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Episode 65: Give Voice to the Voiceless - Bea Williamson

Beatrice Williamson is a distinguished leader known for her warmth, humor and commitment to learning. She was born January 19, 1976 in Kisumu, the third largest city in Kenya. From the age of nine years old until her second year of college, Beatrice received a scholarship for education from Swedish missionary Anna Lanson. Education was what Beatrice needed to rise above her circumstances and realize her potential.

“Aunty Bea” as the Maisha children affectionately call her, came to The United States in 2001. She founded Pamoja International Ministry to provide outreach services to international students in Oklahoma. She also consults regularly with international executives from a variety of fields to help create synergistic solutions to impacting problems these students face.

In the meantime, Beatrice’s family, living in the village of Kano, just outside of Kisumu, expressed the need and dire situation of the orphans and widows living in their community. The fruition of Beatrice’s dream began in 2006, when she founded Maisha Project in response to this call for help. Now, her passion is to reach out to orphaned and destitute children and provide them with the same opportunity Anna Lanson gave her. By making a difference in the lives of the children from her home village, Beatrice strives to create a brighter future for the next generation. Her passion is to reach out to orphaned and destitute children and continue the Legacy of Hope Anna Lanson began.

TEDxOU – Beatrice Williamson – One Person’s Generosity & The Power of Education – YouTube

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I always say this in my village: we did not come here to die.

Welcome or welcome back to the Speak with Presence podcast. This is where perfection is overrated. Leaders listen, and we all speak up to influence change. I’m Jen Vellenga. I’m here with my cohost, Jennifer Rettele Thomas. We’re the co-founders of Voice First World, a communication coaching company.

While you’re listening and checking out the show notes for today’s guest. Take a moment to rate and review the Speak with Presence podcast. It really helps people just like you find us. We have Bea Williamson today, and we invited her because we met her recently. She’s our podcast because of her commitment to education, and we honor her as the founder of the Myesha Project and the founder of Asante Coffee. She uses her voice to impact orphaned and destitute children in Kenya.

We’re so excited to bring her story to you. But before we do that, JRT, what do you got? I think you have a little surprise, and I am grateful because a month ago, we were in Oklahoma City at an event. Hosted by our very own TheLeadHerBoard.com. And I just remember I’m standing at the back of the room, Jen, you’re doing your thing.

And this amazing woman was such energy walks by, and somehow Bea and I connected and, you know, immediately started sharing stories. And I remember you walking up, and I was like, girlfriend, here’s our next podcast interview. We have to tell her story. You did, long story short. After, uh, learning a little bit more about her, we realized another powerful woman in Oklahoma City served on her board, and we just felt it was appropriate to share something powerful with Bea as we start the day today.

I’m ready. Here we go. Hi, everyone. This is A.J. Griffin, and I’m thrilled to tell you a little about my friend, Beatrice Williamson. Bea and I were… fast friends when we met. Since the moment we first spoke, she has been a light in my life. Her brilliance, enthusiasm, and hope for others gets caught in your heart, where it just spreads warmth.

Being with Bea, hearing her story, and seeing her impact just makes you feel good about the world. She is truly a blessing in my life, for sure. When you hear her story, remember that she is a force for good and a shining example of how one person on a mission can make a tremendous impact on the world.

She is a woman who lifts up other women, and I’m just thrilled that she will get to share her story with more and more people. Bea, I love you, and I am so proud for you. Your impact on the world is immeasurable, and I’m pretty sure you’re just getting started. Wow. Wow. A force for good. So, let’s bring on Bea Williamson.

Here she is, JRT. Hey, Bea. Hey, how are you on the podcast and the live stream today? Welcome to the podcast. Thank you so much for having me. Of course, of course. So, tell us a little bit about the Myesha project and what brought you from Kenya to Oklahoma City. Maybe we should start there. Start how you found your way to Oklahoma City.

Yes, I grew up in a very small village in Kenya. In my home village in a very rural place in Kenya. I grew up where we didn’t have running water, uh, there was no electricity in my village, and literally growing up as a young girl, we could, I could count the number of days we ate food. Most importantly, um, I did not have a chance for education until someone, a missionary from Sweden, gave me that opportunity for education when I was nine years old.

And, um, Anna Lansson, a missionary from Sweden, uh, gave me a scholarship for education through, through sponsorship by just literally one woman in Sweden, an elderly lady, paying my school fees in school, and at the time, it was I think about five dollars in my school because education in Kenya is not free.

And so, um, through that, I received an education, and when I was a young adult, uh, there was an exchange program opportunity between my church in Kenya and my local church here in Oklahoma City. And so, through that exchange program, I was one of the young adults that got an opportunity to come up to Oklahoma of all the places in America.

