Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Workings of WOPLAH

Time has FLOWN since the GROW team has returned from Kenya. There is so much to say about how appreciative I am for the experience I had with the Western Organization for People Living with HIV/AIDS this summer. It seems nearly impossible to express how much I learned, but one thing that amazed me on the daily was learning about the complexity and capacity of WOPLAH's work within their community. Words seem to be failing me now, but here are pdf slides that describe all the different ways WOPLAH tries to achieve their goals. Total photo cred to the amazing Nicole Jorgenson!

-Desi Hartman, Colorado College '16

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Why GlobeMed?

Anyone who knew me well at CC also knew the phrase, “I have GlobeMed”. It was the reason dinners were missed, a winterfest was skipped, and many Tony’s drinks were never imbibed. It is also the reason I have spent the past two weeks in Kenya as an additional member of Colorado College’s GROW team. Looking back on the past two and a half years, especially from here in Kenya, I can safely say that the value of the things I missed pales in comparison to those that I have gained. Even armed with this knowledge, I still find myself searching for the words to explain why I know this to be true. So here’s my best attempt:

Working as an Overland leader this summer, I was struck by the words of E.B. White in our quote book: “If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If the world were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” Living in Mumias and learning from the experiences of the other GROW interns, I have gained a new appreciation for the answer GlobeMed provides to that choice. Simply put, you don’t have to choose. We arise each day with the opportunity to enjoy and to improve our world. Or at least to attempt to. No one embodies this idea more perfectly that WOPLAH’s director, Edwin Wetoyi.

Lovingly known to the GROW team as Edubaba (‘Papa Edwin’ in Kiswahili), Edwin’s dedication, love, and pure enthusiasm for his work shines through in every aspect of his daily regimen. In our final family dinner with him (candlelit due to a power outage), his love for his work came through in every word. Within fifteen minutes we had each reached for our journals to take notes. In articulating the way he feels about all that WOPLAH does he said, “ It [the work] is not a burden, it’s a privilege to the AOH.” And Edwin is not just a man of words. He is full of action. Edwin dances into support group meetings. He adds unexpected jokes in Swahili while translating, none of which we understand. He continues to work on a salary of less than a $1000 a year, while people of comparable training make more than that in a month. And he does all of this for the sake of his community.

Edwin, Being Edwin
As fans of hypotheticals, we asked Edwin if he thought the world would be a better or worse place in 100 years. His answer was simple, “If people help others, better. If not, worse.” To me, it seems that Edwin has been embodying the GlobeMed mantras before the word ‘GlobeMed’ even existed. Among many other reasons, he is my why. He is the reason that those of us involved in GlobeMed keep moving, keep showing up, and keep dreaming. Yes, we miss moments for this work, but I would argue that we gain a lifetime of understanding in return.

-Sarah Freeman '14, Sociology Major

Monday, August 18, 2014

From Pre-Natal to Manhood

We spent today shadowing the nurses and doctors at Maternal Child Health center (MCH).  Claire and I were placed in the Ante-Natal Care Clinic with Everlyne, the supervisor and head nurse at MCH, and wow, what an incredible job to have. Each pregnant woman brings a check-up book in which the nurses track important information such as HIV status, appointment reminders, and other information. These books are also used to monitor the newborns vaccines and weight changes after birth.  Everlyne uses these books to make sure all tests, records, and counseling sessions are done prior to delivery and that patients receive all necessary information.  Women are scheduled for four visits with the overall focus on birth preparedness and readiness to handle complications.  Below is a breakdown of what happens at each visit.

Many important conversations fall under the counseling and education portion of the visits.  During this time, Everlyne makes sure to teach the expecting mothers exactly what is happening inside of them, why certain things are and are not ok to do, and rid them of any false beliefs they may have.  Other topics include breastfeeding, malaria prevention, and the importance of having a skilled delivery attendant present for the birth. There are also many rumors and false stigmas that Everlyne tries to explain to the soon-to-be mothers.  One specific rumor Everlyne told us about is the rumor that some babies have white on them when they are born because their parents had sex while the mother was pregnant.  Everlyne explained however, that this white film is made by the mother’s body in order to keep the baby warm inside the womb.

