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Celebrating Maternal and Child Health “RUNNER” - a story of hope

In 2019, I became the Head of the Gender Unit at LeMayian Hospital, a private hospital outside Nairobi, Kenya. I worked with the staff to develop a program to address the impact of physical, emotional, and sexual violence on the women that came in for services. Although close to 50% of women and girls in Kenya are impacted by gender-based violence, most never talk with someone who can help.


I met Mercy (not her real name) who had come in for the first time during a free medical camp offered by the hospital. She had married a year earlier and was now pregnant with her first child. Mercy and her family came from Somalia to the northern part of Kenya where she grew up. Every day, Mercy, with her sister, and brother, watched their father beat their mother. No matter their efforts, the beatings continued even when her mother was pregnant.


One morning Mercy’s mother, eight months pregnant, started running down a long dirt road to escape from an unusually severe beating and ended up giving birth to Mercy on the side of the road. This was how Mercy came to be nicknamed Runner. The reality of how she arrived in this world only marked the beginning for her - growing up in a family where terror, confusion, shame, and helplessness were daily companions. Her fear followed her into her marriage, and she asked if her husband would turn into her father, could she trust him to stay kind and loving?


Unlike many other stories, this one has a happy ending. After a long COVID hiatus, I returned to Kenya in February of 2022, and saw Mercy with her 2 yr. old son at the hospital! Mercy again thanked me for helping her get the support and counseling she needed to reduce the impact of growing up a constant witness to gender-based violence. In that initial hospital visit 3 yrs. earlier, she saw how staff understood her journey and could help with the healing process. Mercy shared that she is confident in her marriage and looking forward to giving birth to her second child. She is no longer fearful but a fierce advocate for women!


LeMayian Hospital was established in 2018, and is in Kitengela, Kenya 35 km from Nairobi serving Kajiado, Machakos and parts of Nairobi counties where there is a significant demand and need for maternal and child health services. The Mission of the hospital is to provide affordable, high quality medical services for the most vulnerable in our community to improve their health and well-being.


The Gender-Based Violence Recovery Unit (GBVRU) was piloted in 2019.

It was successful in identifying survivors of gender-based violence and helping them get the services they needed.The foundational policies and procedures of this program are established, and we are seeking to implement the program. We need to employ specialized staff – a full time SGBV Program Manager and Community Outreach & Training Coordinator to provide - counselling, safety planning, aftercare, and referral for all survivors, as well as prevention and risk reduction services and community outreach programming. The hospital also plans to create a short-term shelter program for survivors and their children and provide routine medical treatment and minor surgical procedures as needed free of charge. Through the GBVRU, LeMayian Hospital will ensure that it provides a comprehensive approach critical to the prevention and intervention of GBV recognizing its deleterious effects on health, human rights, and security in the region.


Mercy’s journey to healing started with 3 simple questions from the triage nurse about her experiences with gender-based violence and resulted in life changing services. This innovative program is the only one of its kind in Kenya and a model that can be replicated in other healthcare facilities.


In the first edition of the Rotary Peace Projects Incubator (RPPI), I had the opportunity to present this project titled: Gender Violence: Hospital-Based Prevention, Treatment and Safety Interventions in Kenya. The details can be found under the category of Saving Mothers and Children. This project was one of the top 5 and designated as a “Laureate”.


In the second edition, the RPPI seeks to continue development of peace projects that are tailored to address urgent community needs. Violence against women and girls is endemic to every country and has long been considered an epidemic. WHO estimates that 1 in 3 women worldwide are impacted by physical and sexual violence. As a result of COVID, such violence shot up exponentially around the world leading the United Nations to label it the “shadow pandemic.” Furthermore, sexual and gender-based violence undermines the long-term security and stability of countries.


The Kenyan Ministry of Public Service and Gender Affairs reported a 42% increase in GBV cases in March 2020 alone and most startling was the surge in teen pregnancies with 4,000 being recorded in Machakos County an area served by LeMayian Hospital. In June, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta ordered an investigation into the rising violence against women and girls – citing rape, domestic violence, female genital cutting, early teenage pregnancies, and child marriages.


The RPPI asks, “What can we do as Rotarians?” As a 2018 Rotary Peace Fellow and a current IEP/RI Positive Peace Activator, I have experienced the commitment, generosity, and kindness of the Rotary family. The power of 1.4 million members has nearly eradicated Polio, while providing critical COVID relief, and now, support for humanitarian efforts in Ukraine.


During the month of April, Rotary International celebrates Rotarians who are engaged in innovative solutions that support maternal and child health. The Gender-Based Violence Recovery Unit in Kenya brings an innovation solution to keeping women and children safe where the need is critical. “Runner” is only one example of the thousands of women in Kenya who could be helped with support from the Rotary family. In the second phase of the RPPI, we need your help to implement and grow this program and make it a replicable model for other health care facilities throughout Africa!


For more information, please contact Kathleen A. Doherty at crkd1@hotmail.com


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