I came to Oklahoma since then, but, um, and that was in 2001. So, literally from a small village. And having an opportunity for a small fraction of education gave me an opportunity to come to the Oklahoma exchange program to work with actually inner-city youth in Oklahoma City. So you have this young African woman coming from Africa, barely English, and put in the heart of city-to-city youth IT mix.

Wow. Extremely poor, there was no patience in the youth world to be patient to understand you speak. So I felt like that was a very rough time for me when I first came here. How did you overcome that challenge with those, those Oklahoma City youth bullies? The challenge, some of them were very gracious to, uh, to work with me and have a journey of, truly having patience to understand. I think majority of young, young youth here, you just know how they are in speed. You know, I was too slow for them, and it was, you know, I have to be fast in, in translating my Swahili into English.

Wow. Yes. And so, uh, so coming here was really a great opportunity, but it was also a huge challenge. For me, as a young woman, I was only 26 years old when I came here, and I came to a place where, remember, I came where there was no running water, electricity was not in my basement, and my family host lived in Edmonton, and so I am put in this house in Edmonton that everything within the house was a culture shock for me.

Yeah. From, from using a vacuum cleaner to eating spaghetti and putting ketchup in the spaghetti, thinking it’s spaghetti sauce, you know? So, about me being in Oklahoma, the first three months was a huge culture shock, and it was through that when I really just realized that something good can come out of this devastation of culture shock that I was going through, you know, and a lot that we are going to talk about was literally born because of my experience in the past.

I and we were talking to her? Do you remember the thing that she said that made you go, oh, she’s got to be, is it how she used her voice or how she was speaking up for the youth in her country? Because I was running around doing other things. And I walked up, and you were like, this is our next podcast guest.

I was like, awesome. Do you remember that, that moment? And what made you go, this is a woman who uses her voice. She began to share her story. Oh, it was story. And so for, for me, it was what we were probably together. What? Five minutes. Not a long period of time. We did. Missed it. Girlfriend, you were out. You were missing the most powerful stuff here.

That’s why, that’s why I’m here, Bea. This is why I’m here. Um, but the, the reality was, is it was about the story, but it was very clear. that you did have to use your voice and your passion to create change. And I’m not going to say this the way that you did it to me that day, but we talked about, we were there that day.

The reason we were together was for this event where we were learning more about, um, United We and this, uh, survey work, uh, survey, um, of women in, in the state of Oklahoma. And right. The stats were awful. Right. Like, the bottom of the barrel, right? I think there’s only three or four states that fall below the state of Oklahoma, but the reality of what you were saying was, is that this is nothing in comparison to my home and my mission, and this is where I’d like you to pick up is it’s now about how do I and your work educate? And I think you said you’ve taken over 1,000 people from Oklahoma back to your home country to learn from that and how to come back right and make change. So that’s my words from the conversation.

Do you want to expand on that just a little bit? Yes. I always truly believe that everybody can make an impact. Like literally, I always believe in the, from the bottom that everybody in this can. When I was telling you that as a young woman, when I was growing up, opportunity was very limited for me and my household. And, you know, both my parents had jobs, my mother and my father, they both had jobs, and their income was still less than 1 a day. And this is not like 1900s, we are speaking 30 you know what I mean?

And less than 1 a day, you cannot feed a household, and nevertheless… You cannot educate a child. And so because an opportunity was given for me at the very dare time of my life as a young woman, I could have been sent home. I could have been sent for marriage when I was 12 or 13 years old, because that’s a normal thing in the rural villages in Africa.

Were you expecting that? I was expecting that. As a young girl, I was always fearful that I only have a few more years living before I can be sent home. My way for marriage because that’s the only safe space, you know, sometimes parents have.

Of course, our parents were of what was going on in my surrounding, I would, I would be imagining that I could be a victim of that. But when I came to America, because of the opportunity that was given to me, I wanted to pay forward.

Wanted one young girl or my village, unity and humble be of desire. And so when we founded Ma, uh, through, uh, at the time I was a college and career, uh, director at City Church. Uh, and, uh, you know, doing a lot of ministries for inner city kids here in Oklahoma City and impacting the lives of Oklahoma college and career students here.

Through that, Maisha was born. Because I figured out that these young Oklahomans that feel like they have the very worst can actually do something with what they have. So I started to tell them how they should really appreciate the blessings. Um, for me in Africa, if I, I could collect, uh, you know, when I was at city church, I was being given a stipend because I was an exchange student, you know, and so through that stipend, I could take all my stipend, 245 and send it to my parents in the village so that they can eat rice and beans and feed other kids.