The first patient Claire and I saw was 21; one year older than me, one year younger than Claire.  She had a section on her belly that was bubbled up, but not where the baby was, which concerned Everlyne.  For this reason, Everlyne suggested the mother go to the hospital in Kakamega to receive an ultra sound.  Unfortunately, Kakamega is about an hour bus ride away, and transportation costs may make this difficult for the patient.  This challenge is very common, and instances like this make it clear why WOPLAH’s income generation projects are so needed in order to improve health standards.  While this young lady had an unresolved issue, and highlighted a struggle in local healthcare, the rest of the appointments went smoothly and were very exciting to be a part of.  By the end of the morning, we had seen women at every stage of pregnancy and had felt the small heads of several babies in the womb!  Everlyne is unbelievable.  She is so knowledgeable and can find and identify every part of the baby within just a few seconds of touching the woman’s stomach.  One of the babies twitched when we touched its knee, which was very cool.  The best part though, was the heartbeat of the babies.  I almost started crying it was so beautiful. It took me a few tries before I finally heard it, but once I did I was overwhelmed with joy. The pitter-patter sound was so pure. I think I could do that for the rest of my life.

Following the Ante-Natal Care Clinic we stepped into a whole new portion of life.  Watching the beginnings of life changed to the beginnings of manhood as we each took turns watching a male circumcision at MCH.  Winter break just started here meaning it is time for circumcisions.  This is the case as USAID provides free circumcisions in health facilities during all holidays to ensure boys have time to recover before the school year starts again.  The little boy I watched was 11 and he was so brave!  Many of the boys were nervous after hearing stories from their friends who had been circumcised the traditional way, while others watched the entire thing (which was pretty crazy).  The traditional circumcisions are also taking place right now as evidenced by the many joyous parades we have seen marching down streets collecting funds for the boys’ recoveries.

In these practices, boys are usually taken into the countryside and numbed in cold rivers, after which they use knives to perform the act.  The boys then stay in the countryside for one month to recover.  However without sterile equipment or the knowledge of health facility employees, it can be a dangerous practice, which is why many people are now being encouraged to go to health facilities.  Not to mention that the health facilities use local anesthesia where as in the traditional practice they only have the coldness of the river to help numb before the procedure takes place.  I really appreciate and honor traditions in general, but seeing the caution used at MCH when performing the circumcisions, made it difficult for me to disregard my concern for the health and safety of the young boys going the traditional route.

- Libby Alvin '16 Molecular and Cellular Biology Major

Morning Report, Live From Mumias

We have a new blog in the final stages of publication right now, but wanted to keep you all updated with this morning report. Thanks for following us!

*Disclaimer: This is from our first week, before we had helmets!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Battle Against HIV/AIDS

We have just passed the half-way point of our GROW internship here in Mumias, Kenya—and yet I am still being blown away every day by WOPLAH’s inspiring work within this community. WOPLAH’s mission to address the pain and suffering of orphans, vulnerable children, and people living with HIV/AIDS in Western Kenya tackles the most prevalent health issue in their country. According to the UNAIDS World AIDS Day Report 2012 an estimated 1.6 million Kenyans are living with HIV, around 1.1 million children have been orphaned by AIDS, and in 2011 nearly 62,000 people died from AIDS-related illnesses.

After seeing such powerful numbers, I couldn’t help but wonder why the HIV/AIDS epidemic is still so prevalent and I wanted to dive deeper into how WOPLAH is helping to eradicate this disease.

Shortly after the HIV/AIDS emerged in the early 1980’s, Jonathan Mann—the founding Director of the World Health Organization’s former Global Programme on AIDS—framed the HIV and AIDS epidemic in three phases: the HIV infection epidemic, the AIDS epidemic, and the epidemic of social, cultural, economic, and political responses to HIV/AIDS. Unfortunately, over the course of history societal norms have marginalized our perception of the disease and the people afflicted with it. Although I was familiar with America’s negative associations with HIV/AIDS, the GROW team and I thought it would be a good idea to ask our program coordinator Edwin about Kenya’s HIV/AIDS associations. It was interesting to find that the negative associations prevalent in America and Kenya are fairly parallel, with stereotypes such as: homosexuality, prostitution, commercial sex, drug usage, and not being faithful. However I was surprised when Edwin told us that whole tribes, communities, and clan cultures have their own stigmas and stereotypes that affect their status in society and can interact (either for better or worse) with the connotations of HIV/AIDS. Many individuals in Kenya face heavy discrimination due to the negative attitudes, or stigma, related to HIV/AIDS. The stigma around HIV/AIDS is embedded in societal structures (social, cultural, economic, and political) and it is crucial to consider these factors when addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Kenya.

