Villeneuve undaunted, despite last September's terrorist attack
The mall is about 40 minutes away from the Zawadi la Tumaini Children's Home, the orphanage she opened in April of last year. It's also a place where she used to spend a lot of time with friends after work.
“I will not leave Kenya, no matter what happens,” said 20-year-old Villeneuve. “I mean, you would not leave your children behind as a parent.”
A parent is exactly what Villeneuve considers herself to be to the 20 children between the ages of two and 17 who call the orphanage home.
“I call them my children,” she said. “I'm there every day. They're my kids. I look out for them. I take care of them in every way possible.”
The children who live at Zawadi La Tumaini came from either a government rescue centre or from the nearby Soweto slum.
If they hadn't been taken in by the orphanage, they likely wouldn't have received a proper education or had access to health care, and may even have resorted to begging or prostitution, she said.
Villeneuve, who spoke to Northern Life at a Feb. 22 fundraiser for Zawadi la Tumaini, said she'll be in Sudbury for the next three weeks, visiting family and raising awareness of the cause.
She admits it's a bit of a wrench for her to be away from Kenya. “I've become so attached,” she said. “It's really hard to be away from your babies for three weeks.”
That doesn't mean she wasn't thrilled to be at the second annual A Night in Africa fundraiser. Organizers hoped to raise $50,000, a good chunk of the orphanage's $65,000 operating budget.
The evening featured traditional African cuisine prepared by the Afro-Heritage Association of Sudbury, a silent auction of authentic African artifacts, and live African entertainment.
Those at the event also had the opportunity to have their faces painted African style, and dress up in African sashes.
“I would not be where I am today without the support of the community,” Villeneuve said.
“I would just like to sincerely like thank everyone for believing in my dream for Zawadi La Tumaini, and for believing in the children and hearing their stories.”
Lisa Lounsbury, who is well known in Sudbury for her work with charitable organizations, headed up the A Night in Africa fundraiser.
She said she met Villeneuve a few years ago, when she received an award, and decided to lend her fundraising skills to benefit the orphanage.
“I was intrigued by her passion for her kids in Africa,” she said. “I said 'I want to help out and start a board, and let's raise some money for you.'”
Paula Wharton, who also helped to plan the event, said she thinks what Villeneuve is doing is wonderful.
“I think if each one of us helps one (person), this world would be a better place,” she said. “Jacqueline so far is helping 20.”