Our Child Went Missing

69433603_888739851485226_5182694137949847552_nMy Song of Praise today (EXTREMELY LONG TESTIMONY ALERT) : I have not slept much in the last two days. For different reasons, but last night it was because my heart and mind actively remained in a state of worship and praise. Let me share why:

Yesterday – early afternoon – my daughter Shukri left the house to take a walk. She needed time alone to clear stuff on her mind. Gio – my grandson – and I relaxed inside a duvet to watch a cartoon movie as we waited for her to return. I had been writing until around 5am, so i appreciated this time for a series of short power naps. My phone was on a charger beyond my reach so i temporarily ignored the text that came in but then it begun to ring. It was Shukri.

“Mami, please call me back!” I loaded my phone with units wondering what this was about.
“Mami, I have run into Aunty Kitty. She is crying. Leroy has been missing since Sunday. They have not found him and they don’t know what to do. Please come.”

I shot like ten rapid questions at her trying to understand what she was saying but what I now remember is saying “Ok I am on my way.”

I showered quickly – my friend Kitty is extremely keen on things like that🙃 – dressed and left. I had called her first, but she wept mostly and I cried with her before telling her that I was on my way. I started getting that ‘floating feeling’ and prayed “God, please lead me to Leroy so I give Kitty good news when I see her.”

I went to the road but our regular bodaboda (motorbike taxi) guys were not there. I flagged one down, but he wanted too much money for the distance I was going. All this while God kept me in His deep, perplexing peace. I talked to everyone i met on that road – asking if they may have seen him, describing him, telling them to bring him to where we stayed or to the police station if they saw him. I was feeling very light headed and a bit wobbly on my feet and I realized that my BP was getting dangerously high. From the back of my head I noticed a bodaboda heading the opposite direction and called out to him.

We agreed on the fare and I hopped on telling this stranger my mission as I did.
He said “Haiya, I saw him. On Sunday afternoon. He was headed towards Soweto – Kayole. He had on a grey track trouser and green shirt and he behaved as though he was a little out of his mind. I remember him.” (Leroy lives with autism)

Ok…what are the chances…God was already answering our prayers. We met with Kitty, hugged and cried a bit and then Denno the bodaboda guy (God bless him…please bless him) repeated his story. Kitty showed him Leroy’s photo and he confirmed that that was the child he had seen. They exchanged numbers…just in case, and we released him.

We held hands and prayed then decided to walk to Kayole – hmmmm none of us had any idea how far that was (actually I did but my brain was on autopilot…) – as we walked we talked to anyone we met, familiar or not. At one point we got to an apartment building whose caretaker is fondly nicknamed ‘Odiero’. I shared our story with him. A well-dressed man was seated next to him. They asked for our contact details just in case and promised to tell others as well. The well dressed gentleman said to us “We will look but you must also know that some Kenyans are not good people and may ha…” I stopped him there. ” I need for Mama Leroy to be strong…so I understand what you are saying, but we cannot listen to you.”
“But I am just saying so that you know. Some…” I stopped him. Said thanks to everyone and we – Kitty, Shukri and I went on our way. He who has ears…you know we meet well-meaning people like these in our individual pilgrims and sometimes, unfortunately, are them.

We got to where we currently live, and met with a group of pastors who are my immediate neighbors. They told us to go to Soweto Police station as that is where he would be if anyone found him. They also advised us not to ‘catch feelings’ if the police were rude to us – they would be just testing us to see if we genuinely cared. We agreed and took two bodabodas – one with Shukri and Kitty and the other with me (I am wide load – not able to share 🙈)

The ride over the sewage flooded Soweto bridge with its murky green waters brought terrifying thoughts 🥺that I quickly pushed back “God, I KNOW that You are leading us to Leroy. You will not let us down.”

We got to the police station and were warmly received and served by the police officers we found. They too assured us that he would be found. Kitty’s Mum had joined us. She had been searching all of the previous night and all of this day, everywhere including in hospitals. The police told us that if anyone had found him, he would most probably be at a children’s home. We passed by the now closed chief’s camp and begun our walk through the slums of Soweto, looking for Leroy, looking through the children’s homes. One after another, they wished us well but said he had not been by.

