Two grads, two continents, one goal
Michael Jones, Artsci’05, is used to meeting Queen’s alumni in airports and cafés all around the world. The communications specialist for the non-profit Canadian Hunger Foundation in Ottawa (and former World Bank employee) has visited 30 countries, but even he admits he was surprised to meet a fellow grad, Wairimu Mungai, MEd’93 – while working in an isolated part of Kenya.
“Where there’s oxygen, there are Queen’s alumni,” he quips. “This was probably the most remote and surprising meeting with a Queen’s alumna I’ve ever had,” says Michael.
He and Wairimu live on different sides of the world, but they share the same goals: helping people in developing countries.
Michael has spent the past two years traveling to such countries as Cambodia, Pakistan, Kenya, and Ghana, helping people who live in poor, rural communities. His organization helps them develop skills – such as advanced farming techniques – to increase their incomes and create sustainable futures. Sometimes his job is like being a photojournalist; he travels the world to get updates on projects, and when he gets back to Canada he shares their stories to show benefactors how their donations are making a difference.
“The great part of my job is getting to be the face of that Canadian generosity abroad. I go to these little communities, and people are so thankful for the transformative changes that happen as a result of Canadian donors,” says Michael. “It is incredibly humbling.”
Michael, who was heavily involved with both the campus and Kingston communities during his Queen’s years, won an Agnes Benidickson Tricolour Award in 2005. He played varsity rugby, was the AMS V-P of University Affairs, organized fundraisers for the Starlight Children’s Foundation, and helped run the Good Times Diner soup kitchen.
At the Canadian Hunger Foundation, Michael works closely with local partners in developing countries. That’s how he ran into Wairimu, whom he describes as “a remarkable person.”
Wairimu is one of three co-founders of WEMIHS, a Kenyan aid organization that helps vulnerable rural groups better cope with the impact of poverty and disease. WEMIHS was established in 1998 in response to the impact of HIV and AIDS, at a time when there was no structured national HIV/AIDS response in Kenya.
In an e-mail to the Review, she says, “During my two years in Kingston, I had an opportunity to reflect on diversities in communities and wondered how I’d ever apply my education to help people back home transform their miserable state to access equal rights, opportunities and services.” Yet her studies at Queen’s transformed her life, she says, by giving her the abilities she needed to help those vulnerable women, children and elders. After 10 years in the field, Wairimu has no doubt that she can help empower ordinary community members in Kenya to achieve extraordinary outcomes.