Rona Foundation – Our Story
Rona Foundation was founded in 2008, became registered in 2013 and began operating out of the Founder’s living room.
In 2012, we founded the Rona Orphans and Widows Centre to serve the rural widows and orphans.
In 2015, we spear-headed the outlawing of ‘widow cleansing’ under the Domestic Offences Bill. We subsequently developed a highly sort-after widows’ training manual based on the needs assessments which has enabled our model to be replicated in 12 counties in Kenya with various partners.
Today we serve more than 8,000 widows and support 180 orphans per year at the perishing lakeshore villages in Siaya County.
We do widow mentorship and life-skills training in an environment of creativity and introspection, which are critical to foster new perspectives as most rural widows are forgotten and left behind, and work with male champions to end harmful traditional practices around widowhood.
Along with our creative programmes we conduct awareness and advocacy campaigns locally and internationally.
About our Founder
Our founder, Roseline Orwa, is an award-winning advocate for widows, and a campaigner for cultural, social and policy change around the inequalities and stigma that widows face.
Moment of Obligation
Roseline discovered unspoken inequalities and social-injustice upon the passing of her husband in 2008, when her husband was killed in post-election violence.
Like many Kenyan women, she had to face “sexual cleansing” in order to be able to return to day-to-day life.
As a childless divorced-widow in her early-30s, in a society where a woman’s worth is measured by the number of children she births. The direct result of widowhood, the stigma, ostrascization and the reality of harmful cultural practices meted on women when they lose their husbands, woke her to not only fight for her dignity, but the rights of millions of widows in Kenya.
She realized in her grieving that this single event of widowhood destroyed the family, and all the generations that followed – indeed, the event of widowhood launched a vicious cycle of poverty, depression, substance and alcohol abuse, HIV/AIDs Spread, and more deaths. She became the face of widows rights campaign in Kenya.
Roseline turned her house to a safe-house for widows, and – for 8 years – self-funded the advocacy campaign dubbed ‘Stop Widow Abuse in Kenya’.
Roseline is now a Commissioned Expert with Kenya’s Ministry of Labour and Protection, and has served as a widows’ rights consultant for numerous local, national and global civil organisations. She is an Atlantic Fellow for Social and Economic Equity at the London School of Economics, a 2021 Aspen New Voices Fellow, and a global leader with Modern Widows Club (USA).
In 2018, she was invited to address the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) at the 38th Human Rights Council session and that same year she spoke via video link on “The Forgotten Plight of Women of All Ages – How Europe can Impact” to a session of the European Parliament in Brussels.
In 2021, Roseline addressed the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women CSW65 conference, in which she called for global action on the rights of widows during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond, and spoke to a Cornell Law School audience on the role of activism in transformative lawmaking.
A life skills coach and a mentor whose work is replicated across Kenya, Roseline holds a non-graduate degree in public relations and communication from Daystar University, a diploma in printing and graphic design from the Technical University of Kenya, and a diploma in project management and innovation.
“Having lived through ostracisation, I know first-hand of abuse, stigma and rejection. Women like me, culturally, have no value except humiliating names, and because we are a society ruled by culture, culture enslaves even the educated. Widows therefore remain invisible, afraid, and with no support or opportunities. They endure daily harmful cultural practices and too often live in abject poverty. There are more than four million widows in Kenya seeking recognition, acceptance, protection and resource allocation, and I believe there is space for innovation, creativity and empowerment for the millions of rural widows left behind.
I am interested in social justice and empowerment for rural widows, and creative ways for us to overcome harmful cultural practices and beliefs, without necessarily losing community identities. I believe it can be done in such a way that widows can be partners in progress, have improved livelihoods, and become change-makers with applicable laws to protect them.
I dream of educating a percentage of men as male champions, drawn from the cultural opinion leaders, church elders and elected leaders of my county, so that they can influence policy that works. I see a future in which men cleansers/inheritors can become protectors and not perpetrators, so that rural widows are able to recognise their rights and dignity. And more importantly, they make better choices.
Because I have founded and run a community centre in a rural village that supports widows and orphans, my aim is to acquire much-needed skills for creating a sustainable project, with proper people skills in a constantly changing environment in which vulnerability and poverty wears a widow’s face. In doing so, I hope to transform attitudes and behaviours for ordinary rural widows and their communities. As a widow, this fellowship will break a silent personal barrier in the academic ladder for me, as an emerging woman leader.”