Finally we got to one called ‘By Grace’ now in Kayole. The lady received us as she continued to cut vegetables. We repeated Leroy’s details and she looked straight at me and said he had been brought in the morning by police. “You must be his mother – you look exactly the same.” I smiled and shook my head and pointed at Kitty’s retreating back…she was weeping again.

“I was not able to take him in because I was full but I want to assure you that he is well and safe.” She continued. ” I could tell that he was not a street child but a well cared for one who baths every day” she said smiling gently.

We thanked her and went to look in the two police locations she had pointed us towards: Komarock and Mihang’o. We had no idea where those were but if Leroy had found his way there, so would we. Outside the home though, we met a friendly “Mama mboga” (Lady vegetable seller). She strongly advised us to first of all pass by the DO’s office as that was where such cases were first reported. She almost physically hauled us into a matatu…God bless you dear angel.

We got to the DOs and linked arms as we walked to the reception of the small police post. Kitty kept telling me “We will find him here.”

We repeated our story to the kind looking female officer…and the two others with her in the booth. She smiled and turned and picked her phone talking as she did. I cannot for the life of me remember what she was saying…just that Leroy was safe. She called a lady who still happened to be in the compound. Susan Owuor Njuguna runs a children’s program called Elroi Hope Center (Leroy:Elroi – see our God!!! El Roi is also a Hebrew name for God – ‘The God Who Sees me”).

The officer introduced us to her and she smiled. Took out her phone and showed use a photo of our baby taken that morning. Ok…here we all broke down and wept as we went into a worship session to the One Who sees us. Kitty ran to the gate saying she would only let up when she saw Leroy. We talked a bit with Susan. She reassured us over Leroy’s well being and that we would go home with him that night.

We got into a very noisy matatu headed to Mihang’o to meet a lady called Maggie who would give us our child. She is a child officer in Komarock. We kept asking the conductor if we were there yet. While alighting the conductor gave further directions to the police station
Vukeni barabara na mupenye hako ka chum hiyo pande ingine. Tembeeni mpaka mwisho utaona kwa polisi.” before whistling sharply and banging the matatu with his hand and taking off. We laughed at this delightful way of showing us the way. ‘Ka chum…”  😂😅.An elderly light skinned lady smiled at us and repeated the instructions in proper Swahili – telling us basically to walk through a path on the opposite side of the road till its end.

It was now about 7pm…and we were at the edge of Kayole. With no idea where we were and how we would get back home…just knowing that we had to have Leroy with us when we did.

We called Maggie and she came to us and led us into the police station. We met with the Child Officer attached to this station – Nduta – who had was already well on her way home before she was called back to assist us in releasing Leroy. They verified Kitty’s relationship with Leroy and then went to get him. Here Kitty broke and wept. And we all joined her when Leroy walked in. He too was in tears. Quietly, gently. We lifted up praise and the police must have taken a photo then.

Back home Leroy’s Nanny and little sisters met us with tearful hugs and we sung along 70201976_888728864819658_5975010660830937088_o.jpgwith a neighbor and praised God. He is worthy. He is Worthy.

We are so grateful for the destiny helpers He sent to protect Leroy on the two nights he was alone, and yesterday (For all who prayed, were kind to him, kept him for us, may you experience The God of Leroy in very special ways in your lives. To Soweto Police, Tassia Police Post, Buruburu Police Station, Kayole Police Station, DO’s Office Kayole, By Grace Children’s Home Kayole, And ESPECIALLY TO Missing Child Kenya, Child officers Maggie (Komarock) and Nduta (Kayole), Susan Owuor Njuguna (Elroi) and the Askari’s who sheltered him Monday night, as well as Denno the bodaboda angel who pointed us to look towards Kayole, to Shukri and Nancy… May God raise you and yours up to Himself to shower you with His Glory in every way. Thank you. Thank You ABBA.).

Truly grateful to Nancy, Sammy and their family for coming to take us home🙌…that’s how we did it and for everyone who prayed, called, searched with us, encouraged us…God bless you.

vipslit@yahoo.ca

#ComeUpHereAndSee #OurAllseeingHope#IHaveAnotherReasonToPraiseTheLORD

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The Child Would Not Die or Be Silent

How long does it take for one to forgive their mother or father for what they did to them?” the little girl asked me. I smiled, but not from amusement. I was trying not to cry. Which was impossible anyway…because ever since I had walked into this children’s home and rescue center in Nairobi my whole system had frozen. God had taken over…I had known to be in prayer about this particular assignment the whole week. I had been invited to replace Pastor Terry Gobanga who was away – and it was not really about filling her really large and excellent shoes. It was about being asked to share wisdom with about 67 children…who were there not because their parents were no longer alive, but had allegedly become predators that orphaned the children they had borne.

