Friday, September 30, 2011

KENYA: The Constitution, Widows and Orphans

"We have one of the best-- if not the best -- constitutions in the world today," said Ambassador Elkanah Odembo, Kenya's emissary to the United States. In Charlottesville at the invitation of the African Development Project at St. Paul's Memorial Church, Ambassador Odembo is an old friend of the church and Charlottesville.

Beginning in the 1988, when he worked for World Neighbors in Kenya, Odembo visited Charlottesville to talk about the work of that nongovernmental organization. Educated at Bowdoin College in Maine and the University of Texas, he had returned to his native Kenya.
Sue Rainey, who met Odembo in the 1980s and introduced him Friday night, said she followed his career because she knew this young man was going to make a difference.

An advocate for social justice, Odembo found himself fighting the Kenyan government. Eventually, government leadership began to change, and Odembo became part of that change, participating in a Constitutional Convention to rewrite Kenya's Constitution.

"It is a revolutionary constitution," he claimed, covering not only the basic human rights of free speech, religious freedom and civil rights but also guaranteeing the basic needs of human beings for food, health care, water and shelter.

With this framework, he explained, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) like World Neighbors and others can more appropriately serve the needs of others.

Kenya has also improved the status of women in Kenya, providing them with rights that they lacked only a few years ago. For example, women can now own property rather than being considered the "property" of their husbands to be inherited by brothers-in-law when they are widowed.

He also explained that Kenya is in the process of creating more local governments in the newly created 47 counties (like our states). The Ambassador believes that the tribal wars of 2007-08 are a thing of the past and that Kenya over the next 10 years will be working to improve its infrastructure of roads and access to electricity. He predicts that Kenya will become the first country to depend totally on renewable energy, and he anticipates that geothermal energy production will reach 10,000 megawatts.

In response to questions, the ambassador said that Kenya is working to reforest its lands which in recent years had been reduced from 10% tree cover to 3%. He noted the work of Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Wangari Maathai (who died earlier this month) to reforest Kenya. Currently, the nation is reforesting at the rate of 70,000,000 trees per year. It also has passed a law requiring farmers to allocate 10% of their land to trees.

The Ambassador also said the Kenya would not close its borders to Somalis fleeing the famine. Currently, its camp on the Somali border, built for 80,000, holds 560,000 refugees, mostly women and children. The camp is the fourth largest settlement in Kenya, after Nairobi, Kisumu and Mombasa.

In addition to the Ambassador, the Rev. James Ouma spoke about the Nyalwodep Project for Orphans which pairs orphans (resulting from the HIV deaths of their parents) with widows, most of whose spouses died from HIV. Currently the west Kenyan project is supporting 65 widows and 120 children. There are schools for the children and occupational training for the widows. His too is an inspiring project and one of several that is sponsored by the African Development Project.

Later, in October, the Rev. Peter Indalo, leader of the Oyani Christian Rural Services in western Kenya, will also be speaking in Charlottesville. His is another of the projects along with Kitui Development Center that receives funding through the African Development Project, which includes many citizens in Charlottesville but which has been a partnership between St. Paul's and Trinity Episcopal Churches. Sphere: Related Content

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