500 Rural Women Share Love’s Ferocity!
“Grassroots” African Women’s Conference
By Kay Walburger



Tingling with Excitement, Enthusiasm, and Anticipation, the auditorium filled with 500 Indigenous Women from Africa. They came to share life experiences, heartfelt wisdom, resources, common problems and innovative solutions in an atmosphere of ‘Jubilant Celebration!’ 

They were dressed in the most beautiful and colorful clothes they could borrow from family and friends in their village, heads wrapped in lovely silk scarves in traditional styles that highlighted their natural grace and beauty,” reports Kathe Schaaf and Sandy Pendleton, two U.S. delegates.

These grassroots women traveled for days on crowded busses from Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and other countries as far away as South Africa to join the Gather the Women’s African Women’s Conference at Bondo Teacher’s College in a rural area of Kenya.

Hungry for this experience, they were eagerly meeting and exchanging contact information in order to stay in touch. We were all amazed by the ‘Spirit of Determination’ and ‘Ferocity of Love’ these women exuded,” explains Kathe. “Their lives are incredibly difficult because women do all the work for the family and the community in a nearly barren and scorched land. Daily they walk about four hours to collect water from spigots, rivers, or lakes; then they find ways to boil it because it is unfit to drink. Firewood is hard to come by now because of deforestation!  One of the things the women were learning about is solar cooking. Most of the women married early and have many children. They do not have many legal rights because property does not transfer, and widows lose their homes if their husbands die. 

Late last year, four women from Orange County, California, journeyed to Africa to meet the rural women of that region. They went as representatives of Gather the Women, a global community of women and women’s organizations, which encourages feminine leadership in service of discovering collaborative solutions for the world.

Joyce Oneko anchored a team to bring the Conference to Africa. She has a keen understanding of these women’s lives. An attorney educated in England, she returned to live in her rural village, on the shores of Lake Victoria. Joyce understood that these women would not be able to come unless someone paid their way. She knew that what these women needed as much as contacts and support they would get from being there, they also needed a break! They needed special treatment, their meals served, a tea break each day and a goodie bag of useful items to take back home.

“Fortunately she has a working relationship with a Foundation in the Bay Area called Global Partners for Development. This Foundation raised $70,000 dollars so that every single woman could attend this Gather the Women Conference at no cost to them personally. They received three meals a day and a tea break while at the event. It was “primitive by our standards, the Ritz by theirs!” The 36 women from the U.S. and Canada were asked to bring items for the goodie bags such as mosquito netting, insect repellent, children’s art supplies, paper and pencils, and other useful things.

Joyce’s expectations were exceeded and the women’s experiences and enthusiastic networking thrilled her. This event has begun to change the heart of Africa for the better as they each returned home to share the great news that they are not alone, isolated in their rural villages. Rather a whole wide world of women are ready, willing, and able to assist in making life prosperous for them and their families!

Kathe Schaaf, Ginny Gibson, Sandy Pendleton and Judy Wright traveled first to Kenya and then Tanzania as part of a larger delegation of 36 women from North America. They visited rural villages where they learned of the challenges being faced by rural women: HIV-AIDS and other health issues, lack of clean water, hunger, lack of educational opportunities (especially for girls), domestic violence, lack of legal rights, and the need for economic opportunities and small business models which can bring women out of poverty. 

Kathe Schaaf, one of the co-founders of Gather the Women, says, “This trip to East Africa was life changing for all of us. We had many incredible experiences but the most inspiring thing we saw was the tenacity, resourcefulness and creativity of the rural women. The women of this region are creative leaders who are committed to building strong and sustainable communities.”

In villages we visited, women dancing and singing under the hot sun greeted us. They welcomed us and guided us into the rhythms of their dance. One strong voice sang out a haunting phrase, and all the women echoed in response. We were quickly singing with them. It did not matter that we didn’t understand the Swahili words. In the way of all women, exchanging stories led to laughter, tears and real relationships.”

Sandy remembers, “I was struck by all the things we have in common as women, mothers, sisters, daughters, and for the first time in my life I experienced ‘True Sisterhood!’ In every village we visited, we were greeted by such love and celebration from the women. In the midst of extreme poverty they joyfully shared everything they had with us!  They live in the moment with such passion that I was forever changed and inspired to make a commitment to assisting these women. I am now contributing a portion of my income to their community and business projects that grow the prosperity serving them all.

They have managed to create collaborative ‘Projects’ that will make villages better for all. Projects such as clean water, education, housing for HIV orphans, etc. One of the women’s projects started a micro-lending fund with twenty women each contributing 50 cents a month. From this fund they lend out money for such things as buying a sewing machine to earn extra money, then pay back the loan with interest and grow the fund. During their presentation our women were so moved, we raised $9,000.00 to contribute towards these women’s projects.”

Relationships lead all of us into new philanthropic endeavors. It makes sense that women would crave a paradigm of philanthropy rooted in relationship. This impulse is going global with the help of the internet and through the efforts of initiatives like Gather the Women. As the women of the world begin to come together, they will change the face of philanthropy.

Gather the Women Global MatrixSM is a new kind of organic, self-organizing grassroots initiative to awaken the leadership potential of the women of the world. Gather the Women (GTW) uses the new technology of the internet to magnify and mobilize the enormous potential of feminine wisdom; at the same time, GTW recognizes the ancient tradition of gathering in circles where one woman reaching out to connect with another woman can experience the power of shared intention.

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