Mbuya Mohoyere? That’s “How are you?” in Kikurian – a language that has SO many greetings, that even though I’ve been here four times, I have yet to master them all. I’m grateful to be transitioning with Laura Itzkowitz and to have another opportunity to see just how much things have changed here in Kuria. Here are Laura’s reflections on her time in Kuria:
It’s hard to believe eight months have passed since I arrived in Isibania! I have learned and experienced so much during my time here. I saw the Community Health Workers (CHWs) improve their home visits and gain acceptance from the community. I learned to speak a tiny bit of Kiswahili and Kikuria. I watched the field managers take on more responsibility and develop into stronger leaders. I laughed with the healthcare team as they played April Fool’s jokes on each other. I worked with the team to develop a beautiful healthy behaviors calendar and shared their excitement when we sold over 200 calendars in September alone. I ate avocados straight from the tree. I walked house to house, through shambas (farms) filled with maize, watching as CHWs trained community members. I took off my shoes and waded through rivers to reach households on the other side. I shared joy and sorrow as our team experienced births and deaths. I sipped chai (tea with milk) and ate chapatti (a flat bread-like food) while chatting about life, Kenyan politics, and Nuru’s programs. I learned more about myself and how I can be a better manager. I collaborated with health center staff and CHWs to encourage people to attend the biannual immunization, Vitamin A, and deworming campaign. I rode boda bodas (motorbike taxis) on bumpy dirt roads. I slept under a mosquito net every night. I corrected people each time they referred to me as doctor. I learned to answer when someone called me Wegesa, the Kikurian name my team gave me.
Although it’s sad to say goodbye to all of the friends I’ve made in Kenya and with Nuru, I know I’m leaving the healthcare program in good hands. A couple of weeks ago, Janine Brown, one of Nuru’s full-time Healthcare Program Managers, arrived in Kenya to take over the program from me. This month of transition is hectic and crazy, as expected. I’m doing my best to make sure Janine learns everything about the current state of the program while making sure the Kenyan staff has a smooth transition from me to her. The healthcare program has made great progress during my time here and I know that will continue with Janine.
The last time I was here was in March 2010 and I was leaving right before the first week of training for our Community Health Workers. Now that I’m back, I’ve been amazed to see how our CHWs are functioning in the field. Sure we have challenges, and I’m working with Nelly, Pius, Juma, and Joseph (the Program Leader and 3 Field Mangers) to try and create good solutions.
This month we are training our CHWs on Immunization and Newborn Health. Did you know that “3.7 million babies die very soon after birth or within the first month?” We want the mothers and fathers in our community to know how to prevent those needless deaths from happening in their family. We’ve been working on curriculum development, making sure that key messages are communicated well. This is a new skill that the healthcare team is developing, and they are really doing well. This training is very timely as October 31st marks the beginning of a two week bi-annual campaign called Malezi Bora that the Kenyan government does to get mothers free ANC and children free immunizations, Vitamin A supplements, and more. Our CHWs will be mobilizing the people they visit and others in the community to go to this event and take their children.
The Kuria, Kenya that I left knowing is not the same that I returned to. Yes, there’s still the beautiful shambas, rocks, thunderstorms, and sunsets, but there’s so many new things: new roads, new office buildings for Nuru Kenya staff, new IGAs, a new house on the Nuru compound, and especially a lot of new faces. During the first week here we had a Nuru Field Day, which was incredible! It was a day of fun, laughter, eating, playing and dancing where all Nuru workers gathered. I was truly moved by how many people understand the vision of Nuru and are personally fighting with their lives to end extreme poverty in their community. It really is a beautiful place to live and work, and I’m so grateful to be here working alongside our Kenyan staff.