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Hoping for the Snowball Effect

by Kelly Ward

Gwen Kidera, a fifth year Inter­na­tional Affairs and Envi­ron­men­tal Stud­ies major, spent her final fall co-op abroad in Meru, Kenya with the Miriam Kanana Mubichi Foun­da­tion (MKMF), a non-profit focused pri­mar­ily on pub­lic health and edu­ca­tion. On the ground in Meru, Gwen had the free­dom to pur­sue projects she was inter­ested in, as she worked with only one other col­league at the foundation.

Gwen took full advan­tage of her job’s flex­i­bil­ity by con­tin­u­ing exist­ing projects and start­ing new ones as well. She was so per­son­ally invested in her work that she often funded projects out of pocket, such as the Read­ing Stars pro­gram she imple­mented. Read­ing Stars is a pro­mo­tional after-school read­ing pro­gram which encour­ages higher enroll­ment rates at the two libraries built by MKMF. She also offered train­ing in com­puter skills and cre­ated mar­ket­ing mate­ri­als for Mak­ena Tex­tiles, the first woman-owned com­pany in Meru and the East­ern Province of Kenya. Gwen was able to show­case her “intrapre­neur­ial spirit” and fund her projects through a gen­er­ous grant awarded by the Social Enter­prise Insti­tute. Fur­ther to her own projects, Gwen also embarked on health edu­ca­tion pro­grams focus­ing on Health/Sanitation as well as Nutrition.

Health & Sanitation:

Dur­ing her time in Kenya, Gwen taught a health and san­i­ta­tion course as many Kenyan pub­lic schools lack health edu­ca­tion courses. She designed les­son plans and taught the courses at two local pri­mary schools. Among the top­ics cov­ered were hand wash­ing, the pre­ven­tion of intesti­nal worms, and the facts and myths of stig­ma­tized top­ics like HIV/AIDs and menstruation.

As the issue of HIV/AIDS receives a lot of atten­tion from other non-profits in Meru, Gwen helped work on some of MKMF’s pro­grams regard­ing other pub­lic health issues that are often for­got­ten or over­looked by other non­prof­its, such as san­i­ta­tion. Gwen helped con­tinue MKMF’s san­i­ta­tion projects by assess­ing pri­mary schools’ needs for pit latrines and class­room resur­fac­ing projects in which cement floors are poured in dirt-floor class­rooms to pro­tect stu­dents from fleas and mites. Gwen stressed the impor­tance of local input and sup­port in guid­ing MKMF to imple­ment projects, such as the latrine project which tar­geted a com­mu­nity needs that may have been pre­vi­ously overlooked.

Mal­nu­tri­tion:

Gwen saw first­hand that many Kenyan chil­dren whose fam­i­lies depend on agri­cul­ture suf­fer from mal­nu­tri­tion, espe­cially due to recent droughts in the sur­round­ing areas of Meru and also dev­as­tated Kenya’s neigh­bor, Soma­lia. She helped to orga­nize MKMF’s response to pre­vent­ing mal­nu­tri­tion through a new project that pro­vides a bowl of for­ti­fied por­ridge each day to every stu­dent at a hand­ful of schools. Gwen envi­sions two goals of this project– first, to pre­vent mal­nu­tri­tion and sec­ond, to encour­age chil­dren to stay in school rather than leave to find work to pay for food.

In addi­tion, MKMF has a pro­gram pro­vid­ing baby for­mula to mal­nour­ished chil­dren that are patients at Meru Dis­trict Hos­pi­tal, she explained. In addi­tion to mon­i­tor­ing for­mula dis­tri­b­u­tion, Gwen trav­eled twice a week to the hos­pi­tal to inter­view moth­ers of mal­nour­ished chil­dren to iden­tify causes or fac­tors asso­ci­ated with their children’s diet and nutri­tional sta­tus. A com­pi­la­tion of her inter­views illus­trate aspects of the local con­text that are con­tribut­ing to mal­nu­tri­tion, includ­ing the many lim­i­ta­tions moth­ers face such as unem­ploy­ment, inabil­ity to breast­feed due to HIV/AIDS, and lack of edu­ca­tion. Gwen is cur­rently work­ing on a research paper detail­ing a mal­nour­ished child’s typ­i­cal fam­ily pro­file from her con­sol­i­dated interviews.

Gwen believes it is essen­tial to under­stand the fac­tors in order to effec­tively pre­vent mal­nu­tri­tion. “I saw that many of these projects are in an effort to increase pre­ven­ta­tive mea­sures in the future and could have a major impact on the lives of many,” recalls Gwen.

In her last blog entry about her work in Kenya, Gwen comes to a hum­ble con­clu­sion. “I just hope a lit­tle piece of me lingers on in Kenya, even if the impact I made was min­i­mal… Maybe the best gift I could have given was the begin­ning of a few new projects, ones which should con­tinue and make larger, more last­ing, impacts in the future. That’s what I really hope for, the snow­ball effect, in which an idea or a few words one day lead to real, mea­sure­able change.”

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