Jen Foster is beginning a three-year commitment as an international advocate in Kenya, with two goals: helping women start businesses to become self-sufficient and validating the Kenya Simba Scholars program of the Saint Joseph United Methodist Church. The church is trying to raise the number of scholarships it provides from 100 to 1,000.
Foster is raising money for her work through donations. So far she has $35,000; her goal is $55,000 to cover her salary, living expenses and health insurance for three years. She will split her time between the U.S. and Kenya.
To donate money to her cause, contact Saint Joseph United Methodist Church at 485-9681 or send a check made out to the church with a note indicating it's for Foster's mission to Saint Joseph UMC, 6004 Reed Road, Fort Wayne, IN 46835.
Foster can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn more about Creative Women of the World, or CWoW, by going to www.creativewomenoftheworld.com or stopping by the store at 125 W. Wayne St.
On Oct. 29, Jen Foster will leave Fort Wayne for Africa to begin a three-year commitment to help empower the women and children of Kenya.
As an international advocate, Foster's mission is twofold. She will partner with Creative Women of the World, or CWoW, a local fair trade design and marketing company, to mentor Kenyan women as they start a small business that hopefully will result in them creating a sustainable income for themselves.
She also will work to validate a program called the Kenya Simba Scholars already established by her church, Saint Joseph United Methodist Church. The program provides scholarships to help Kenyan children go to school.
Her role will be to establish connections between sponsors and scholars and recruit more sponsors to increase the program tenfold, from 100 scholarships to 1,000.
It's a radical departure for a woman who originally wanted to go into broadcasting or filmmaking.
Foster attended Northrop High School and Indiana University. After graduation, she worked as a translator for awhile, then attended a school in Arizona to get an audio degree. She moved to the East Coast, took a couple of jobs in the audio industry, but eventually determined the industry “wasn't a passion for me.”
At the end of 2007, she decided to go to Africa as part of a volunteer program. “It was one of those things I always thought would be a dream that would never come true,” she said.
She had saved a bit of money and found a volunteer program, and, in January 2008, she set off for five weeks in Kenya. She was supposed to volunteer at a hospital, but after only a week her supervisor told her it was too dangerous to be there, so she had to leave. Elections had been held recently in Kenya, sparking tribal warfare. The hospital was not a safe place for her to be.
The supervisor led her through back alleys to a gated orphanage outside Nairobi where she would be safe. She volunteered there for the next four weeks, and that's where she found her passion. She worked with little girls between the ages of 3 and 15, girls who had been unwanted by their families. Some had been raped or sexually molested. Two had been buried alive by their fathers.
“The girls just adored that we were even there,” she said of herself and another volunteer, Tina Moseley. “They wanted to touch us and play with our hair.”
The girls in the orphanage were African and fascinated by the volunteers' Caucasian features. The girls spoke Swahili, which was translated into English by an interpreter. One girl told Foster, “You're so beautiful. You look like a banana,” referring to the color of her skin.
After a month Foster returned to the U.S. and got a job in Washington D.C. doing live sound in a theater. But Kenya remained on her mind.
“It's such a spirited country,” she said, mentioning Kenyans' ability to just burst out in song. “They're such a simple people, and I fell in love with that.”
Eventually, she moved back to Fort Wayne to be closer to her family and took a job at Sweetwater Sound. She got involved with Saint Joseph United Methodist Church, and, with her knowledge of Kenya, the Rev. Russ Abel encouraged her to get involved in the Kenya Simba Scholars Program.
About a year ago, she met Lorelei VerLee, the founder and executive director of CWoW, and started volunteering for that organization.
When Foster goes to Kenya, she will work with a woman named Grace Mwangi, the founder of Kelly's Jewelries in Nairobi, who will gather other women in the area to work with Foster. She hopes to begin a training program for female artisans so they can use their skills to earn an income.
Moseley, who she worked with at the orphanage, will join her in this endeavor.
She will go over to Kenya for four months, then return to the U.S., and then go back again at some point. Her role as an international advocate is expected to last three years.