• May 23, 2024
  • Last Update May 23, 2024 12:57 AM
  • Nairobi

History in making as women ‘birth a Health Centre’ in Siaya


By Peter Ochieng

“Strong women lift each other up,” is a popular quote by an American actress, singer and talk show host Jada Koren Pinkett Smith. Wikipedia records that Jada was born in 1971, which means she is about 53 years old.

She may not have been old enough to coin that quote when a group of women in Siaya county, conceived an idea of building a hospital in the early 80’s, with a view of preventing fellow women from roadside and home births.

Now that Kaluo Health Centre in North Alego has become a reality, and effectively serving members of the community, her quote comes into play as it speaks on women joining hands to create an impact, however little it may seem in the eyes of naysayers.  

Gombe Women’s Group came into existence 1972. Years later in 1984, while still operating as a ‘wing’ in the larger Community Welfare body – Gombe United Welfare Association (GUWA), 11 visionary women consisting of Joyce Ahere, Judith Okello, Mary Ouma, Phelgonah Odhiambo, Mary Otieno, Jeanne Odhalo, Phoebe Omondi, Domtila Obiero, Mary Celine Oluoch and Juanitta Ottieno embarked on an aggressive recruitment drive of women married in North Alego Location, residing in Nairobi.

The drive yielded a membership of 30. The members then resolved in their subsequent meetings to register a separate welfare, out of the desire to operate independently from the mainstream umbrella body that would be capable of mobilising, soliciting and negotiating for funding with the international Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) operating in the country at the time.

“When our spouses identified, chose and concentrated in the renovation and upgrading of the learning institutions, we Gombe Women’s Group based on our motto of ‘Better Life Begins from Home’ identified a health centre as the most urgent to help alleviate and stop the roadside births by expectant mothers and high rates of infant mortality occasioned by the long distance to the only health facility, Siaya District Hospital,” says Constance Okoth, Chairlady, Gombe Women’s Group.

With the group registered and the mission identified, Mrs. Okoth said undeterred, and aware of the insurmountable challenges before them, and with the backing of their spouses, they embarked on serious fundraising missions through tea parties and dinner dances graced by some prominent figures, among them former Members of Parliament (MPs) Peter Oloo-Aringo, Hon Otieno, Mak’ Onyango and former Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly Job Onyango Omino among others.

“As we sought funds, our male counterparts worked with the then Siaya county council to help obtain an approval for a plot at Uhuru market area that was considered more central for the entire location,” she recalled.

With the plot secured, the group managed to secure handsome funding from the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) through Mrs. Karin Himmelstrand, then Head of SIDA at the Embassy. The funding boosted their coffers and enabled them to move fast into mobilising the construction materials.

Three years from the date of the ground breaking, with assistance of supervision by the Ministry of Health and Public Works, Kaluo Health Centre was completed and become reality at a cost of approximately Sh1.9 million, with the handing over of the health facility to the county government of Siaya county having taken place this week.

Monica Ogutu, Executive Director KMET is a member of the group. She joined shortly after graduating in 1981. She says coming up with the health facility was a matter of priority. “The women were conducting deliveries at home,” said Ogutu.  

“One dividend we have seen is that we have reduced the infant mortality rates. Home births in this North Alego have gone down, if anything there could be no home deliveries unless there is an emergency because the women are delivering here, even right now there is a delivery of last night here,” she added.   

“They are very happy and we have also reduced the infant mortality rate. That has given us hope that we are having quality children because when children are monitored, labour is monitored and they are delivered in a health facility like this, the score at birth is good and that tells you that you have a good product in the future,” she said.  

“That true greatness is not measured by the heights we reach but by the depths of our compassion, the breadth of our empathy and the strength of our solidarity and concern to fellow human beings. Kaluo Health Centre stands as a symbol of shared humanity; a testament to what can be achieved when people come together as one entity,” the group’s Chairperson concluded.  

The hand over ceremony on Thursday this week was attended by among others, Siaya First Lady, Mama Betty Orengo.

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