different social projects within and outside church. One of them was to administrate micro loans to help women start their own businesses.
Bendettah built up the organization, but was dependent on others decisions and financial support. When she found out the center in LungaLunga was to be closed, she decided to open a new center for women. It was a tough period, where she had to rely financially on her husband to support her. But with the help from former volunteers from Sweden, and from an American University, she could apply to start her own NGO, buy land and build a new center focused on education and health, and even build new bandas (small houses) for volunteers.
Today she has six employees: three teachers, a nurse, a housekeeper and a night guard. Besides teaching the adult women, she runs a vocational school for young girls, often dropouts and/or young mothers, which provides them education to become tailors and dressmakers. Nikumbuke also imparts computer lessons for both girls and boys on a paying basis.
The major income to the center comes from hosting foreign volunteers. Other sources of income for the centers´ different operations are sponsoring from the Swedish organization Fromone2another, and from the University of Wisconsin. Fromone2another mainly supports the women’s educational activities and runs the Yearly Girls Scholarship Program. The University of Wisconsin has been sponsoring different health projects during the years such as a mobile clinic and motorbikes for health. They also sponsor other projects like water tanks to all villages and Moringa tree plantations (extremely rich in vitamins and minerals).
Bendettah is married and has three children, two girls and a boy. She met her husband while still in high school, but felt it was too early to commit at that age. When Boniface looked her up some years later, they became a couple and got married the African way – with a big party where the husband´s parents gave Bendettah´s family three goats.
– “My family was to say what they wanted for me. But my dad said that most important for him was that his daughter was happy”, Bendettah explains.
In 2010 they married a second time – in the catholic church of LungaLunga, where Bendettah is very much involved. They wanted a church wedding to show they are true Christians but also because they knew that they were good for each other.
Boniface has been a big support to Bendettah all along, especially when she started Nikumbuke. He has his own business in town, and they live in the suburbs of the village with their youngest daughter. Her older daughter and son, both go to a boarding high school, which most students do in Kenya.
Next to Bendettahs house there is a bigger shed with 15 goats. Bendettah calls the goats her life insurance.
– “If I don´t have any income, and cannot pay out salary, I have to sell a goat”, she explains with a smile.
Bendettah is very much loved and appreciated by many and in October 2013 she was given a very prestigious international price from The Women´s World Summit Foundation.
– “For the price money I bought chairs and plates for the center, and held a big party for all the women”!
Bendettah loves working with and for the women.
– “I am so proud of them and what they achieve”, she says.
Her dream is that Nikumbuke Center would own houses and meeting places in all the seven villages, instead of paying rent for schoolhouses, and that she will find a steady sustainable income for the center, so she would not have to worry about the future.
Christina Lundin
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