This was the second rescue center, mostly inhabited by children who were healing from sexual violence, that I had been asked to speak at in a month. I wondered about that. But as I held a five week old baby girl in my arms, then later looked around the circle of about 30 eyes (the rest had been excused from my session for a play session with other members of the group we had gone with), I wondered how I could answer that question. Most of us, resent those that call us to account for the way we raise our own children: Mostly because they catch us at a moment, and make it about our entire parenting. But these were not ordinary parenting moments…although it seemed that it was becoming more normalized, this was a crisis.

In this particular home, all ‘except one’ (and I shudder at the use of those two words – because it was still one too many) had been assaulted by a mother, father or uncle – biological. Most of these children were in delicate security situations since their parents’ cases were still ongoing, and there was need by some clans to either “mute or get rid of the evidence.” Most of them were girls…but there were boys too…one too many. There were others who were or had been admitted in hospital, to undergo multiple reconstructive surgeries to lend their lives some semblance of normality. Most of the girls were first borns of at least one of their parents, or their only female child. I looked at their Mum1 – the founder of this home…fourteen (14) years of mothering other people’s children in their worst states had not dimmed her life Light.

How could I answer the children? What would forgiveness look like for them? How do you answer a child who in one moment, or a hundred, had endured war in their genitals to satisfy the hungers of a parent who temporarily forgot that they were supposed to protect not prey on them? Does forgiveness mean that what happened to them was ok? That it should be forgotten? That the children should repent of these (Because they were so often stigmatized – Mum1 shared for instant how one ‘church’ had denied them baptism after going through the classes under the excuse of not being able to afford T-shirts.) Many of these children bore the brunt of these shameful acts against them again and again as they lived each breath with the rejection of the extended families to which they had once belonged – who had perhaps initially celebrated their births and birthdays – who now wanted to forget them for the shame they are accused of bringing home. “For why hadn’t they just died instead of crying out, or getting pregnant, getting an important benefactor and family member whose quaint habits could be ignored into ‘disrepute’ or incarceration for ‘just’ a moment? Why wouldn’t they just let this go and keep up the facade?” This seemed to be the attitude their families had towards them.  What exactly would forgiveness mean for these?

The nightmares needed to end, the healing to come. Forgiveness may be about the offender (e.g. When God forgives our sins it puts us in the best place with Him), but it’s more about the offended (Humanly speaking). You forgive even when the fault is not confessed or admitted to because if allowed to – one offense can define the rest of your life in the worst ways possible. Unforgiveness often translates to meditating on an offence and giving it the power to shut down the functioning of what is still functional in us to hit back at the offender and survive the offense. Meditating constantly on what was done to you gives a grievous injury even more power over you than  it had initially. It can colour, darken everything…take away your smile…your life. I cannot remember what I said to them, because I was praying a lot, and asking God to speak to His little ones.  But they smiled…and they spoke…and they gave me strength as well. There was nothing God could not heal. It was hard leaving the home, leaving them behind to go be with my own household…I had intended to leave by 2pm. I was there till 6:30pm. It was hard to leave these little ones that because they still suffered from parenting wounds had become part of my own story. Their hugs, the whispered stories after the main session, the tears they allowed me to see, and the feel of them as they held onto me while I prayed for them – made them mine – indelibly. As I left though, I realized that they were indeed in the best place they could be for now, having been rescued and that for this moment were truly safer because they cried out and refused to die.

