Each week SHESAID features an inspiring woman who has been kind enough to share her story with our readers. She might be a leader in her chosen field, someone still on their own path striving to make a difference or simply someone with a remarkable story to tell. These women contribute their own knowledge, expertise and life lessons in order to truly inspire others.
Name and role
Genna (or Genevieve) Radnan, CEO and founder of Gennarosity Abroad
Tell us about you? What do you get up to on a day-to-day basis?
I’m a 24-year-old registered nurse and the CEO and founder of the registered charity, Gennarosity Abroad, which is based in Kenya, East Africa. I have always had a passion for helping others and caring for those around me. I’ve always consciously been grateful of my upbringing, the family I was born into and the morals and values that I’ve been raised with. I enjoy working in a community setting and working with children which is why I work as a school nurse. I’m able to not only help the children when they’re unwell or injured; I’m able to educate them as well. One of the greatest benefits of being a school nurse is that you get to work within school hours, and have the rest of the day to continue living life. In my time outside of work I get to focus on my charity work, giving speeches to school and various communities about volunteering and the work I do, and I am about to take up a second degree in a Bachelor of Arts in International Aid and Development.
How/when did you know this is what you wanted to do as a career?
I originally went to Kenya when I graduated from high school in 2009 to take part in a teaching and building volunteering program for two weeks. I personally never thought I was academic so didn’t think seriously about university or the possible opportunities that could come from it. During my second trip to Kenya in my gap year for 6 months in 2010, I came across a family of 10. Eight children were born into a family making less than $1 a day. The mother, Zipporah, was illiterate and uneducated whilst the father, Jack, worked casually as a labourer. This was the evening that changed my life. There I was, an 18-year-old, fresh out of a private high school taking for granted that I had been accepted into a university course and had deferred it as I was certain I wouldn’t go. I didn’t want to go because of pressure from my family. And little did I realise the opportunities university would afford me, and just how lucky we are to receive the access and levels of education that we do here in Australia. I realised that school, let alone university, was something the people of this village, and specifically women and girls could only dream of. The only reason they couldn’t go was they were born into families they didn’t choose, that are so unfortunately deprived of the opportunities that we get. At 19 years of age, I felt obliged to do something about it. I wanted an education for me, and I wanted an education for these communities. Education I believe is one of the main keys to ending the cycle of poverty, and I want this to be my life.
What drove you to creating Gennarosity Abroad?
I couldn’t help but notice a kindergarten shack made from cardboard and wood in the original state it had been when it was built thirty years prior. The same cardboard walls that were old and decrepit, the same wooden desks and chairs that were falling apart, and the same timber roof that was caving in. I wanted to help and provide a better learning environment for those children didn’t give up until I accomplished my mission. This is how Gennarosity Abroad began.
Since building the kindergarten in 2010, we have established and a training centre in Karunga. The purpose of this centre is to teach uneducated and illiterate women and girls above the age of 12 years. We promote gender equality by providing a quality school environment, helping avoid HIV/AIDS, improve maternal health, promote child protection, provide counselling services and increase accessibility to clean water and sanitation. Up to 40 students will be selected annually for this course which will enhance their abilities to support their families by teaching the following basic skills: sewing, English and Swahili, mathematics, financial literacy/business students and health education.
What were the initial stumbling blocks, getting Gennarosity Abroad started and since then?
Where do we begin? There have been a number of hurdles along the way, some of which we are still trying to overcome. A main issue we have had to work around is the corruption in Kenya. Unfortunately due to my complexion, I am a walking dollar sign for those who want to do business with us resulting in prices increase and bribes which I don’t like to condone. Numerous times we have had teaching materials shipped to Kenya from Australia as well, and unfortunately some of these boxes never make it through their customs borders. It is sad how corrupt it is and that there is no consideration for the purpose of the contents of the boxes which would so greatly help the community. Our greatest hurdle at the moment though is trying to get our DGR status approved, which will help us with getting fundraising and donations from companies and individuals who would like the claim back their donations on tax. There is a lot more paperwork and a lot more processes than we anticipated with most things, but it is all part of the learning curve.