So a lot of my friends would always see that. I was not always interacting, doing activities with them, or fun activities with them. And so they or at home, why don’t you do fun things? I’m like, I didn’t have any money to spend doing fun things because I sent all my stipend back at home to help feed the kids there.

That is in 2007. And so it was through that humble beginning. That some of the college students here wanted to be a part of the initiative of what I was single-handedly doing, transforming my community. Because I never knew how to ask. I never knew how to ask anybody for help. So I just thought, okay, I have some money.

Let me send it to my mother to help the people there. Because I knew where I came from. I knew how the women were the most marginalized. In the around the blessing that I was surrounded in and forget where I came from. And so through that humble beginning, we started to impact the life of a child, one child at a time with college students in Oklahoma City and you by selling t-shirts, doing fake nails, and washing vehicles in the parking lot.

We could have maybe a hundred dollars, 200 and, and, and that was the biggest space where most of the young adults that I was impacting their lives in Oklahoma City started to see something beyond their backyard. And today, JRT, I can tell you that sometimes I feel like a proud mama in Oklahoma City because I see some of those specific youth that were so much at risk here in Oklahoma City under my care are today people that I value here in Oklahoma City.

You know, and I meet them sometimes with this reason, like that was a product of our youth program when I first came to America, which is a blessing. But through that humble beginning, Maisha today is educating over a thousand children in my community. These are kids that we just want to give the same support.

And these are women that are marginalized living with HIV, AIDS, and also living in where, as a woman, you’re not valued, you’re community. My independent community and thriving by breaking most of the barriers. That was there when I was growing up, you know, and so those are just some of the little things that, uh, we are trying to further forward by making sure that we are teaching people that anyone, anybody in this planet, no matter who you are.

You can make an impact in somebody else’s life. So good. First of all, I want to honor the emotion that you’re bringing to this as we’re really moved by your story, just even the little bit that we know. So, thank you so much for sharing it. I mean, to think you’ve been doing this work as long as you have now in Oklahoma, and I’m sure it feels like you’ve just scratched the surface, but the emotion is raw, and I really appreciate you sharing it so vulnerably and authentically with us.

I’m curious to know, how do you stay so positive about the work that you’re doing when you hear things like, and we talk about this a lot on our podcast of how, you know, oh, the pay gap for women, the women don’t make as much as men. And how do you go? Who cares? You have food on the table. I mean, it’s all relative, right?

It’s all relative, but how do you, how is it that you straddle both worlds when you see great wealth in comparison to great poverty? Yeah. It has been my mission to remind people in America that, yes, we are sometimes in a space where things are not going our way, but we are blessed beyond measure, and we take those blessings for granted.

And yes, the pay gap for women versus men, you know, uh, globally. It’s. It’s unmeasurable. It’s, there’s a huge gap. You know what I mean? But yet, I would say that we are extremely blessed here. The poverty level of what we are experiencing around Africa, even inflation right now, causes poverty even here in America.

There’s extreme poverty here. Still, with that level of poverty we have here in the U.S. You know, here in the U.S., if you’re sick, you can go still get treated. In, um, in Africa, if you’re sick and you got treated, you will be in the hospital jail. You will not be released until you pay that 10 that is needed for your malaria medicine.

But here, I can go get treated. So, yes, there’s poverty everywhere, but the measure of poverty in Africa, it’s way much more different, and it’s more extreme, especially today. Amen. And I have pocketed a lot of this for the women because I, uh, I, uh, I went to Kenya in 2021. I was running for women representative because I just felt like a lot of things in my community is still not going right for women.

So I was like, no matter what it takes, I’m going to be in the office to continue. Fighting for the women. And so I went for a women’s representative in my, in my local village, even though I did not win, it was, I was ranked out, somebody else took that seat, but a lot of women suffer in silence. A lot of women in Africa suffer in silence. A yeast infection. Think about it. The most aggravating, painful thing. And yet, these women, they don’t do these things, and these

things about, and leave alone, if they’re in their men’s, men’s central period, they don’t even wanna get out of the house that day because some of them don’t even have the simplest things like sanitary towel. So women suffer in silence. Everywhere. But in Africa, I always feel like it is extreme. The silence is like their voice is shackled.

You have for the basics, for the basics for human needs, things to get you through life. We still people suffer in my world. Because I know I came from those places. I know I came from when I had my period, I didn’t have to go to school because I have my period. I walked that shoes, you know, I that hundreds of kids and especially young that become come behind me don’t experience that same shoes we walk because we can make an impact when you think about the thousand plus people from Oklahoma that you’ve taken back and they’ve witnessed this, how have they come back and use their voice to make a difference in Oklahoma City or Oklahoma area.

