Founder of All-Girls School in Kenya to Speak at SBU; Kenyan Environmentalist's Film Precedes Talk

Kate Fletcher, founder of Hekima Place, embraces young girls affected by the AIDS epidemic. Credits: Hekima Place website

ST. BONAVENTURE, NY – One person can make a big difference.

Stacey Valimont, a senior environmental studies major, learned that firsthand while she spent her four-week semester break volunteering at Hekima Place, an all-girls home in Kenya founded in 2005 by a woman from the Pittsburgh area named Kate Fletcher.

Valimont heard of Hekima Place from a fellow St. Bonaventure student and traveled to Kenya hoping the girls she met, or the service she performed, would spark ideas for her senior capstone project. Her experiences did not disappoint, she said.

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"Going there was very inspirational," Valimont said. "Seeing those girls so happy, so excited about school, made me realize how much I took education for granted."

Valimont decided she could share what she learned in Kenya at St. Bonaventure – an idea helped by the fact that Fletcher had been considering a trip to the U.S. And so Monday at 7 p.m. Fletcher will speak at the university about her mission at Hekima Place and about the importance of education in Third World countries.

Fletcher’s talk in the Robert R. Jones Trustees Room of Doyle Hall will be preceded by the 6 p.m. showing of "Taking Root," a 50-minute documentary detailing the efforts of Wangari Maathai, an internationally renowned Kenyan political activist and Nobel laureate who began a grassroots movement to plant over 30 million trees and give jobs to over 900,000 women.

"It just so happened that everything would be very well timed,” Valimont said.

The film and talk sponsored by the university’s Clare College, Embrace It Africa and environmental studies program, are free and open to the public. Cookies and brownies will be served.

Valimont gave some of Fletcher's back story, explaining that she had been widowed in 2002, had spent part of her own childhood in an orphanage and felt so moved by the AIDS epidemic in Kenya that she took action. 

"She realized that she had two choices – she could sit and mourn and do nothing essentially, or she could find a way to contribute positively to society," Valimont said.

What began as the humble home Fletcher founded on rented land in Karen, Kenya, has grown to a much larger facility outside of Nairobi that supports over 86 girls affected in some way by the AIDS epidemic. The girls who live in the home range in age from infancy to university years.

Valimont, with the mindset of an environmentalist, added that the trip to Kenya made her see how important education could be in helping protect the environment.

"Wangari's documentary really helped put things into perspective. ... cutting down a single tree can harm their water supply, ...cutting down a tree destroys habitats so important for the survival of local ecosystems," Valimont said.

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