Jacqueline Villeneuve is only weeks away from realizing her goal.
A year-and-a-half ago, the Valley native came forward with her plans to open a orphanage in Kenya — an ambitious task for a 17-year-old.
Now, at the bright age of 19, she's about to welcome the first group of children to Zawadi la Tumaini. While she has faced her fair share of trials and challenges, she hasn't lost sight of her goals.
The property she had originally purchased to build a facility on turned out to be unsuitable, and early partnerships she formed were ended when she felt they weren't upright. These obstacles only made her work harder.
“Our goal is to meet the needs of the most children we can,” Villeneuve said.
At the beginning of March, seven children from a neighbourhood slum will become the first residents of the Zawadi la Tumaini.
The kids are part of three different families, currently living under the care of two elderly grandmothers. The women, aged 65 to 70, are having trouble looking after the youngsters, who range from three to 11 years old.
“They feel as though they can't take care of their children anymore,” Villeneuve said.
Soon after, Villeneuve is hoping to take in three more kids who have spent their upbringing at the hospitals where they were abandoned. Having experienced first hand the plight of young people in the African district, Villeneuve said she is even more compelled to make the situation better.
“(After) seeing the roots of corruption, I'm not as naive about a lot of things,” Villeneuve said. “It's definitely matured me a lot. I try not to become desensitized to the things I see on a daily basis.”
She said there is nothing uncommon about babies being left at hospitals while their mothers escape their new responsibilities and bills. Even worse is when kids are left in streets and dumpsters.
“You literally will see children abandoned in the streets,” Villeneuve said. “It motivates me even more."
So far, everything Villeneuve has done has been the result of support from Sudburians.
“Almost all of our donors come from Sudbury or the North,” Villeneuve said.
On Feb. 23, Villeneuve and her growing board of directors are hosting an African-themed fundraiser.
Lisa Lounsbury, who is responsible for spearheading fundraising efforts on behalf of Villeneuve, who spends the majority of her time in Africa, said the evening promises to be one filled with real African flair.
“It's going to be like (guests) are in Kenya,” she said. “The sights and sounds are going to be everything Africa.”
The food, the entertainment and even the silent auction items are inspired by Villeneuve's new homeland. The items up on the auction block were brought to Sudbury by Villeneuve herself.
Cocktails begin at 5:30 p.m. at Cambrian College's Fontaine Bleue, followed by dinner at 6:30 p.m. Entertainment will follow. Tickets can be purchased for $100 each, or $600 for a corporate table by phoning 705-929-1246 or 705-561-1440.
Funds raised throughout the evening will go to supporting Villeneuve in her quest to help children in African. One of her current goals is making the orphanage feel like home.
“We're trying to make it look like an actual house, not an institution,” Villeneuve said.
She said she will be using the rented five-bedroom house until she can set up a permanent spot of her own, which is part of her five-year plan.
Anyone interested in helping her out is welcome to attend the fundraiser.
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