But somewhere in this same neighborhood, in this country, in this globe, other children were unfortunately starting the journey they were walking. I prayed that their parents would be hit by Heaven’s Might, that they would not put their babies through this, and that the babies who had gone through this, would find Hope again, find God, in parental touches by those in whose hands God would place them in. I don’t know…

vipslit@yahoo.ca

Loving Perennially

Its been happening a lot to me lately; how certain relationships that are special to me, are defined totally differently by those I behold as dear in them. Honestly…heartrending to say the least. Every time. I woke up this morning full of joy at the prospect of seeing God – then between two teeth aching simultaneously and another reminder that a beloved one does not think lovingly of me i.e. that we are not in the same relationship, storm clouds descended on my brow.
I sat heavily meditating of these for about two hours. I wondered which one hurt more…then God reminded me that He is Healer. He reminded me that I love Him far less than He loves me and yet, He never gives up on me, and stops being Who He Sees Himself as to me. He reminded me of my priesthood, and His expectation of the same from me – that I keep holding on to the Truth He has laid in me about these associations, and living my walk as He gives me Strength to. He promises me His Strength to be as He is.
He comes as He wills doesn’t He…even in a cloud.
“Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen.” Revelations 1:7
#CastingCrowns #EvenSoComeLordJesusCome #EternallyBelovedOfGod #GodIsRoomMaker

Strike Your Shepherd Scatter Your Brethren

The LORD IS my Shepherd.
Recently, Leroy (my son) and I were standing side by side early morning on our balcony, looking out mostly quietly at…just about anything that passed. Its where and how we bond many times. Suddenly a flock of sheep bust into our view (yes we live in Nairobi city) running in one direction in a way that reminded me somewhat of a waterfall. We watched, partly because there was nothing else to see at that time, but for me, because I sensed deeply that God was speaking to us about something.
 
Leroy remarked on the beauty of the flock, I agreed saying that God often spoke of us as Sheep. We noticed that a few of the sheep broke off in two groups, running in different directions from the rest. Suddenly the shepherd rushed into our view as well. He was a short, slightly built man wearing tan trousers, a luminous green shirt and a pink cap. I smiled. He had this long cane, that I believed could reach the from one end of the flock to another [his rod and staff – they comfort me].
 
Apparently the entire flock had herded and were eating from a place he did not want them to be. He rushed first at the majority of them. I marveled at his agility…knowing that this was a daily and day-long activity for him. He rounded the sheep…in my mind it seemed he chased them, rod in hand to the direction he wanted them to be facing, before running after the other five that we probably eating somebody’s house plants some way up our street, before finally coming for the two standing before our house.
 
Somehow, his activities made me think of leadership… of church leadership, and my spirit was humbled within me. Each one of those sheep had a mind of their own…but most tended to head towards the direction that the ones in the front row were headed. Some more independent ones got up to their own devices, in their own directions. Two things stood out for me from this morning scene – the passionate resilience of the shepherd in re-channeling the flow of the sheep to his way, and also, that as long as they were not following the way he wanted them to be on, despite their independence, the greenness of the meadows they ended up at, they were ALL wrong. And then my friend sends me this sadly hilarious video clip :). It reminds me of the biblical proverb – strike the shepherd and scatter the sheep. And that its not always an exterior enemy that brings down the shepherd, but a sheep in his or her care. Thanks Nyar Ruoth.
 
 
#HeWhoHasEars
vipslit@yahoo.ca

Keratoconus: Esther Thairu’s Story

As told to Vip Ogola by Esther, her father Stephen Thairu and their good Samaritan Mr. Kamal Sanghani

Stephen Thairu, Esther Thairu with Kamal Sanghani.JPG

Esther: I was young, 2 years old. I had eye trouble and started going to hospital for eye drops. I could see maybe, 30 centimeters and my eyes would pain. The doctors told me it was treatable. It reached a point where I was told I would go in for an operation. I was not afraid even when I saw the razors. I thought it would be painful but it wasn’t. I was anaesthetized and I woke up seeing better. I was in hospital for four days, three of those with my eyes bandaged.

Stephen: Esther was born in Loitokitok. She started having problems with her eyes at the age of two years. She would wake up and find her eyes clogged shut with pus. This happened annually between April and August and we suspected it had something to do with the cold weather. We took her to the district hospital there and she was told she had allergies that would resolve themselves by the time she was eight years old. She was given medication for this.

Esther Thairu.JPGEsther: I do very well in school. I am now 13 years old, and apart from academics, I play football.

