“Do you remember me?” asked a familiar, curious face. “Of course I remember you! Emily Ouma!” I quickly responded. Hugging each other after almost a year apart, Emily enthusiastically exclaimed, “You interviewed me when I was 6 months pregnant and now I have an 8 month old daughter. Guess what her name is? … JOLENE Gloria Apollo!”
As an extension of Baylor’s Straw to Bread medical mission trip in 2012, I had the opportunity to live amongst the Luo tribe in rural Western Kenya for two months. While working on my thesis, Approaching Barriers to Health Center Deliveries in Rural Western Kenya from a Liberation Theology Perspective: A Community-Based Needs Assessment, I had the privilege of interviewing ninety women. My translators and I walked from mud hut to mud hut in search of a pregnant woman or previously pregnant mother that was interested in “answering several questions to allow us to improve the health of women in her community.” During these 90-minute interviews, I sat between my translators and our participant – four women huddled together to discuss an experience unique to our gender. Something that tied us together despite our many differences.
After my countdown of 320 days finally came to an end, I was able to bring the results of my research back to Kenya in 2013. It was a privilege to share what I learned from months of statistical analysis as well as literature review. With a PowerPoint presentation and my thesis passing among curious eyes, I explained that 93% of the women on the Upper Nyakach Plateau managed to seek prenatal care while only 45% were able to safely deliver at a health facility. Using a liberation theology approach to attribute this disparity to “structural” (accessibility to a health center delivery) versus “cognitive-personalistic” (value of a health center delivery) barriers, it became clear that all of the women in my cross-sectional study valued a health center delivery but faced significant structural barriers. Among these barriers, 92% of the women reported a transportation problem that forced them to hike an average of five kilometers after the onset of labor to deliver at the nearest Sigoti Health Center.
When Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta proclaimed maternal health services free of charge, the faces and stories of each of the women I interviewed testified to the importance of pragmatic solidarity when attempting to serve the less fortunate. Government-sponsored maternal health services would be an impractical solution if women on the Upper Nyakach Plateau were unable to access those services in the first place – paying more money to deliver with an unqualified traditional birth attendant because they were unable to make the necessary transportation sacrifices. With the generous support of Baylor’s Interdisciplinary Poverty Initiative (BIPI), I implemented a community-based approach to helping women experience safer deliveries. In conjunction with the Sigoti Health Center, I started Mothers On the Move (MOM) – a program to pay for laboring women’s transportation to the Sigoti Health Center as well as referrals to the more equipped St. Joseph’s Nyabondo Hospital. Since October of 2015, women can also go to Bethlehem Home Hospital, centrally located on the Plateau and staffed by Dr. Don Ogolla. Along with President Kenyatta’s 2013 agenda, our Luo mothers can now experience a delivery that is promising and free of charge.
I was the second “mzungu,” or white person, to open a bank account at Kenya Commercial Bank’s (KCB) branch in Sondu (the first of which also happened to be a Dutch woman!). After withdrawing and depositing BIPI’s $1,500, or 127,400 KSH, into this bank account, I opened a Mothers On the Move account to which money will be transferred every month. Little did I know I would see the culmination of my research in the arms of a proud mother less than seventeen hours later!
As the Kenyans living permanently on the Nyakach Plateau are much more of a solution to the problem of inaccessible health care than I am, I was grateful to witness their eager involvement and enthusiasm at the idea of Mothers On the Move. Their participation is vital to the success of this program as they are responsible for raising awareness within their community as well as providing me with monthly reports regarding our progress. Since it’s implementation, Mothers On the Move has transported over 1000 new mothers to the local health center or to the hospital. The “M.O.M.” phone number is now becoming a Luo sign of hope, trust, and most importantly the beginning of new life.