Kirathi, Kilemi and Langat pose for a picture after Kilemi spoke to a group of students about The Village Trust last semester.

In parts of rural Kenya where the cultural focus is on men, women don’t have a choice. With little to no education and no means of income, they are often forced to live in poverty and abuse.

Native Kenyan Irene Kirathi (’12) witnessed this after visiting a medical camp in connection with a nonprofit organization called The Village Trust. “I saw these people and it broke my heart,” Kirathi says. “In Kenya, men are valuable. Women suffer from lack of knowledge.”

United Nations Ambassador Sarah Kilemi, Ph.D., is determined to change this. She founded The Village Trust in an effort to break the cycle of poverty in rural Kenya through teaching women how to provide for themselves. “The only way we can help women is to economically empower them,” Kilemi says.

The Village Trust was created to “empower village groups, especially women and youth, to combat poverty, disease, illiteracy and ignorance through income-generating activities, education, training and social mobilization for a brighter common future.” Basically, they provide women with business education and help them to establish small businesses that have proven to be profitable.

Kirathi brought the plight of The Village Trust to Bethel. “The Village Trust is not just giving women things, like food or clothes, it’s teaching them to sustain themselves and how to love,” says Kirathi.

With the help of International Students Coordinator for Intercultural Development Lori (Natelborg ’03) Gonzalez, and fellow Kenyan Mercy Langat (’13), Kirathi partnered with on-campus organizations to raise $1,300 through a silent auction for The Village Trust last school year. Last month Langat and Kirathi helped put on another auction. All the funds raised went toward helping women in one village escape poverty and abuse.

“We could not pass up the opportunity to support the work of an organization that has had such a personal and positive global impact,” says Gonzalez.

This past winter, Kilemi visited campus to speak to others who have become interested in helping the organization. She spoke on women’s issues and how simple things — like collecting feminine products or simply praying for The Village Trust can make a huge difference.

The visit also gave Kilemi a chance to reconnect with Kirathi and Langat, who hold a special place in her heart. Kilemi has been a close friend and mentor to both students, and her passion for the poor and abused is contagious. So much so, that Langat is pursuing a similar career path. “I have a passion for women and children affected by HIV and AIDS,” Langat says. Her dream is to return to Africa to work for a Nongovernment Organization (NGO) and eventually work for the United Nations like Kilemi.

“I have a job where I try to be a voice for the less fortunate,” says Kilemi. And though they are continents apart for the time being, Kirathi and Langat hope to do the same through their Bethel partnership with The Village Trust.

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