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Read Betsy Rono’s inspiring speech from League of Angels! Rono helps to coordinate a prenatal vitamin project throughout the Western part of Kenya. She flew in for the event to share how Vitamin Angels’ projects are making a difference in the lives of over 30,000 women.
"Today, I stand here as a representative of the marginalized Kenyan children and pregnant women who have been touched by your dear kind hands.
I work for The Global Network for Women and Children’s Health Research which is carrying out a project on maternal child health in Western Kenya. The Kenya site came to partner with the Vitamin Angels through Professor Jim Lemons in March 2009. During Howard’s visit in 2009 I went around with them through the rough terrains to reach the women in the deep areas of Western Kenya. When the vehicles couldn’t move further we walked! The vitamins were received by the local communities with great joy! They were happy to see a ‘Mzungu” meaning a white skinned person which they hadn’t seen since 1963.
In Kenya poverty is high among the rural marginalized communities. A healthy child is perceived to be fat with a big tummy! Not knowing this is a sign of malnutrition. They live in mud roomed houses with grass thatched roofs and share with the entire family. Parents sleep on the bed while children on the mud floor.
Many families survive on one meal a day and have to send their children to be casual workers at an early age to fend for their large families. The girls are sent far away to the cities and towns 20 to 200 miles away to work as house helps at a minimal pay of about 12 dollars a month. They have no or minimal health knowledge and rely on superstitions and hearsays.
Oftentimes pregnant mothers are found eating clay soil by the rivers in search of more minerals in response to the body’s increased need for additional nutrients during pregnancy. They are malnourished and weak which increases the labor and delivery duration. They cannot afford hospital fees and cost of drugs and sometimes have to travel a distance of about 16 miles through the rough terrains with no roads to get to the nearest health facility.
Vitamin Angels’ provision of prenatal micronutrients through your generous hands to these poor and marginalized pregnant mothers has brought a smile on these families. The homes where burying a dead baby was part of their daily lives is now history. The story of “she bled to death because she was anemic and the hospital lacked blood” is now history and forgotten. The story of the mother who was too weak to get the baby out is gone, it is now one push and the baby is out. My presence here today is a true representation of these marginalized voices from Kenya. I am greatly indebted to you all for all the sacrifice to forsake many luxuries for the sake of these poor mothers and babies who would otherwise be dead and forgotten but today they are alive, healthy and smiling. Now the mothers are very strong to undertake their daily chores to fend for their children and busy encouraging others to take the prenatal vitamins.
Now I’d like to share with you the stories of two women whose lives you have greatly touched:
A 36 year old mother of seven from Namaondo East village is a member of the core group. Before the introduction of vitamin angels in her village she used to be very weak and sickly throughout the previous pregnancy period. She couldn’t work; she couldn’t eat and was in bed until delivery. Even after delivery she would remain sick for the next three months. She used to experience heavy bleeding and breastfeeding was a problem due to lack of breast milk. She says thanks to God for sending the Vitamin Angels to her village. She reports that she was very strong throughout the period of pregnancy and was able to work after taking prenatal vitamins. She gave birth to an 11.5 pounds (5.2 kg) baby. The baby is now a year old, very healthy and strong. She is still breastfeeding her baby and promises to continue till 2 years because she now has enough breast milk. She is an active promoter of the wonders of Vitamin Angels among women groups in her village!
A 23 year old mother from Chwele ‘A’ village has had 3 unsuccessful pregnancies. She has had problems throughout her pregnancies. She was referred to a specialized doctor but couldn’t afford it due to lack of finances, so she opted to allow nature to take its course. She learned about the prenatal vitamins from Vitamin Angels through a local core group and decided to try to get pregnant again! She took prenatal vitamins throughout the pregnancy period of 9 months and soon discovered she was pregnant with twins! When she went into labor she visited the health centre for safe delivery. She delivered twins- a boy and a girl who weighed 6.2 pounds and 7.7 pounds respectively. She said that after using vitamins she could eat everything and could perform all household duties. She was strong and healthy throughout her pregnancy unlike the previous pregnancies and has enough breast milk for her twins. She recommends that vitamins are the best support for any poor and marginalized pregnant mothers and wishes that these prenatal vitamins continue to help those weak mothers who usually lose their babies during pregnancy and after birth. She is now a proud mother of two after losing three babies!
These case stories illustrate the interest created by the Vitamin Angels as the women debate among themselves the question of their health. Distribution of prenatal vitamins has been perceived as treatment by the community and has helped them to enter in at the first level of health care- a target towards the vision 2030 in Kenya. This has resulted in the community owning the responsibility of their health and well being!
Provision of prenatal vitamins to poor pregnant mothers has put a smile back on their faces. They can now be called, mother again! They can be recognized by their husbands again and feel respected by the community, their in laws! They can give their views and people will listen! Their babies are all smiles! They are empowered!
On behalf of these poor and marginalized mothers, communities, may my voice today represent their sincere thanks and smiles from their babies! Thank you!"