Stephen: We moved to Githurai and Esther joined Mercies Academy where she is currently in Standard 6, having dropped back a year due to her medical challenges. Since she was a bright student she caught the attention of her teachers. Teacher Teresia noticed her problems with her eyes and advised us to change to Lions Hospital in Loresho. In the initial year of her treatment, they kept changing drugs. Her right eye was in terrible shape and needed urgent surgery. The left one was also in bad shape. The cost of surgery would be Kshs 350,000/ and they were not taking NHIF. I was confused. I was advised to take her to KNH due to the more manageable costs. On examining her, they concluded that her eyes were badly off. They only perform surgeries once as year so they referred her back to Lions for more urgent attention. We found that the costs there would be the same. I talked to my employer who suggested that we sell my father’s land to offset the costs. She talked to Mr. Kamal Sanghani of the Rotary club about my case and they referred us to Dr. S.P. Amin. We had to wait until he was available.

Kamal: Dr. Amin is in the Board of Lions. He was my contact. I would talk to him and then talk to Stephen. The doctors of Lions are good friends of mine. My family agreed that we would sponsor Esther. We did not know her then, and we have since sponsored three others.  One of the Rotarians told me about her. It took time but Stephen was both patient and persistent keeping me on my toes. Initially it was difficult to get a Cornea. We did not loose home. My mother insisted pushed me from the home front. Since we were working on a tight budget, we agreed that she goes to Lions four or five times. She is a bright student so we wanted to see her excel. There were so many issues and at one point I almost lost my temper with the hospital. Finally we received a Cornea for her from India.

Stephen: They started with her right eye. Then after two months they did Cross linking. She was in a private ward at the hospital and was the only child admitted there at that time.

Esther: I did not go to school. I was told not to by the doctor as it was possible to play a bad game and hurt my eyes. I also needed to avoid dust. I stayed home with Mum and really missed Shule.

Stephen: We had to go to hospital every Saturday after for check-up as she was on medication.

Esther: They would change my specks, I think twice between the first and second operations.

Stephen: They needed to do this to adapt to her strengthening eyesight.

Esther: After I did my first operation, Mr. Francis Mwangi my teacher at my school, Mercies School in Guthurai 44, put me to sit in front of the class. He then moved me to the back of the class to see if I had improved after two week. I had. Fellow students were also supportive in helping me catch up with them, especially Peter Mutuku. I am in Standard 6.

Stephen: She is supposed to be in standard 7 but she lost a lot of time that year and was not able to do her exams.

Esther: My grades are good. I get 350+. At the cross linking the doctors told me that I would go through pain for the night. I stayed indoors for three days with Mum. I am the first of three children and the only daughter of my parents. My mother sells vegetables and my father digs for a living. They gave me eye-drops to put after every two hours.  I was told I could go to school after a week. This was in March 2015. Since that time I have only had my specs changed once. I am in no pain and I can see relatively well.

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Conquering High Blood Pressure with God’s Intervention

img_9679I am 39 years old. I was diagnosed with High Blood Pressure by a doctor at the Webuye District Hospital.

It began one morning with a terrible headache, accompanied by intolerance to any kind of sound. All sound manifested as noise and I resisted the impulse to bang my head against hard surfaces. I was with my husband and he rushed me to hospital. They decided to check my blood pressure and it was at 210/110. The nurse who checked me, was uneasy about the result and she called in another nurse, who repeated the test. They had a hushed conversation between then and then the initial nurse left the room to come back minutes later with a doctor in her tail. He connected his machine and repeated the test and said to them “there is nothing wrong with your machine. The test is accurate.” He put a pill under my tongue, then one of the nurses injected me with what we were told was valium. It was now about 2pm in the afternoon.

They suggested admission but I resisted as my youngest child was 2 years old and needed me. I did not have a house help. I agreed however to come in daily for assessment and medication. My book was full of ‘patient refused admission’. They put me on Inderal for my blood pressure, Lasix to drain excess water in my system, and Ponstan Forte for the headache. Ponstan cost 300 shillings per tablet then. I don’t know if that was the real price or the chemist, to which we went to purchase my medication, was trying to exploit us. But the price was one of two reasons that helped me decide not to purchase it. The other was Dr. Ken’s advice. He was my husband’s close friend and a medical doctor. Dr. Ken talked to me about the dangers of addiction to pain medication, especially strong ones like the ones the hospital had prescribed for me.

