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Challenges Facing Girls & Women in Africa

On Tuesday, October 14th, we went to Notre Dame College to attend a program featuring Dr. Dorothy Nyong'o, M.D. Managing Director of the Africa Cancer Foundation, about the Challenges Facing Girls and Women in Africa. Most of the presentation concerned the efforts of the Africa Cancer Foundation, which is based to fight cancer in Africa. Dr. Nyong'o is from Kenya, where the foundation is based, and was a very articulate speaker who talked about how she and her husband, Professor Peter Anyang' Nyong'o, set up the foundation in 2011 after he was treated successfully for prostrate cancer because their awareness was raised by having that experience. Its mission is to promote the prevention of cancer and provide a holistic solution for people affected by cancer in Africa. Its goals are to create links with existing cancer authorities in the world; to mobilize resources for cancer care in Africa; to conduct research, provide information, and provide access on cancer prevention, early diagnosis, treatment and support in Africa; to train health care professionals in Africa on cancer management; to establish comprehensive cancer centers in Africa.

Dr Dorothy Nyongo

Dr. Nyong'o produced statistics and graphs that showed that cancer in Africa was very much a women's issue because 57% of those diagnosed with it in Kenya are women. She told several moving stories about men and women who have fought/are fighting cancer.

Her husband, Professor Nyong'o was also present and he took a couple of questions about Kenya's health care system and the resources available. It should be noted that he was the former Minister for Medical Services in Kenya and is now the Senator from Kisumu County.

Regarding the status of women, Dr. Nyong'o told a story about how her mother-in-law, at age 84, sang a song (or talked repeatedly) about the need to build a local hostel for girls. The reasons for this were because girls often drop out of school because they find it too difficult to balance school with domestic chores and they are sometimes sexually assaulted on the way to school which could lead to them having a child which they must raise themselves. It took several years to raise the money for the 40 bed hostel but it was finally built 2 years ago.

Now the girls have a place where they can be safe, receive food and shelter, and have the time for study. According, their academic performance shot upwards and her mother-in-law, now at age 94, looks forward to seeing some of these young women go off to college.

When asked what it is like to be a woman in Kenya, Dr. Nyong'o said that this was the toughest question that she was asked all evening; she said she didn't know who to answer it because, "I am just me." At this point, Professor Alyne Cistone, Visiting Professor from the College of the Atlantic; and the wife of Joseph Cistone, Jr. of International Partners in Mission (IPM); spoke up and said, from her own experience, that African women are the strongest and most inspirational women that she knew of and talked about how they hard they work to provide for their children and take care of their families. She beautifully complemented Dr. Nyong'o.

This program was one of a series of presentations put on this week by IPM to celebrate their 40th Anniversary. IPM's mission statement reads that it "works across borders of faith, culture, and economic circumstance with children, women and youth to create partnerships that build justice, peace, and hope. Its vision statement reads in part that they partner "with community-based organizations around the world that serve the needs of children, women and youth" and "strive to provide opportunities for partnership that are personal and effective..."

We plan to attend several of their other presentations including a program about liberation theology on Wednesday at the City Club and one about international travel on Friday at the City Club also. We certainly do not plan to miss the IPM's annual "Namaste! One Night for the World" benefit at the Ariel Center on Thursday.

In addition to Professor Cistone, we got to say hello to her husband, Joseph Cistone, Jr. and his father Joseph Cistone, Sr. Ms. Alyssa Bovell, Strategic Initiatives Emerging Experience Fellow with IPM, and IPM board member Mr. Jim Kamphoefner told us some more about IPM and how it works.

We also spoke to Dr. Nicholas R. Santilli, VP for Academic Student Affairs at Notre Dame, who we have met before and who introduced tonight's program; Ms. Jan Roller who asked a fine question about health care; Mr. George Hrbeck of Lutheran Metropolitan Ministries; and Ms. Sharon Milligan, a friend of Ms. Wong's who says hello to her.

During the course of the presentation, Dr. Nyong'o said that she regards herself as a global citizen with global responsibilites. She and Professor Nyong'o have a total of six children. One of their children is Ms. Lupita Nyong'o, an actress who just won an academy award for "12 Years a Slave". Dr. Nyong'o said that she and her husband are very proud of her.

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