Uh, that, that’s one of the most rewarding trips I ever do when I, when I take teams there. And, uh, looking at the reward of taking Oklahoma to my village in Africa and looking at how that has impacted us. We have some people that. Um, uh, there’s another lady that started a, um, foster care, uh, because of what she’s seen.

You know, we have young students that have come, come enter pre-school in Oklahoma. One of my favorite. February, a young man started a business called, uh, Storytelling. And, um, he started every video that we ever showed about Malaysia, every YouTube you’ve ever seen about Malaysia, was developed by this young man called Mark Niren.

And he, uh, he was a college student. And for you went to Africa for the first time shot is very fast video for the first time and today he is telling stories of nonprofits in Oklahoma City because he could use that as a tool and that impact can do something with whatever you have, you can do something.

And so we have a lot of Oklahomans, especially the college students that. Their lives by checking them for trips they come back. Some of them really one of the greatest things that I’ve ever even had about some get healing when they go there. You know, some people are, a lot young people are so depressed, and they come back and they, so, and now have life meaning at 20 or 22, you know, and they go back to college, and they live their life.

We have people who are now doctors because they just went there and did a medical come under a tree with basically nothing. And they came back and say, I want to be a nurse. I want to be a doctor. And they pursue those dreams.

And they say, one day, I want to go back and actually do that in a better way in Malaysia. And going back six years later or five years later, you find I was at Maisha when I wanted to be a doctor. Now I am here treating people as a doctor, you know, so those are the beauty of the impact of a dual impact in like Maisha is contributing to the society and to our world, and I always say that.

When you make a difference in this world, we think of global, but that is the world. Impacting your life, Jen, is the world, you know? But if I impact your life, you don’t know is not here resting in peace. But thousands of children are enjoying the fruit of that impact she made in my world. And so I always say we can all do something by impacting one person because you don’t know what that world is going to do.

Oh, it’s so, it’s so amazing. You have, you through Anna, of course, but you have made such an impact. That must feel just so rewarding, but also, I’m sure there’s still so much work to be done. I told you that we need to go to Africa. Tell us when we’re there. What can we help? We’re going to Africa because we have so much work to do, and the value of what you guys can truly transform the community is where we serve because women needs to stand in the gap of the women, and we need to go where they are and continue voicing their stories. So that we can change the trajectory of their work, and I believe we can. We say all the time, you just have to know Bea, we have these conversations both on the podcast and many more times privately, where we say, what do we do?

I mean, it’s exactly what you said is, so women need to speak up in the workplace. So women need to advocate for themselves. Of course they need to do that. But then we think. Is our mission too small? But you’re right. You impact one person, and they impact another person, someone in their workplace. And that person uses their voice, and then they speak up and they interact with someone globally.

So we have a mission in the United States, but we’re very aware of how small it is in comparison to the poverty and the bias and the inequity that exists in other countries. And so we’re aware of it, even though our specific mission happens to have started in the United States. And that’s a great place to begin.

And I thank you guys for doing what you, the voiceless, are going through. Because we are their voice. We have their voice. I always say, unless we speak for the orphan and the most vulnerable, and unless we speak for the most depressed, we have the voice to speak. Let’s be dedicated in making sure that their stories are heard. And if their stories are heard, then change happens. The story is where it’s at, of course, if you can share those stories.

So go ahead, JRT. We’ll post it in several different areas. I think the piece that we weren’t able to get to all the details today, but I know when Jen and I got back, and I was trying to pull it up here quickly, you had done the TED Talk that you did that really explains the journey and your dad’s role and this woman, I mean, the whole story, which I won’t go into and how the reality of even how your dad said, help my daughter get an education.

Right. And I didn’t know the dollar. I mean, when I was watching the TED Talk, I was like, I wonder what that gift was. Right. And you said 5, probably like, let’s pretend 5, over several years because she was committed to getting you through your education and making sure you had what you need. Your dad used his voice.

They didn’t choose for you to get married at 12. He knew your eagerness to be educated. And he made that commitment when he could have easily asked for food. He could have easily asked for many things, but that woman’s, let’s say she made a total investment, a hundred dollars in you look at the ripple effect.

And wouldn’t it be amazing if all of us. When we think about what seems so simple, the impact that or the things that we do, we will never understand the full magnitude of the difference that we make. And you’re right. It is our job to continue to educate and tell the story of these women that do not have a voice.