I was asked by the hospital staff, after this and on subsequent attacks, about my family’s medical history. My maternal grandfather suffered a stroke just before I was born and was paralyzed by it on his left side. He too resisted medication. He was very fond of me. He lived 15 years after the stroke and then passed on. On my first attack a nurse heartlessly said to me that that was where I was headed. I rejected that heritage. One of my sisters also bleeds heavily during her pregnancies and suffers the swelling of her eyes. I also went through something similar during my last pregnancy, where I woke up once or twice to find my bedding soaked in blood. I did not seek medical attention for it, and my daughter was born healthy in September of 2011 by the grace of God. I was also asked if there was anything that would cause me undue stress. I told them even living in a police line was not a stress factor for me. I had a relatively good life.

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One time I had an attack in the night when my husband was away on duty. We were still living in a police camp at that time, a fact I thank God for. My children were able to run to a neighbour’s house, my husband’s colleague named Koech, and he rushed me to hospital. My head was aching badly, and when they checked my pressure, it was extremely high. They tried to get me to agree to admission, but three of my four children were unwell and on medication. I had no help at home and my husband’s work hours could not be changed to fit into their prescribed schedules. I could not leave my children alone.

I was lucky again, Dr. Ken was at hand to cover for me. He told the doctor attending to me that he knew me, and that I would be faithful in taking my medication and also attending a daily clinic. They again injected me with valium to help with the pain, and put a pill under my tongue. I was later to find out that this pill is called Propranolol. Koech took me home. My pressure was still very high the next morning but the hospital did not detain me. I eventually stabilised. I remained on Inderal and Lasix for the next two years. The headaches seldom came, but when they did, I took Panadol.

In 2005, my husband was transferred to Malindi and because there were some challenges with regard to accommodation, and I also wanted my children to have some stability with regard to their education, I opted to go live with my mother in Kisumu. My mother is a Clinician so she monitored my blood pressure and made sure I took my medication. One April afternoon, I noticed that there was a crusade happening at a hall in Mamboleo, just opposite my mother’s clinic. I asked my mother to take my blood pressure, as I was going over to be healed. I was so tired of medication. She took it and it was high. I went over to the meeting which was being run by Pastor Muliri and Bishop Mark Kegohe. The Bishop announced that there was a healing grace. He called on those with various illnesses that were able to believe God for healing to get up. We were asked to lay our hands on the general area in which we sought healing. I didn’t put my hands on any part of my body. I just spoke to God from my heart; I told him blood was all over my body and so I could not touch a specific part. I asked Him to go to the place where the problem lay and restore it as He had intended for it to work at my creation. I was calm. I went home and my mother measured my blood pressure and it had gone down significantly.

I have never taken any medication since that day, 11years ago, and my BP has remained relatively stable. In terms of diet, my husband loves beef so we have to eat it daily, to the point where one of my sons cannot stand it. I also went off salt for about a year. A few times, I have had a terrible headache that necessitated my going to hospital, and it was during one of those times that I met Dr. Lusi. But I am generally well, all glory to God. I have come to believe that the only thing that can beat science is faith in God.

vipslit@yahoo.ca

Photos by Nash of NaMeD Afrika Studios

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First Published in The Standard’s Sunday Magazine on September 4, 2016

http://sde.co.ke/article/2000215045/i-shouldn-t-be-alive-my-battle-with-high-blood-pressure

The Boda-Boda Saint Named Gordy

gordy-and-the-12-bodaboda-men-of-bunyala2The man arrives at the health center late into the night. He is helped by a community health volunteer, and between them, they support a wailing pregnant woman. All of them are wet, and bloody. A nurse takes the man’s place and supports the woman to the labor ward while the man gets someone to sign a little book and then leaves into the night. He is back two hours later, in different clothes, equally wet, equally bloody, this time he is holding a baby in one arm, while supporting a tired woman with his other. The nurses rush towards him and relieve him. They know him well. He is here almost every night. He is not staff, he is a perpetual good Samaritan.

gordy-with-baby-hildaWe traveled to Bumula sub-county, Bumula village to find out from the 34 year old married father of three Godwin Simiyu Wanyonyi (Gordy) just why he does what he does. Many men would probably rather walk through fire, than be with a woman, for any period of time, who was in labor, especially in the latter stages, even when it is their wife or close relative. But in Bungoma County we met, not just one, but 13 of 23 men with a different perspective. And just in case you are thinking that Bungoma County has hoarded Gynecologists, you are wrong. These are ordinary men, Boda-Boda riders with a calling that leads them to choose to be around pregnant women in labor, to support them by taking them, free of charge, to a health center for medically assisted deliveries.

