Nuru International Inspirational Community Health Workers

After a month of preparation and training in the US and a month of transition in Kenya, I’m so excited to have finally taken over Nuru’s Healthcare program from Lindsay Cope. Lindsay did an amazing job training and mentoring the field officers and community health workers (CHWs), improving the effectiveness of their home visits and increasing commodity sales. Hopefully I can continue where she left off. You can learn more about my background in my bio.

During my first month in Kenya, I’ve already been able to see our CHWs at work saving lives throughout the community. Although I had previously read about CHWs around the world, this is my first time actually seeing them in action. It is extremely gratifying to see that Nuru’s CHWs have quickly become the go-to people for health questions in their rural villages. I was incredibly touched by a story that Alice Kenyenya, one of our Field Officers, told the team about one of the CHWs she manages.Maria, a widow with six children aged 13-24, started out as a Nuru Health Rep and was trained as a CHW last June. She lives in Bokorankomo, a small village in Kuria, Kenya, and makes regular visits as a CHW to 20 households in her village every month. Although her visits focus on preventing diseases that commonly affect and kill people in the area, Maria also addresses any pressing health concerns, ensuring that anyone who needs it is referred to the local health clinic. One Tuesday morning around 10 a.m. a neighbor ran across three shambas (farms) to Maria’s home and, while still panting, told her that there was a pregnant woman who needed her help right away.

Gati, a 19-year-old pregnant woman, had gone into an extremely painful labor around eight o’clock that morning. This was her first pregnancy and she had intended to deliver the baby at home, as her mother had delivered her. Gati was widowed when her husband was the victim of an assault less than a year after they were married. She was five months pregnant at the time.

As soon as Maria arrived at Gati’s house, she could see that Gati needed to get medical attention ASAP. Maria arranged for a boda boda (motorbike taxi) to take her and Gati to the Nyamateburo Health Center about 30 minutes away. The nurse at the health center quickly determined that the baby’s head was too large to pass through the birth canal safely. Since the health center does not have a doctor on staff nor the facilities to perform surgical procedures, the nurse referred Gati to the Sub-District Hospital in Isibania. Maria escorted Gati to the hospital, spending another 20 minutes squeezed together uncomfortably on the back of a boda boda, where it was determined that she needed to go to a different hospital in Migori, about 30 minutes from Isibania in a matatu (shared taxi), where they have electricity and full surgical theatre facilities.

Throughout each hospital transfer, Gati’s painful labor intensified. Maria stayed by her side and supported her through every difficult step. When Gati and Maria arrived at the hospital in Migori around 1 p.m. that afternoon, they discovered that the electricity was out. No surgeries can be performed when there is no power. Maria sat with Gati through the night until the electricity returned and she was finally able to have a C-section at 11 a.m. the next morning. Once Maria saw the happy mother out of surgery and breastfeeding her healthy baby girl, she finally returned home to her family.

A week and a half later Maria went back to Gati’s house to follow up and was happy to find that both mother and daughter are doing well. When we recognized and honored Maria at our most recent CHW meeting, she said that she will continue to visit Gati to ensure that she is exclusively breastfeeding and that the baby grows into a healthy child.

I hate to think what might have happened to Gati and her baby if Maria had not been there to get her the medical care she needed for a safe delivery. Maria went above and beyond what Nuru expects of our CHWs. Her willingness to drop everything to help a patient in need is so inspiring. This is a woman who receives no salary; she performs this life-saving work purely out of the kindness of her heart and her desire to improve the health of her neighbors. Nuru is providing training and knowledge, but it is how the CHWs, like Maria, use that knowledge that will make Nuru’s healthcare program successful in the long term.

About Laura Itzkowitz

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