Namancha Community Health Volunteers

The AIC Kijabe Hospital’s Maternal and Newborn Community Health Program (MNCH) achieved its latest milestone after successfully training and certifying 31 Community Health Volunteers (CHVs) from the Namuncha sub-location in Nakuru County.

The program, which is part of the institution’s partnership with the national government towards reducing maternal and newborn deaths, aimed at equipping the volunteers with information such as the danger signs in newborn children and expectant mothers, and the hospital referral system which all play a crucial role in the successful delivery of a healthy baby.

Speaking during the graduation ceremony which was held at the African Inland Church’s (AIC) Namuncha Child Development Center, Maria Kishau, a CHV, voiced her pleasure towards the initiative by the MNCH program, thanking the team from the AIC Kijabe Hospital for their dedication. “When the program began there were many of us here, but the numbers kept dwindling as time went by. This did not dampen the spirits of the team from AIC Kijabe, who kept on coming all the way to train us and give us this vital information,” said Kishau.

Kishau, who is also a traditional birth attendant (TBA), went on to describe her experiences during and after the course. “I have been a midwife in this community for a very long time and right now I can proudly admit that there is so much information that I did not know of such as what to do when the baby is born with jaundice,” she exclaimed. “Labour also has a new meaning to me and I am glad that I was considered during formation of this class,” she added.

The members of the Namuncha community, and the Maasai as a whole, are generally pastoralists who occupy sparsely populated expanses of land stretching into the Rift valley.  Their isolation from major urban centers therefore plays a major role not only in the levels of literacy within the community, but also the ease of access to healthcare.

The Namuncha cohort itself consists of literate, semi-literate and completely illiterate CHVs. It also consists of Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs) like Kishau, who are unable to speak both English and Kiswahili, which are the lingua franca of the instructors. The presence of a language barrier necessitated the use of an interpreter, who with the facilitator’s trust had to translate the content into the Maa language.

During the initial stages of the classes in Namuncha, the TBAs were not responsive to what they were being taught about expectant mothers and newborns due to their own customs and traditions. This barrier was however surmounted through the intervention of the community pastors who made it clear that the intentions of the Kijabe Maternal and Newborn Community Health Project (KMNCHP) in partnership of Naivasha Sub-County Health Management Team (SCHMT) were for the good health of their community.

One pastor, who identified himself only as Elijah, narrated how he assisted in the child delivery after he had received the training. “On one occasion during a visit, the mother went into labor. With no health facility nearby, and with no ambulance in the vicinity, I did the only sensible thing by rolling up my sleeves, washing my hands and assisting her through the birthing process,” he said. “The child was born with no complications and for that we are grateful to God,” he added. He went on to say that such initiatives are very important, especially for the men in the event that there is an emergency.

John Lokerio, a member of the class originally from Turkana County, also shared his experience during the class. “We felt that there was a need for more outreach mashinani (at the community level). Through our interactions with the local women and children, we have managed to reduce incidences of illness and death among both mothers and their children,” Lokerio enthused. “We have learnt a lot about how to deal with cases such as babies being born while and how to convince mothers to seek professional medical advice from certified practitioners. In addition, according to our culture it is wrong for a man to touch or to be anywhere near an expectant mother, but we are bucking this trend through our door-to-door visits,” he added.

It is not all a bed of roses for the volunteers however as they are faced by a myriad of challenges. According to Mary Silantoi, a CHV, there are occasions whereby they face resistance from those who they are trying to help. “Sometimes when we visit some expectant mothers and try to ascertain their condition at that moment in time, they refuse to give us the information we require. In other cases when their children are unwell, we ask them to seek medical advice only to find out when we return that they did not do so,” said Silantoi.

“We do not lose hope however, and our door-to-door visits never stop because we understand the importance of good health,” she adds.

The MNCH staff urged those present to continue applying the knowledge that was imparted in them. “Learning is one thing, but applying the knowledge is another thing altogether. I urge the graduands to constantly apply everything that they have learnt not only for the benefit of this generation, but also for the future generations of this community.

The Kijabe Maternal and Newborn Community Health Project’s (KMNCHP) Namuncha class was formed in May of 2016, and is composed mostly of individuals from the Maasai community. It is located in Naivasha Sub-County, about 20 kilometers off the Mai Mahiu-Narok road.

Photos and text by Johnson Duro