W.O.R.K. Founder, from Plymouth, elected one of the ‘Catholic Women of the Year 2015’

One of the four women to be elected as “Catholic Women of the Year” comes from our Diocese, Mary-Jane Butler. Mary-Jane spent many years in Cornwall, working in nursing as a Macmillan Nurse, a Practice Nurse, and a Nurse Trainer. In 1997 she left to go to volunteer in the Diocese of Bungoma, Kenya, where for 40 years priests of our Diocese had worked to establish several new parishes. Mary-Jane worked as Administrator for Misikhu Mission Hospital which under her energetic leadership won an award for the most improved hospital in Kenya. The Bishop then asked her to become Medical Co-ordinator for the Diocese, supporting the hospitals, clinics and community health programmes under the care of the Diocese. When Mary-Jane returned to live part-time in England, she founded a charity to support some of the many poor people she had encountered in Western Kenya – it is known as W.O.R.K. – “Widows and Orphans in Rural Kenya”.

HIV/Aids has killed many parents leaving behind orphans with no resources for education, and many grandparents (often widows) caring for an increasing number of young children. Thus the focus of W.O.R.K.’s efforts is to educate orphans so that they can become self-sufficient in adulthood, and to support various widows’ groups so that they can survive and help look after their dependent children. As orphans need schools, and both groups access to health facilities, W.O.R.K. has funded a long list of projects in schools (eg classrooms, dormitories, kitchens, water catchment) and has built a health clinic and given much development support to another. Mary-Jane now spends nearly four months each year in Kenya, checking up on all the projects and individuals we support, and working closely with two local groups whom we have formed to help in fulfilling the aims of the charity. One group in Nairobi acts as a channel for funds, the other in Bungoma keeps in contact with all the students and vets any applications we receive for support.

Currently, W.O.R.K. is supporting over 90 students in education. Some of these are in secondary school, others at University pursuing a variety of degree courses, and others in a Vocational Training College learning practical skills which will give them the chance of future employment. The charity has been going long enough now to have seen particular students through secondary and tertiary education, and are now working as engineers, accountants, pharmacists, medical practitioners, electricians etc. When one reflects that these young people had no chance of any education beyond primary school – indeed many of them would be dead by now – we are extremely grateful to the generosity of our many sponsors who make these success stories possible.

Currently Kenya is experiencing grave problems because of a lack of tourists due to the problems with the terrorism coming from Somalia. The Luhya tribe of Western Kenya has been heavily employed in this sector, and so unemployment is causing greater poverty than ever. Our support of widows’ groups is therefore very important – we have given animals (cows, sheep, goats), seed and fertilizer. But this is always on the basis that as animals reproduce and crops grow, the widows must share and support one another so that the groups become more self-sufficient as time goes on.

When Mary-Jane is in England, she spends much time fund raising for W.O.R.K. She tries to increase the number of sponsors for orphans (we have at least 20 orphans on our waiting list at present), and collect funds for the capital projects we wish to undertake. This year we aim to build a dormitory for a Youth Vocational College, an extra ward and minor theatre for one of our clinics, and a hostel for some of our students to reside in during holidays – we have a number of orphans who literally have nowhere to go when schools close and they are told “to go home”. Mary-Jane would always be delighted to visit any parish to give a power-point presentation describing our work – she can be contacted through Kingsbridge Presbytery (01548.852670) or on email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. There is a website, too, which describes the activities of the charity: One of our boasts is that as our small administrative costs are covered by a particular donor, everything given goes directly to individuals, groups and projects we are sponsoring in kenya.

Mary-Jane will be honoured as one of the four Catholic Women of the Year at the annual luncheon in London in October this year.

Fr Adrian Toffolo
Chairman of W.O.R.K.

MJ busy clinic day