#ONEMoms Day Two- Everyday Heroes In Lwak, Kenya

#ONEMoms Day Two- Everyday Heroes In Lwak, Kenya

I would like to start this update by saying THANK YOU to our community partners, who are doing such an amazing job of sharing their voices and perspectives on this Mom sharing journey. Great posts and tweets have abounded- here’s a quote that particularly resonated with me from Asha at Parent Hacks:

We have much to be grateful for, and we are powerful when we come together to solve problems.

Over the years, I’ve gotten a few notes from parents who say Parent Hacks has changed their lives simply because they feel a moment of recognition and connection for the hard, often invisible work of parenting. It’s amazing what using your voice can do — to offer a tip, to comment on a tip someone else has offered, to place our crazy adventure with our kids into perspective, and to share the stories of other parents around the world.

This so exactly sums up my feelings about today’s site visits. This need for recognition, meaning in one’s work, and a sense of being valued by your community is vital, and universal. And I saw the need being met in spades today, and really powerful things flowing from it.

The day began with a visit to Lwak to meet with a powerful group of women known as Village Recorders. They are responsible for recording births and deaths, as well as being a liaison between service providers and community members. Getting new mosquito nets with permethrin treatment in stock? The village recorder would be the one to make the rounds and explain why these were different, and when and where to get them.

But in addition to being a modern day town crier, the ladies are also eyes and ears. Because of their status as community members, they may see the first signs of a Tuberculosis outbreak before someone with less access could. They also help craft initiatives in a way that increases the chance of them being accepted. Because, as the woman who spoke for the group told us this morning, “We need to be working with you to make it happen- if we’re not on board first, prepare for it to fail.”

Hmmmm. Sounds like another demographic I know- ummm, us.:)

When our bus arrived at the site early this morning, we were greeted by a throng of gorgeous women in various iterations of elegant, colorful garb, who began singing and ullulating a pretty exuberant Kenyan whoop- it’s a version of the crowd cheering at halftime at a football game.

As we disembarked, each woman grabbed us in a warm embrace- a sort of double hug, when you touch the other person’s cheek with your cheek on each side.

Then we sang and danced our way over to a row of chairs, where our group of ten would sit as honored guests while their group of about forty would stand and brief us on the amazing success rate of their community endeavors.

The energy and enthusiasm and sense of joy in meeting each other was electric. The mutual recognition of each other’s value and role felt really palpable- I think we all immediately picked up on the fact that we perform the same role in different ways, and BAM. Simpatico. It was a great start to a joyful day, full of learning what can happen when people empower themselves with those roles of leadership and authority.

Other visits included spending time with a traditional birth attendant (80% of Kenyan women labor at home, largely due to the remoteness of home from a treatment center. She shared some of her stories, and also that she now refers patients in difficulty to a medical doctor- she referred two out of six last month, who delivered without incident in hospital.

Then we headed to Lake Victoria, to Dunga Beach, to hear about how the local economy is driven by the water- in ways that are both a blessing and a challenge.

The culture of fishermen provides males with a large portion of economic power- he has a haul of fish, sells it- then it’s a coin toss. He may provide that money to his household- or may go drink it or spend it on his other family across the water- the one his wife at Dunga Beach doesn’t know exists, and may have already infected her with HIV through the man’s multiple partner habits.

The primary way for her to provide some level of food and economic  security for herself and her children is by the oldest profession n the book- though in this setting, it’s referred to as transactional sex. That’s what she has to exchange for fish, as opposed to currency. Those realities create a culture where the HIV infection rate has ben reported as high as 60%- a statistical spike even in a country that’s already pandemic.

But here’s what’s cool. Our group broke up into three, and met with three support groups coordinated by the people of Dunga Beach.  The young man, Danny, who presented to us stood tall, his brown loafer shined and his shirt and slacks freshly pressed. He explained how their group talks about much more than HIV now- they talk about business, relationships, money. They bring in speakers every few weeks to educate them further on a topic of interest. And they hold each other accountable on matters of health and safety. They have become their own safety net.

Danny said that for there to be opportunity for true stability for the people of Dunga beach,  and others like it, there first needs to be diversification away from a strictly fish based economy- the catch is dwindling more every month, and the people must adapt from generations of traditional livelihood.

So they make soap, and they bring coal in from Uganda across the lake to sell. They’re looking for the next big thing. And they’re looking to put the pars of the old culture that were not helpful long term to rest. It’s the only way things ever change- from within, with the acknowledgement of their being a need- and a self determined plan to make it happen.

We also had lunch on ths shores of Lake Victoria- it is truly gorgeous.

Which brings us to the amazing Tuberculosis volunteer counselors, in a much more urban part of Kenya than we had been for the past two days. We drove in convoy into a residential area where houses of about an 8×8 foot footprint were squeezed together amid pools of standing water. Dogs and children roamed the side of the road, with children as young as 3 or 4 holding their 1-2 year old siblings by the hand to keep them from running in front of the cars.