How did you overcome these?
It’s important to be smart about these things and have an understanding of the cultural differences. I now don’t go along on business deals and have my Kenyan business manager and team organise any deals that are necessary. I have very strong views about not paying bribes, especially if it’s the charity’s money paying them when that should be going towards the project and improving lives, not for those who are greedy and misuse their power and authority. The only way to get DGR status is to continue to be hopeful and keep amending and resubmitting the documents until we’ve met the standards required.
Did you have a mentor? Who/what helped you to get your career off the ground?
My mentor in high school was my tutor, David Whitcombe who always told his stories about his time in Namibia. As I already had an interest in Africa, this nourished my desire Since beginning my journey with Gennarosity Aboard, this has expanded to Margaret Lowe, the deputy principal of Emanuel School and one of my sisters, Stephanie Radnan who has stuck by my side and dedicated hours upon hours to help me lift this charity off the ground. They have helped put my charity website together, completing forms and information for registering the charity and help with fundraising events. We hold meetings monthly to convene about where the charity is, what we are working on, and where to go from here, as well as problem solving any issues we are currently facing.
You deal with issues that others often shy away from, what drives and motivates you to keep going?
I just don’t believe in giving up when times get tough. A lot of people tell me I am fighting an uphill battle. But I don’t understand why that is necessarily a bad thing. I don’t understand why people give up on things so easily. Maybe it’s a result of the culture we live in where everything seems to revolve around instant gratification. The issues of poverty aren’t going to be resolved anytime soon, and I’m in it for the long haul. Being ignorant and only observing the hardships this world faces doesn’t do anything to help resolve the issues. Poverty isn’t going to be solved by watching the news or reading about the devastation that it causes in the papers or online. And all I can do is help in whichever way I know how, and on whatever scale that might be. What drives me to keep going is that poverty won’t be solved overnight, and so you have to keep going. Everyone leaves a mark on this world somehow, and I want this to be mine.
Where do you find your inspiration?
I find my inspiration in knowing I have the personal ability and communal support to follow my dreams. When you look at the bigger picture it is daunting however if you take it step by step and day by day it’s much more achievable. The most inspiring aspect is seeing the outcome from the work we do. Having graduates from 2013 open up their own businesses from the skills they were taught at our Grandma Jenny’s Training Centre is priceless. We have given 70 women and girls the opportunity to better not only their lives, but cascading down to their family members and community.
What are your goals for the future and the future of Gennarosity Abroad?
I would love to one day open up a medical clinic and an academy however this will only take place once the training centre is self-sufficient. I want all my projects to be run by the community for the community without depending on the help of the charity full time. This would be my ultimate success; helping the communities developing facilities that they will then be able to manage and run as part of their society.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to follow the same path as you?
Do it! Get involved, find out how and go do it. So many people want to stop you from achieving your dreams because it’s hard. Let me tell you, that’s a part of life. Once you accept that and get on with it, you’ll be further than you know. Surround yourself with likeminded people and those who have similar interests, passions and hobbies. Ask questions, all the time. Find out what you can, discover your passions, and then take action. I am always happy for people to come on board and help out. So if anyone is interested, don’t be shy and please contact me.
What’s your personal mission statement?
You can’t help the family you are born into. We should all feel obliged to help as those around us born into poverty could have just as easily have been us. We aren’t entitled to the lives we live. We are just so incredibly fortunate for how fate guided us. If we could all just spend 5 minutes a day doing something for someone else then this world would be a much greater place. I am all about recognising my fortunes, and helping to spread them to those who weren’t so lucky.
Images via gennarosityabroad.org
Isabelle is a writer who has a hundred-and-one side-splittingly funny stories about growing up at an all-girls boarding school, with a chocolate habit that requires constant monitoring. Follow Isabelle on Twitter.