“I don’t know why, but most women give birth at night,” begins this hero in Kiswahili. “Some nights I get as many as three urgent calls. I respond to all. Many of them are in advanced stages of labor and this for me means that we sit on blood and water all the way to the health center. Sometimes we make it. Sometimes the baby comes on the way to hospital, and I never shy away from the challenge of helping out. Most times the lady is accompanied by a Birth Companion, a Community Health worker, her mother in law or a female relative. Sometimes, like last week, it’s just the two of us.”

Even in the best of times, the rush to hospital when in labour is, to say the least, uncomfortable for most women with the ever present risk of losing the mother or child to the journey. This is even more challenging in the counties outside the capital. In some places, women are ferried on the back of Lorries transporting quarry stones in attempts to save their lives and those of their soon to be born babies. gordy-taking-a-woman-into-healthcareBernard Mare, a Transport Officer with the Ministry of Health Bungoma explains “Many places in the County are inaccessible to regular ambulances due to climatic and infrastructural challenges. Many homes are at least 5kms from the nearest health centers and can only be accessed through footpaths, sometimes mountainous like in the Mount Elgon areas. When it rains, and it is night, family and community members here either use makeshift stretchers with blankets to carry women either  to the centers or to a waiting Bodaboda at more level places. Some are brought in on wheelbarrows. Bodabodas, though considered dangerous by most, is the way most people get anywhere these parts of the country, so it makes sense to encourage their use, with caution of cause.”

“I have been a Boda-Boda man for 9 years, and whenever I see someone sick, I help  them – for free. I think this is what built my regard in this area, but I didn’t know just how much until the election. In June last year, the sub-chiefs angordwinnounced in the markets and in the villages around that they were looking for a Bodaboda man to help the villagers get to hospital, especially in the night. They, the Government, GlaxoSmithKline and Save the Children, had laid out about ten requirements that this man needed to have.  He was to be dependable, a man whose phone was never off, with a volunteer spirit, not a drunkard or criminal, someone who would best represent the community. I had a funeral on the day the election was to take place so I went” Says Gordy.

“The requirements were deliberately stringent. With the challenges in the area, including security, we needed mature men, with good reputations, with valid Riders’ licences, Insurance and a log book showing that they owned the bike they were riding.” Explains Felix Makasanda a Community Development Officer with the Boresha Programme that rose up to respond to Gordy’s initiative.

“When we were just about to bury, I got a call from one of the community health volunteers who knew me well. They told me to hurry back to the market and try my luck. There were about 60 riders who had responded to the call. Some had been campaigning and had come with their supporters. When I walked in, their morale dropped, and one or two asked me what I was doing there. The short of it, is that most of my competitors became my supporters. At the end of it, the community shortlisted five of us, and I got the most votes,” smiles Gordy. At least, Gordy could now fuel his bike on his mercy errands and have a something left to care for his family.

gordy-with-his-wife-janet2“It’s not easy,” his beautiful wife Janet Nafula contributes. “Many of the women get pregnant in the food season and give birth in the drought season. Sometimes these calls come in at night. As a human being of cause there are times I feel bad, but I have learnt to wake him up and release him, with a prayer. The night holds many issues. I am proud of what he does. Sometimes it rains, and in those nights, he could get as many as three calls. Which means I get to wash more clothes, but I do not mind it. I know he is out saving lives, and I trust him totally. He has never been one with a wandering eye, so that does not even worry me,” she says playfully. “He is a responsible father and husband. We have never slept hungry, he has bought and built on this plot, my children are all I school by God’s grace, the last being in a private school. He has helped set me up in a small hotel business where I have 4 employees, and where he comes in to help from time to time. We also farm goats, chicken, maize and beans, which is where we started off.”

