Nuru’s Secret Weapon

One of the main factors that sets Nuru apart from other organizations fighting extreme poverty is that that all operations are founded upon a ‘Service Leadership Model’ that calls for a humble, growth-focused, feedback driven, selfless approach to designing and implementing programs.

For Nuru, possessing qualities of a Service Leader is crucial when engaging and mobilizing the community therefore it is essential for such attitudes to be apparent thought the ranks. And while Jake, our Founder and CEO, has a management style that epitomizes these characteristics, it is almost more critical that our farmers develop this manner as they become the face of Nuru and teach the community.

For Healthcare the first introduction to Service Leadership unveils with the Health Reps who, as mentioned last week, will be vetted to become CHWs based on those abilities. As they invest their own time and energy, and ours, they are empowered by a wealth of knowledge and are charged with sharing it amongst their farming groups. They have been elected by their groups to a leadership role and really have the opportunity to impact the health of their community. But, should this new knowledge and responsibility be used inappropriately there is potential for dangerous miscommunication, a faulty sense of hierarchy, or a detrimental breech of health related confidentiality.

This is especially important here where the strong sense of community can lend to gossip, and because local leadership positions tends to come with the connotation of clout, bribe-seeking abilities, and a laissez-faire approach – perhaps the polar opposite of ‘Service Leadership.’ With the sheer numbers increasing during expansion we do run the risk of finding that some Health Reps who are most familiar with former version of leadership may be unwilling to adapt the ‘Service’ mentality.

The good news is that today I am sharing a story of a Health Rep who embodies Service Leadership in the most impressive way.  His name is Bendicto Mogendi and I had the pleasure of meeting him at a Health Rep training two weeks ago.

Nelly pointed out that he ran a Voluntary Testing and Counseling (VCT) clinic for HIV/AIDS.  I was immediately impressed with his patience and engagement in the basic training we were conducting since he is clearly well versed in local health issues. After the meeting adjourned I introduced myself and asked to hear more about his work.  Rather than having a lengthy conversation in our current location, under the tree in a schoolyard, he invited me to visit his office the following week.

On Monday I found myself on the District Chief’s grounds in a small, two-room cement building filled by one desk, several record books, finger prick tests and counseling resources. I later learned that Benedicto, so passionate about his previous work as a CHW trained on HIV in the early 90s, had submitted his own grant proposal to ActionAid to build the small VCT site.

We were both equally radiating excitement about the other’s work! During the conversation I could see how strong his commitment was to educating his community on HIV/AIDS, reducing the stigma that surrounds it, and encouraging people to learn their status.  Though already convinced, he corroborated my theory that he was exceedingly experienced when he proudly whipped out over a dozen graduation certificates from extensive education and training. He then took me through the budget and activity breakdown of a grant he recently received from AMREF, and with the utmost trust he allowed me to view his VCT records which broke down zero-positive outcomes by age group and gender. He also informed me about locally relevant information that influences risk behavior here here.

When we began to chat about possible collaboration he expressed extreme willingness to help train our CHWs on at home testing and counseling. I asked about costs and was informed that they would only be for training materials. This is when it became apparent that he actually did his job unpaid!  Here is a man who has dedicated over 20 years of his life to judgment-free combat of a deadly and locally stigmatized disease and he doesn’t see a personal dime from the Ministry of Health, International NGOs or anywhere else. In fact, he makes his money growing Nuru Maize. I was blown away! And he is one of our very own Health Reps!

It is meeting the Benedictos of the world that serve as my inspiration when frustrations run high and remind me that it is truly possible to improve health when the odds are against us.  I am meeting with Benedicto again next week and will keep you posted on how the relationship progresses.