The Confederation Secondary School student is now the proud owner of two-and-a-half acres in the country’s Makueni County.
Villeneuve said she considered going down the university route, but decided she wanted to make a real difference, right now. After making two trips to Kenya in the past two years, the local teen came to understand what life was like for orphans living there, and wanted to be part of proactive change.
“I decided I wanted to open an orphanage of my own,” the 17-year-old said.
Villeneuve said her first-hand experiences in Kenya made it the perfect place to focus her humanitarian efforts. While previously working in Kenya, Villeneuve met Geoffrey Ndungu. He currently owns two orphanages in Kenya, and was more than willing to help the Hanmer resident establish her own centre for children.
Villeneuve said she is naming her orphanage Zawadi la Tumaini, which translates to “gift of hope,” to focus on giving children relief from starvation, proper medical care, schooling, music education and proper nutrition.
In Grade 12, Villeneuve did an internship at a Toronto-based organization that helped Africans living with AIDS. As a result of the experience, Villeneuve said she would like to target children who were orphaned by the disease. However, she is also eager to help those who lost parents to other diseases and those deprived of basic human rights.
The number of orphans Villeneuve can help will depend on the amount of donations she can acquire. By the time the orphanage is two years old, she said she hopes to have 30 to 40 children living in it. The first residents are expected to move in during the summer of 2012.
Zawadi la Tumaini is currently a registered charity in Kenya, and Villeneuve is working to have it become an official charity in Canada, too.
Villeneuve also plans to help the entire community of Iiani, where Zawadi la Tumaini is located, by offering HIV and AIDS awareness workshops.
The energetic teen said she wasn’t always so eager to help others. In fact, her materialistic youth was what led her to want to help others. At 12 years old, Villeneuve bought a Juicy Couture handbag with her own money. Shortly after, she simply realized that having “things” wasn’t making her happy, and decided to do something different with her life.
“I completely rerouted my life,” she said.
Now, Villeneuve is counting down to her departure to Kenya. In November, she’s planning to move there for six or eight months. Citizenship requirements state she can only spend a certain amount of time in the country.
Villeneuve said she will split her time between the orphanage and Canada. While she’s in her home country, Villeneuve plans to track down donors and share her story with other youth.
When she first started planning her orphanage, Villeneuve faced criticism from people saying she couldn’t accomplish her dreams because of her age.
“I believe everyone has the opportunity,” she said. “I hope to inspire other youth to take action.”
Villeneuve’s efforts have resulted in a nomination for a Canadian Living Me to We Award. The award is presented by Free the Children to Canadian citizens dedicated to making a difference locally or globally. Visit metowe.com and select the Youth in Action category under the awards tab to vote for Villeneuve before June 10.