As a little girl living in rural Kenya with no running water or electricity, I, Beldina Opiyo, the Director of Alice Visionary Foundation Project, did not know if I would ever make it out of my small village. But being, the youngest of eight with six brothers, I knew that I would not allow myself to be limited by my gender in my future career. I was raised in a gender-neutral household: “There were no ‘boys’ chores’ and ‘girls’ chores’ in our house. Everyone was treated equally. My brothers used to encourage me to ‘be bold like us.’ The sky’s the limit!” When I doubted myself or my future, my mother Alice, a lay pastor, reminded me that, “If God closes the door, he opens windows for you one day to do his work.” Alice raised me and my siblings with a strict hand and a deep love of God. Our home was always open to those in need of love, shelter, or a meal. As a woman dedicated to doing the Lord’s work, my mother instilled this commitment to her faith and service in all of her children.
Just as my mother had promised, in my view, God opened a window for me to leave my village in western Kenya, about 50 minutes outside of Kenya’s third largest city, Kisumu, to finish primary school in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital and later went to a high school in Nakuru. Despite earning top marks in High School, I lacked the funds required to attend university. Instead, my brothers, who had always treated me as equal, raised money for me to attend secretarial school. After working as a secretary for a few years and fending off repeated sexual advances from my bosses, I finally received a partial scholarship to attend East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania, where one of my brothers had also studied. There I earned a Bachelor’s in Community Health and a Master’s Degree in Public Health and went on to work for several years in public health in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
During this time, the HIV/AIDS epidemic hit Kenya hard, with Kisumu and the surrounding areas among the most profoundly affected areas, peaking with a HIV/AIDS prevalence rate of 22% at the time. Each time I visited home, the faces of AIDS orphans and the suffering of my fellow Kenyans haunted me long after my return to the States. I knew that I had been enormously privileged even to complete school, let alone to attend an American university. My education had prepared me to pursue my life’s work, which I viewed as God’s work, whereas so many others in Kenya, especially girls, were not afforded that opportunity. I wanted to share the same joy and fulfillment that I got from my own education with women and girls across Kenya. So after much prayer, I rallied my siblings together, to start the Alice Visionary Foundation Project (AVFP), (www.alicevisionary.org) to honor our late mother Alice and her vision and dedication to serving the needy.
For several years after its founding, AVFP was run by my siblings, with my guidance from the US. Eventually, against everyone’s advice, I “took a bold step of faith and stepped out of the boat, just as Jesus did when he walked on water,” and returned to my former home in Kisumu to work in the city and its environs. Under my leadership, AVFP now serves women and girls, as well as men and boys in some programs, in the areas of health, education, Gender-Based Violence,and economic empowerment. With support from small donors, AVFP has expanded its mandate to help women and girls meet their essential needs in the Kisumu slums of Manyatta. Although Beldina regularly faces challenges and setbacks in her work, my faith keeps me pressing ahead. With everything I do, I do commit it to prayer first, and uses spiritual guidance to ensure that every aspect of AVFP’s work is in the service of God, helping the needy and the poor, just as my mother Alice always did.