So that we can continue this Bea effect, lady Bea. So I, I highly encourage, and we want to be able to promote that TED Talk because it gives a full context of the power of the family, the generosity of one woman that was not happenstance. If someone’s listening and going, how can I help? What, how can they help?

Yeah. We are always advocating for every child to be in school education in Africa, whether it’s posting money. And so one of our greatest, uh, need is ever. We advocate whether there’s a female or male. We advocate for every child to have a right for education. So if they, if anybody ever wanted to support, they click the education button, they can sponsor a child for only 35.

What that 35 will do. We’ll provide a child, uh, we’ll give a child an opportunity to be in class by paying, we are paying their tuition. And also, it will feed them one meal a day. One meal a day is so important for us because 99 percent of these kids, most of the meals we give them in school, that is the only meal they eat.

And so that is very important for us. And also, part of that support of 35 goes into their life skills training, because we want to be able to equip them to have the tools they need. Through life skills, especially for youth and young and up. And so, uh, yeah, so education is so important for us.

Health is one of the other greatest ones. And for only 5 of the donation, you can help us provide a household with health insurance where the whole household is covered for health. And, uh, that goes a long way because 90 percent of our villages, uh, a household is either affected or infected by HIV, AIDS.

Why am I saying that? If the kids are in that household with orphans, then that means that either their parents died of HIV, AIDS. Kids are affected because of that. But then one out of four families is either affected or infected by HIV AIDS. With insurance of only 5, just donate 5 a month, you will provide full coverage for a household’s treatment.

We have a MA medical clinic that is very close to our communities where we serve. That is the first place they come to, even though the nearest hospital is about an hour away, walk from them. So you see that in our hospital, that of where they can be treated. And then, uh, and of course, other programs like missions is where we engage with making a difference in your world as a person to take you to learn about our culture and on how you can make your world a better place globally and locally.

And so, through mission trips, we have mission trips every summer and fall. And so our summer mission trip is coming up. And we, you know, if anybody’s interested, they just go there and reach out to us. Um, June 2nd will be our summer missions for this year. And we definitely love to take people and make an impact in the villages where we serve.

Um, and of course, our empowerment program is where we teach them how to us.

Especially for me, it was very important. I always say this in my village. We did not come here to teach you how to die. We came here to teach you how to live. We don’t want them to depend on us, but we want to empower them so that they can be self-reliant to live for themselves. So that… They don’t have to depend on us to leave.

And so our empowerment program is an amazing way of really reuniting families back because we figured out that there’s a lot of families that are broken in our villages where we serve because of finances, and so we give them small little micro-lending loans to start either in a business they want to start and or any program they want to start as a business form and so that money becomes a ripple effect they have to pay that money back so you can invest it in somebody else and those are just so many different ways we believe that anybody has a chance to be involved. That’s my example. So many good ways you’re making an impact and the thousands of lives that you have touched.

It’s just, you’re, you’re a, a saint, a gift to the world. And we look forward to learning so much more and figuring out how Voice First World and our clients can certainly help. And I can’t stress enough to watch the TED Talk because hearing the entire story of the journey, um, makes all of what we just said today even more powerful because they were just some very simple acts that has made the difference that, that Bea is making today by one person’s generosity, but Bea.

You know, we do come to Oklahoma City often, so we will be seeing you in the very near future in person, and we’ll continue conversations of how we can help women feel more comfortable in sharing their voice. There’s a lot of work to be done, and this is just the beginning.

Well, I am so glad that you walked by me and our eyes connected. And thank you for asking me who are you and what’s your name because it started the conversation. I told you there was something about you. I was like, I just need to know more about you. So thank you for literally I came in late and thank you for just wanting to know who was this part like I was a part of the group since I came late I was just running for the meeting. And, uh, I really, I really appreciate you reaching out and saying hello, and I’m like, we started talking, and I’m like, why are you

making me cry? That’s JRT’s superpower. Let me tell you what, she can do that with the best of them. But you have a beautiful story. We are honored to know it and to share it. We are very excited to share your story, Bea. And this is only the beginning. So, thank you for being here, and we look forward to talking to you again soon.

Thank you for a great week. JRT can’t even speak. We can’t even get through. It’s so emotionally good and hard and…

Meet

Jen V. & JRT

Jen Vellenga and Jennifer Rettele-Thomas are the co-founders of Voice First World®, a communication and executive coaching company. They train executives and leaders on the Presence Paradigm™, a communication technique created from Jen V’s decades of training actors to perform authentically, with presence, on stages, on audio, and video. If you want to learn more about how to speak and lead confidently, book a discovery call at www.voicefirstworld.com/calendar

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