Bonnie Thornbury is a 2004 graduate of Fenelon Falls Secondary School who is working to improve the lives of many Africans. In Malawi, Bonnie worked for the Coalition of Women Living with HIV/AIDS, assisting women who have HIV/AIDS and working to end stereotyping and discrimination against those living with HIV/AIDS so that they do not avoid being tested for fear of being shunned by their communities. She was also involved in ‘talking circles,’ where men and women discuss a variety of sexual issues in mixed-gender groups, improving sexual freedom for women and more frank discussions about HIV/AIDS within the community. She also still actively works to draw attention to the shortage of accessible drinking water in many areas of Malawi.
Bonnie later worked with an organization called the Nobel Women’s Initiative, an association of female Nobel Peace Laureates who use their considerable influence to advocate for women’s rights around the world.
Currently in Rwanda, Bonnie works as a “Gender Officer” for an agricultural cooperative that implements programs allowing women to generate much-needed income. These women are often poorly educated, lack business-related skills, and have little access to the credit required to start up a business. They spend much of their day on time-consuming domestic tasks, such as gathering firewood, that earn no salary and restrict them to the home. Bonnie’s work is now focused on the creation of alternative, organic, clean-burning fuel briquettes so that collecting firewood is no longer necessary. This type of improvement will allow women more time to seek paid employment or to create their own businesses, giving them greater equitability within the home and a higher standard of living for their families.
Bonnie is also instrumental in helping members of the Ugandan Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender-Questioning (LGBTQ) community after that country’s government recently passed an “anti-gay” law criminalizing homosexuality. Shelters in Uganda are not practical options for the LGBTQ community because police, the military, and demonstrators target these shelters to persecute their occupants. Since Rwanda is near Uganda, it is a suitable refuge for those fleeing this new law. Bonnie helps coordinate financial support from donors in Europe and North America, and she prepares grant applications in order to fund transportation out of Uganda for LGBTQ citizens and to help them cover initial living expenses in the countries to which they have fled, primarily Rwanda.
By: Tracey Shelton – Languages Department Head, Fenelon Falls Secondary School