It was very hot by now- it felt like Maryland, sweaty and sticky as we gathered in a former TB patient’s house, Her daughter, Baby Grace, had dwindled to 7 pounds at 8 months of age when she began her TB treatment. But today, she looked like a bright, happy one year old, albeit slightly on the petite side. Sweat trickled down my back in the shady, impeccably kept living room.


The translator explained that in that neighborhood, rates of TB infection are very high- as are rates of HIV. And when you have the two simultaneously (or a co-morbidity) your likelihood of dying is as high as 80%.

Tuberculosis kills 200 people every hour on the continent of Africa.

200 people. AN HOUR.

Read that again. It’s an insane number, right?

But the barriers to treatment are manifold. Sometimes TB meds mess with anti retro viral meds, and they cancel each other out. The side effects are uncomfortable and many. If you have both infections, you could be taking up to 16 pills per day.And here’s the kicker:

You have to take your Tuberculosis meds Every.Day.For.Six. Months.

Six months??? I can’t think of ANYTHING I do once a day for six months, except brush my teeth.

I doubt I could keep that up without some backup- especially if I were already in a weakened state.

Enter the TB volunteer counselor. They have likely already been infected and been through treatment- and they are trained to discuss symptoms and treatment with their clients, and to visit them every day and support them in their efforts of recovery.They go EVERY DAY for six months, at the same time each day. They sit and engage with the y remind them to take their medicatio- and sit with them while they do it. erson receiving treatment, and then theu

The program has an extraordinarily high success rate- and, like at Dunga beach, topic covered when on medicine visits didn’t stay to only TB. Our visit guide told us with pride that after seeing this mother and child through their entie treatment, that they are now dear friends. “She is like family to me,” she said, and beamed at her friend.

We went back to where the convoys were meeting to get back on the bus- and were greeted with the great honor of about 50 volunteer TB counselors sitting under a white tent waiting to share their pride in their community role.

A young woman named Beatriz stood to share her love of helping a fellow TB sufferer restore their health. “We do not need to be paid for this work,” she said, eyes flashing. “We  are bringing people back from practicallt the dead- they are recovering their lives. It is very gratifying to have a part in that.” She then asked her counselors to bring up brooms, wrapped in cheerful gift paper. They gave one to each of us, as Beatriz proudly pronounced they were going to “Sweep TB out of the house”- followed by the continent.

Then we had one more joyful conga line across the grassy field to the bus- again, we were hugged and squeezed and hugged and squeezed in rturn- all while boogeying and singing in Lwak dialect, punctuated by the shrill ullallating sound- which SEVERAL of our #ONEmoms are getting pretty darn good at. If you plan on going to BlogHer, you may want to earplug up- because this is MUCH louder than your standard squee.

All in all, it was a day of seeing what works- and the true heroism of the Kenyans, CDC staff, and US AID and other organizations who are getting them deployed. You have never seen healthcare so lean and so mean. The US could learn quite a few tricks from their playbook. Why?

Because they’re reacting to need with services that close the gap for their patients. They’re not dictating a system that doesn’t meet the needs of the patient or family, and then being intractable when it fails. They’re reacting in real time every day- and measuring impressive amounts of data while doing so. This insures that the practices in place are best practices, not status quo,

And that recognition and respect goes a long way with creating trust in a community.

Speaking of which:

Here are some of the ONEMoms Community posts that are really so thoughtful and unique in their perspective: Again, THANK YOU to all who are walking this walk with us- you are amazing, and tomorrow I will have many stories of the Women Entrepreneurs and business copps that we’re meeting first thing in the AM.
Ellen at Love That Max: Lessons in Overcoming Adversity from The World’s Poorest Nations

Lyn Hallewell at Beyond these Four Walls , One Moms Day One

Morra Aaron at Huffington Post, We Are Still The World: Mom Bloggers in Africa



Day 2: Kisumu, Kenya
• Meet with women undergoing pregnancy monitoring and birth attendants at the Lwak Nutritional Center (Maternal and Child Health)
• Visit the women of the fishing industry at Dunga Beach (Trade)
• Meet community health workers who work with tuberculosis patients (Infectious Disease)

Daily Action: Today we’re meeting with couples and mothers living with HIV, Tuberculosis, and other infectious diseases. Want to take action? Using the hashtag #ONEMoms, tweet a message (or messages) you’d like us to deliver to mothers in Kenya.


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Comments (3)

  1. Crickett Friday - 05 / 08 / 2011 Reply
    Thanks, Lindsay for writing about TB! TB is also the leading killer of people LIVING with HIV. It's such a nasty opportunistic disease that we can both treat and prevent by treating! If you have early access to the HIV meds you are also 50% more likely to not contract TB to begin with... Those TB volunteers save lives. THANKS so much for sharing!
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