Vitamin Angels’ Board Chair, Michelle Goolsby, traveled to Western Kenya earlier this year to meet the women and children benefitting from our project there as well as to observe distributions of prenatal vitamins coordinated by our in-country partners, Global Network.
The staff of Nasewa Health Center in Western Kenya sees 80 to 100 expectant mothers per month and provides medical care for infants and children under 5. The Center works with mothers to help educate them on various ways to improve their health and that of their families, including providing them with information on the prevention of malaria, the importance of deworming, the importance of prenatal vitamins, and options for family planning. The women walk from miles around to visit the Center.
Through Vitamin Angels’ partners at Global Network, the Center distributes prenatal vitamins, monitors the pregnancy of the expectant mothers, monitors the babies born and tracks their statistics, immunizations and general health. We were able to speak with a very experienced and knowledgeable nurse, Sylvester Matiani, who has been working at the Center for the last 3 years. Sylvester reports that after the Center began receiving prenatal vitamins from Vitamin Angels two years ago, anemia in mothers has declined significantly, there are fewer premature babies, and fewer babies are born with deformities. Emma Achieng, who works for Global Network and is currently conducting research in the region, tells us the mothers were initially reluctant and didn’t understand the benefits of taking prenatal vitamins, however having seen the positive impact the vitamins have made, the women are now enthusiastically spreading the word and encouraging other expectant mothers to take them.
After our meeting with the Center staff, we were ushered outside and met by an excited crowd of mothers and children from 18 surrounding local villages, along with the village chief, assistant chiefs, and several village elders. We had the chance to hear story after story of mothers from these villages who had been given prenatal vitamins. All of them told us they felt stronger, their children were healthier and their breast milk was plentiful as a result. I was able to speak at length with an expectant mother, Jacinto Awino, a 28-year-old from Husiera. Jacinto and her husband are both contract laborers who work in the shamba (garden). When she speaks of her children, Jacinto says she prays they grow up healthy, have jobs, and can take good care of themselves. She adds with a smile that she also hopes we will visit frequently and continue to give them prenatal vitamins.
As Jacinto and I were finishing our conversation, an older woman ran up and urgently grabbed me by the hand and began pulling me toward the hospital, all the while yelling at me in Swahili, which I, of course, didn’t understand. Inside, on the delivery table, was one of the women who had come to talk with us; she had gone into labor, and given birth to a healthy baby girl just seconds before. This older woman insisted I stand there with this exhausted mother and her newborn as the baby girl took her first breaths and cried her first cries. I stood in wonder at the miracle of life, feeling somewhat awkward and intrusive, but clearly not expected or even allowed to leave. The older woman was completely delighted with herself and found it hilarious that a mzungu (white person) would be the third person to welcome this new baby into the world.
What a day!