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Making a difference for the rural and urban poor in Kenya

© UNICEF Kenya/2012/Li
Korogocho informal settlement in Nairobi

UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Geeta Rao Gupta visits life-saving programmes

By Daisy Serem

NAIROBI, Kenya, 17 December 2012: For 41 year old Nancy*, life has been one hurdle after another. She has faced poverty, physical, sexual and domestic abuse, and lives in the informal low-income settlement of Korogocho, in Nairobi. Hers is a story of survival, determination and resilience as she struggles to provide for her family of six children against all odds. She is also on anti-retroviral drugs.

Nancy welcomed UNICEF’s Deputy Executive Director Geeta Rao Gupta and the Representative to Kenya Kanyankore Marcel Rudasingwa to her tiny shop where she runs a small business. Two of Nancy’s children suffer from epilepsy, a constant medical nightmare for this mother. In the midst of all this despair she is keeping a brave face as she shares her life story.

“My life has been very difficult but when I fall I always pick myself up,” she says. “There are those who told me I would die but I am here still standing strong.”

Life in an urban world

Tough and distressing as it is this is the life of many people living in the informal settlements that have mushroomed in Kenya’s cities. As highlighted by this year’s report on the State of the World’s Children: Children in an Urban World, around two thirds of the population of Nairobi live in crowded informal settlements which greatly impedes a child’s prospects for development.

UNICEF together with the Government of Kenya and other partners has set up a Cash Transfer Programme for Orphans and Vulnerable Children that is a lifeline for those like Nancy who are struggling to take care of their children. Through the Department of Children’s Services in the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Development, vulnerable households are identified and allocated USD48 every two months to cater for their children’s basic needs.

The cash transfer programme is expected to reach 145,000 households in Kenya by the end of 2012. Nancy is a beneficiary of this programme and so is spirited 71 year old Beatrice Nyariara, a grandmother and caregiver of five of her orphaned grandchildren. Through the cash transfers Beatrice has been able to not only provide for her grandchildren but has also started a basket making business as a sustainable source of income for her family.

© UNICEF Kenya/2012/Serem
Community Health Workers conduct a health talk with mothers at Got Matar Health Centre in western Kenya

Challenges facing the rural poor

In the rural village of Got Matar, in western Kenya, the scene might be different but poverty is still a constant predicament. Unlike the crowded informal settlements of Nairobi, households in this area are sparsely populated and this creates a challenge in accessing healthcare services as health facilities are miles away.

For these communities the role of Community Health Workers is vital as they travel far and wide to reach the most vulnerable and marginalized with life-saving health interventions. According to Francisca Aluoch, a community health worker in the area, their outreach programme has helped provide essential health services and reduced the number of immunization and antenatal care defaulters.

“Mothers now do not have an excuse for not bringing their children to the clinic because the outreach is closer and you don’t spend too much time or money to get there,” she says.

Community Health Workers such as Francisca are an essential linkage for the Community Health Strategy in Kenya. UNICEF provides financial and technical support to the Government of Kenya to implement the strategy and accelerate progress for the Promise Renewed agenda to end preventable deaths in children under five years.

In Got Matar and surrounding communities, the strategy and invaluable contribution by the community health workers has led to significant reductions in the cases of diarrhea and malaria, two of the top killer diseases in children.

“These issues of infant mortality, children dying at a young age or mothers dying at child birth are all preventable,” Ms. Gupta says while addressing the health workers. “Nobody should die during child birth because to die when you are giving life is a horrible thing. These are all tragedies for us in whichever community it occurs.”

Supporting mothers to make the right decisions

The community-based approach to healthcare also provides an opportunity for mothers to take greater responsibility for their health and that of their children. Through mother support groups, breastfeeding mothers and pregnant women meet to share best practices for childcare such as exclusive breastfeeding for children below 6 months and providing proper nutrition for their families.

This strategy has also been implemented in urban areas such as Korogocho to address the challenges of under nutrition, sanitation and hygiene, and antenatal care, amongst others. UNICEF-supported programmes for both the urban and rural poor seek to provide the best possible chance for vulnerable children and women to survive and thrive regardless of their circumstances.

As Ms. Gupta’s visit to Kenya comes to an end the blessings from Grandma Beatrice are a touching send off. In a blend of Indian and Kenyan traditions, Ms. Gupta touched the grandma’s feet as a sign of respect and Beatrice uttered good tidings saying, “May God broaden your borders so that you benefit more. And may your life be very blessed.”

*Names have been changed to protect identities



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