How do they get to know his number? “My mobile number is like a hotline around here. The Chiefs announce it during funerals, in churches, at the hospital during clinics and at meetings. Former traditional birth attendants as well as community health volunteers have it.” Gordy explains. beneficiary-1-mildred-simiyu-with-baby-hildaOne of his beneficiaries Mildred Nanjala Simiyu, not a relative of his, who had her baby in March this year shares how on the day she went into labour, they had no way of getting to the hospital. The young mother of three, had walked to the health centers in the company of her loving mother in law for the first two births. This time though, it was raining, dark, and the path to her home in Bonambobi village in Bumula is full of twists and turns and narrows to barely passable footpaths closer to home. It is about two and a half kilometers from Gordy’s. She had challenges with pregnancy related hypertension. Her mother in law had heard about a BodaBoda Ambulance that transport’s people to hospital for free. “I was surprised by how fast he responded. He rode fast, it was just the two of us that night. My mother in law had to stay back to care for the other children. He saved my life and that of my baby Hilda. If it was not for him, I would have died in the process of trying to have the baby here. She kept presenting her chin first.”

beneficiary-2-jessica-wamalwa-with-baby-prosperJessica Wamalwa had a similar experience. She got Gordy’s number from a neighbor at around 11pm in the night. It was a rainy night. “I was overwhelmed. He was gentle and encouraging. He would ride at the pace that was comfortable for me, but would not stop when I asked him to. He said it was important to get me to hospital. Sometimes he would use one arm to hold me steady on my back. We rode also with my mother in law. By God’s grace I had baby Prosper at 3am.”

Gordy confesses that there have been some challenges. The weather, the roads especially on rainy nights, his susceptibility to frequent bouts to malaria and pneumonia. The lack of proper riding and safety gear is also a challenge for him. “I wish also that they would train us in basic first aid so that we could be more useful in cases where the babies come before we get to the health centers. I have so far, in the past years, had four women give birth when I was taking them to hospital.” gordys-colleague-pastor-wilfred-sifuna-otunga-1The other Riders agree with him on these challenges. Pastor Wilfred Otunga who has been doing this work for 20 years due to his love for children says “There is also said to be a ghost rider who terrorizes road users. Many who have seen it describe it as a jacket riding a bodaboda. I have never met it. I believe God has been with me. Many of us have also met with thugs and thankfully none of us has lost their bikes.” Lack of clarity on the role they are playing, by police on patrol was previously a challenge, but since their partners gave them branded reflector jackets with government and partner logos and branded as Ambulance.

Gordy’s twelve colleagues are grateful to him for his perseverance, and good example that impacted all of them to do the work they do. They also appreciate the assistance that has come as a result of their love for their communities. Like Gordy, many have bought land and built their simple homes on them. Some are educating children at all levels including at the University. They have also initiated businesses for their wives in which they work when they are not on the road. Most importantly, it has enamored them to the communities that chose them for this noble work and are committed to supporting them. They echo Gordy’s sentiments as he concludes our day, “I am convinced I was born to do this. I am grateful for the help I have received from the partners, but I did it before and I will do it long after they leave.”

vipslit@yahoo.ca

 

What They Said

Mildred – Gordy is the kind of person who reacts urgently to every call. If it was not for that, I would have died in labor. He is helping the women here, they will not have their children at home unless they do not have Gordy’s number. The number of deaths of mothers has also reduced significantly. I have his number and would recommend him to any woman in labor.

Jessica – Gordy’s work is meaningful. I don’t think my neighbor would have helped me without transport.  I had seen his number on display during clinic. But on that day, I got it from the community health volunteer who is my neighbour called Martin.

dr-brian-inima-moh-bunyala-subcounty-hospital

Dr. Brian Inima

Dr. Brian Inima – MOH Bumula Sub-County: The BodaBoda Ambulances have increased greatly the number of hospital deliveries.

transport-officer-moh-bungoma-county-bernard-mareBernard Mare –Transport Officer MOH Bungom: Gordy has a lot of passion for the work he does.  He has a big heart.

img_0031Dr. John Papaya – Coordinator of Community Health Services, Bungoma County: Gordy has a lot of humanity. No man would otherwise volunteer to do the work he is doing.

Photos and Stories by NaMeD Afrika Studios – (Nashon David Dwoya and Vip Ogola)

First Published on The Sunday Standard’s Sunday Magazine on September 4, 2016

http://sde.co.ke/article/2000214893/birth-by-boda-boda-bumula-riders-who-provide-free-emergency-transport-to-women-in-labour

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