Honouring Humanity: Nancy Stevens’ Journey to the Governor General’s Award

In the bustling world of charity work, where selfless acts often go unnoticed, there are shining stars like Nancy Stevens, founder of Kenya Help and activities coordinator at Providence Motherhouse here at Providence Village, whose dedication and impact have earned her the prestigious Meritorious Service Decoration (Civil Division) from the Office of the Secretary to the Governor General. This award recognizes individuals who have made exceptional contributions that bring benefit or honour to Canada, and Nancy’s work in Kenya supporting community development projects has undoubtedly done just that.

In November 2020, Nancy Stevens received an unexpected call. As she sat in her office here at Providence Motherhouse, the phone rang with an unknown number, and a voice from the Governor General’s office spoke, revealing that Nancy had been anonymously nominated for the Governor General’s Award. After a moment of disbelief, Nancy accepted the prestigious honour, marking a huge milestone in her journey of compassion and dedication to Kenya Help, a charity she founded and has passionately led for more than 16 years.

“I was downstairs in my office when I got the call. It said unknown name, unknown number. That’s what would come up when my boyfriend, who is now my husband, would call,” Nancy reminisces. “So I answered the phone [thinking it was him], and then I heard, ‘Miss Stevens, this is the Governor General’s Office. We just wanted to talk to you for a few minutes,’ and I instantly thought I was in trouble. I was naive about the whole situation. I had no idea that anybody had even put my name forward!”

Nancy’s journey with Kenya Help and to this moment began with a simple desire to make a difference. Encouraged by Sister Kathryn LaFleur, whom she met working at the Motherhouse, to turn her dreams into actions, Nancy embarked on a life-changing trip to Zambia with Habitat for Humanity in 2005. Stepping off the bus into a village in Zambia, Nancy was struck by the stark realities of poverty. This experience ignited a fire within her to make a tangible difference in the lives of those living with less.

“I remember stepping off the bus and looking around at all these mud huts. And I was like, ‘Wow, Steven Spielberg did a great job on this [movie] set because this is not real, this cannot be how people live’,” Nancy recalls.

Returning home, Nancy continued her journey of service, volunteering with various organizations and eventually founding Kenya Help. However, her path was not without challenges. One of the most significant hurdles was obtaining charitable status, a process that seemed insurmountable until Dr. John Geddes offered support, changing the trajectory of Kenya Help’s future.

Through Kenya Help, Nancy has dedicated herself to improving the lives of those in need and to empowering the residents of Ngong, Kenya, to rise out of poverty. The charity focuses on enhancing education by providing full classrooms, food, and clean water, as well as tools for self-sustainability. Nancy believes that education is the key to empowering children and communities, giving them the courage to better their lives and become the next generation of leaders.

The impact of Nancy’s work is evident in projects like the Boys Rescue Centre and Women’s Empowerment Centre, which have not only provided shelter and education, but also hope and opportunity to those who need it most. The Women’s Empowerment Centre started small, but has grown into a beacon of hope for women who have undergone trauma. The centre provides education in sewing, basic first aid, computer skills, and agriculture, empowering women to rebuild their lives and contribute positively to their communities.

The Boys’ Rescue Centre is a transformative project that provides shelter, education and support for 200 boys who have faced homelessness, poverty or exploitation. The project includes the construction of a three-story facility, complete with a water tower, security gates, latrines, and animal pens, ensuring a secure and nurturing environment. The Centre also includes a separate small home on the property for older boys, named   

Judy’s House after Nancy’s late mother. Nancy explains, “We decided to call it Judy’s House, because my mom and dad have always been foster parents, so our family always had lots of kids that needed space in our home.” She continues, “This is my proudest project. We’ve built so many buildings and this is my proudest. [project].”

A house with a blue roof and yellow trim, with trees and the blue sky in the background.

Judy’s House, named after Nancy’s late mother, part of the The Boys’ Rescue Centre built by Kenya Help.

But beyond the award is a deeper truth seen in the lives touched by Nancy’s compassion. She explains, “I met [a then 8-year-old boy] John, 16 years ago [when I first went to Kenya]. When I was leaving I said, ‘John, I promise you I’m coming back.’ And the reason I started my charity was because of him. To be able to support children like him. And now he works for Kenya Help.” Nancy emphasizes the incredible relationships and connections she’s developed throughout her years working in Kenya, how crucial these individuals are to Kenya Help, “The same people from my first trip are still in my life and they run the show at Kenya Help. I wouldn’t be anywhere, anywhere without them.”

Two people sitting posing for a picture.

Nancy and John in 2013.

Since the beginning, Nancy’s work with Kenya Help has been supported by the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul, who have been steadfast in their support, knitting dolls, scarves, and even saving juice cups to send to Africa. Their support has been a constant source of strength and encouragement for Nancy.

Receiving the Meritorious Service Decoration is not just an accolade for Nancy; it is a validation of her life’s work and a testament to the power of one person’s determination to make a difference. Nancy’s compassion and dedication was officially celebrated this year, when she was presented with her award by Her Excellency the Right Honourable Mary Simon, Governor General of Canada during a ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Thursday, March 21. 

A collage of two images; on the left, a woman pins an award to another woman's chest; on the right; two women stand side-by-side shaking hands

Photo credit: Sgt Anis Assari, Rideau Hall. Nancy Stevens is presented with her Meritorious Service Decorations (Civil Division) from Her Excellency the Right Honourable Mary Simon, Governor General of Canada at a ceremony at Rideau Hall on March 21, 2024.

As she looks to the future, Nancy’s focus is on sustainable housing, aiming to provide safer homes for more people, creating a lasting impact on generations to come.

“My focus going forward is going to be on sustainable housing. And it’s funny because it circles me back to my first project ever, which was Habitat for Humanity building sustainable housing. We [Kenya Help] could do smaller projects and get more people in safer houses,” Nancy shares. “Out of mud huts and into a steel house. It’s something that we’re talking about right now, myself and my team in Kenya.”

Nancy’s commitment to serving others remains unwavering. As she continues her journey of compassion and transformation, Nancy’s story serves as an inspiration to us all, reminding us of the power of one person’s dedication to making the world a better place, one project at a time.