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I love helping Kenya's women and children

By | Published Sun, March 20th 2011 at 00:00, Updated Sun, March 20th 2011 at 00:00 GMT +3

DELORIS JORDAN, mother to the world famous basketball player, Michael Jordan, fell in love with Kenya 16 years ago. Her passion is to make a difference for Kenyan women and children through her family's James R Foundation. She was here to celebrate International Women's Day and spoke exclusively to KIUNDU WAWERU

Kenya is the only African country I have ever visited. I first came here 16 years ago. For 14 days, I lived in a village with the Maasai, which in itself was quite an experience. When I saw the conditions in which women and children lived in the village, I got emotional and I wanted to make a difference.

A few years later, I decided to work with Dr Samuel Thenya of the Nairobi Women’s Hospital. The hospital was eye opening for me in relation to gender violence. I saw what women have to endure — things no human being should be made to endure, and this only strengthened my vision for Kenya.

Deloris Jordan

Today I’m back to make my vision a reality through the Kenya Women and Children Wellness Centre (KWCWC), and we are about to start construction. KWCWC is committed to promoting equity and excellence in healthcare for women and children in this country, with a special focus on those from underprivileged and under resourced communities, and those from difficult social circumstances.

The centre will be built on a 10-acre piece of land on Thika Road, which has been donated by the United States International University (USIU). It will be a 184-bed general hospital for both in and out patients.

Gender violence

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The ultra-modern facility has unique features that include a family village, a concept borrowed from the West where rooms are designed like apartments and parents can stay there while their children get treatment.

The KWCWC will be the first of its kind in Kenya and it will give victims of gender violence a safe place to heal while they seek justice. The centre will also have a forensic lab, which is really important to protect evidence. The lab will be tied to the Kenyan Judiciary in partnership with the United States government.

The centre will be a small hospital within a hospital. For instance, it will also have a burns unit, theatres, an intensive care unit and wards. Because it will be a woman’s hospital, I want every woman who walks into the centre to be fully provided for, including checking for cancer of the breast, uterus and the cervix.

The KWCWC will be a non-profit organisation and we have already hired its managing director — Sunita Nathoo — who has an experienced background and I feel comfortable with her at the helm. I’m grateful to the partners who have helped make this dream a reality. They include Standard Chartered Bank, Bidco, Coca Cola and Johnson and Johnson.

Women’s needs

Although I have been asked by many people to visit other countries, I want to focus on Kenya because I saw a need to make a difference.

During one of my visits, I met Patrick, a Maasai, and my family took him in. We educated him for seven years and he would come home every summer.

I want to give women a voice. I think it is sad that Kenya was led for more than 20 years without a strong female voice by his side to help recognise women’s needs so there was bound to be a gap.

In my country, we had a strong voice in Eleanor Roosevelt, Dorothy Height, Coretta Scott King (wife of Martin Luther King) and Hillary Rodney Clinton.

Deloris (in pink) during the occasion to mark International Women’s Day organised by Standard Chartered Bank. [Photos: PIUS CHERUIYOT/STANDARD]

I joined Kenya’s women in celebrating this year’s International Women’s Day and we honoured outstanding but unsung heroines who have done tremendous work to uplift the wellness of women and the community in general in the areas of education, health, environment and humanitarian efforts. The chief guest was Ida Odinga and other notable, distinguished women leaders.

If you came to me 20 years ago and told me I would be in Kenya today doing this, I would have said you were crazy! But it is amazing where a mission to help others will take you. When you give, you receive more. It doesn’t matter how big your house or car is, as they will not talk to you.

Community activities

I established the James R Foundation in honour of my late husband James. The Michael Jordan Foundation was established in 1989 when he was entering the NBA. My family has always had a culture of giving. When our children were young, they were involved in low league community activities. While in high school, they would sell cookies on Saturday mornings and help buy uniform for a needy child.

My husband and I instilled a culture of values in our home, and when our children grew up, they could not depart from these ways. Over the last 25 years, we have been working with the US school system, as we believe in education, since you cannot take it away from someone.

We have also been providing scholarships to seniors going to college, and we have adopted six schools in Chicago, Illinois.

I have access to many resources so I thought, why not help Kenya? My advice to Kenyan women, though, is to embrace and love themselves as they are. Hold tight and work hard for whatever it is you desire. With the new constitution, women now have a voice.

Hospital ground breaking ceremony.

My husband used to say, "There is nothing you can’t achieve if you work together".

Men and women should work together to develop this country. You don’t abuse something that you love, so we should learn to communicate and shelf our pride. When a conversation gets heated, walk away — this can prevent gender violence.

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