WOPLAH was founded in 2008 by eleven individual community members—who became known as the Ambassadors of Hope (AOH)—that saw the need to reduce stigma for people living with HIV/AIDS and their families through support groups, income generating activities (IGAs), community health dialogues, and other WOPLAH programs.  These initiatives address individual, relational, and societal stigmas recognizing the importance of all three. Tackling HIV/AIDS-related stigma from multiple levels allows WOPLAH to use different social, cultural, economic, and political avenues in their programs.

Support Groups-
·      Empower positive individuals on how to live positively through education
·      Give discriminated individuals a sense of community and belonging
Income Generating Activities-
·      Empowers beneficiaries to take ownership of their IGAs by providing training
·      Enables beneficiaries to gain an income (for medications, food, etc.)
·      Provides nutrition for health and deters ARV defaulting
Community Health Dialogues-
·      Gives community members a voice in their community about health issues
·      Brings together community leaders, health workers, and local administration to make solutions to health issues

I feel as if I have only scratched the surface of how WOPLAH is impacting their community and helping to eradicate this disease. This grassroots organization has connected with companies, organizations, government support, and key local actors to create a movement towards health equity. And I assure you that this wonderful organization filled with dedicated and passionate people will stop at nothing to reach their vision.

-Desi Hartman (Psychology Major, Global Health Minor, Colorado College Class of 2016)

Monday, July 28, 2014

On the Subject of Babies...

Aside from the fact that everywhere we go small children come sprinting from every direction yelling "Mzungu! Mzungu!" meaning white people or foreigners in Swahili, it seems that everything we do here is in some way directly or indirectly related to babies. For example, this morning we woke up to some strange sounds that we hadn't heard yet...and there are A LOT of strange sounds here. When we were leaving for the day I noticed some small furry figures huddled under one of the goats that lives in our compound. I thought at first they were cats which seemed odd, and as I got closer I realized they were baby goats - newborn baby goats!! They must have been born last night as they have adorable rolls of excess skin and stumble everywhere because they are just learning to walk. That was a great morning surprise after another day waking up to a power outage lasting from the night before.

Once we could finally pull ourselves away from the newborn members of our compound, we rode "boda bodas" (motorbike taxis) to a school. This school only has about 30 students, all of which come from families with at least one HIV-positive member; 8 of them are living positively themselves. This school was started by WOPLAH (and is one of Edwin's "babies") because this community was identified as having many vulnerable children who could not afford school. They were able to secure a small, one-room, mud school house and opened the school in 2008 with Edwin teaching full-time. They now have two volunteer teachers, but Edwin still goes to the school about once a week to teach and play with the kids. 

When we walked into the little room, the children greeted us with a song and spent the next 20 minutes of their morning lesson half-heartedly reciting various english words, letters and sounds but mostly focusing their attention on us. The students' ages ranged from 4-11, with the smallest children sitting in the front and the oldest in back. Soon it was breaktime and we went outside to play games and hand out stickers and lollipops! Although it was hard not to think about the level of education each child should have theoretically attained at their respective ages, I could also clearly see the importance of giving these children an opportunity for early-child development when they would otherwise be sitting at home or getting into trouble; it is amazing WOPLAH has been able to provide these children with valuable skills, socialization and a safe harbour that is no doubt better than any alternative.

After inviting Edwin to our house for a lunch of eggs and rice (scrambled eggs was the only semi-American food we could conjure up to share), we hopped on the "boda bodas" again to attend a self-help group where Edwin would be lecturing. He began by asking one of the members to do a recap of last week's lecture: a demonstration of proper female condom usage. Although we were all admitedly a bit uncomfortable watching a man literally use hand-motions to show how the condom should be inserted, it was a valuable and interesting experience to learn that people are taking these measures seriously and are willing to learn. Edwin proceeded to give a lecture about disclosure of one's HIV status. It is fascinating listening to him lecture about this, as he takes great care in elaborating on the delicate nature of disclosing one's status. He explained that it is a process; one should carefully choose who they tell first as well as the timing of the conversation and how to go about unfolding the story. He also highlighted the benefits to disclosing one's status: family members can help by picking up meds and being generally supportive, longer lifespan, eradication of self-stigma, more easily able to succesfully integrate into society etc. My favorite part about listening to Edwin's educational lectures is that he always has his audiences laughing and smiling; and the amount of passion in his voice cannot go unnoticed. 

So, each of our activities today was, in some way, related to babies: there were the newly born goats that greeted us as we left for our daily activities, the children in WOPLAH's school who were babies of HIV-positive parents, and Edwin's talk which concerned birth control methods and the effects of disclosure on family members (including one's children). 

- Nicole Jorgenson '14