Shortly after he passed away, her in-laws — her late husband’s own relatives — came onto her property and tried to chase her away, to steal the land where she grew her crops, tended her livestock and raised her children.
In a society where custom affords women few rights, Antonine’s story is all too common. She had little hope of holding onto her land after her husband died far too young from an infection caused by HIV. The epidemic is leaving a whole new generation of widows landless in the Kisumu region of western Kenya where she lives.
Like countless other women in Kisumu, Antonine was double-victimized. Her in-laws even demolished her home to discourage her from staying on the land. They thought intimidating her would be easy. They were wrong.
Antonine wouldn’t stand for the injustice. She stayed put, sleeping under a tree, refusing to give in. She was committed to do everything in her power to maintain ownership of the land – the key to her children leading productive lives. In the meantime, unable to feed, shelter or pay the modest school fees to educate her four children, she was forced to pull them out of school and scatter them among her own friends and family, many who lived far away.
Defying the odds, Antonine’s perseverance paid off: after a long struggle, the Kenyan courts finally recognized her as the rightful owner of the land. But if it weren’t for KELIN , a fearless nonprofit in western Kenya dedicated to helping women like Antonine navigate a byzantine system to claim their legal right to inherit and own land, she would have never gotten this far.
Despite this triumph, one big hurdle remained: she still needed to rebuild her home but lacked the means to do so.
This is where we — Gina and Jennifer — came into the picture. As for our story, we met and became friends a few years ago in Washington, DC while we were both working on improving women’s land rights in East Africa, Jennifer in Uganda and Tanzania and Gina in Kenya.
We’ve both seen firsthand the dramatic difference it can make on women’s lives — and on fighting poverty — when they have the right to own land. We have met the courageous women who have been left destitute but fight on anyway. And we have met the advocates like KELIN, who, at no profit to themselves, work tirelessly to defend these women.
Gina has spent much of the last two years supporting KELIN in its efforts to help these landless, HIV-affected widows. It was in the course of this work that Gina met Antonine. Gina was so moved by Antonine’s story that she shared it with Jennifer and a few other friends and family.
Together, we pooled enough money to rebuild her home. With the funds in hand, KELIN organized the construction on the ground in rural Kenya. Last July, Antonine moved into her new house, was reunited with her children and is now back to cultivating her sugar cane, corn, kale and other crops.
Antonine is now safe. She is can support herself. Her children have a greater chance of breaking the cycle of poverty.
But Antonine is just ONE of many, many women who still face the same situation. KELIN has recently helped 27 WIDOWS with stories similar to Antonine’s: they have won back their land but also need the funds to rebuild their homes – and to rebuild their lives.
Please help us help them in any way that you can. Each home will cost about Ksh. 145,000 ($1400) and will include a separate bathroom facility (per house) and basic household items like a mattress. Your donations will come to us and Gina will then work closely with KELIN who will coordinate the construction of the widows’ homes, as they did with Antonine. We will update you with widows’ individual stories as their homes are rebuilt. We will show you how your support can help empower women.
Your help building their homes will make a tangible difference in these women’s lives and put a roof over their children’s heads. And importantly, it will help their families and communities build a pathway to a brighter future.