A long walk home - West Pokot, Kenya

A heavy burden to carry

Families can often face difficulties in taking their children for treatment, something which mothers in West Pokot, Kenya, know about all too well. We are proud to share our Kenya series, focusing on our nutrition success stories from West Pokot.

By Action Against Hunger

Jan 15 2014

Sweat drips down Nancy Lomwai’s face as she unties a thin sheet from her shoulders. She unstraps a little baby girl from off her back and then a little head pops out from her front and she unstraps another baby.

It took Nancy, 22, six hours to get to the Chesta health centre in West Pokot, Kenya. For the whole journey she has carried her twin girls, seven-month-olds Joyline and Belinta, strapped to her front and back.

Little Joyline and Belinta are both suffering from severe acute malnutrition and Nancy travels with them to the centre once a week, so Action Against Hunger’s community health workers can monitor their progress and give them a week’s supply of Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Foods, for their at-home treatment.

Nancy says: “I try to give my baby’s breast milk but I never have enough and so I feed them porridge and Ugali instead, which they do not eat so well.”

A very dry season

Times are tough in West Pokot with poor rains ruining many families crops, making it difficult for them to feed themselves and their children. Without enough food for herself, Nancy struggles to express enough milk to feed her two babies and so resorts to the corn staple of Ugali that the rest of the family eat. However for such little babies, their bodies have rejected the solid foods and both girls have become malnourished.

A community health worker greets Nancy and waggles his finger for baby Belinta to hold. In turn, he lowers each girl onto a set of scales and records their weight. He then lies them down on a measuring board to take their height and also measures a tape around their upper arm.

Hopes for happiness

He smiles as he informs Nancy that both girls have put on weight since last week and so things are looking good. He hands Nancy her supplies of therapeutic foods and moves on to the next mother and baby.
Nancy slowly rises and pulls Belinta on to her back, tying her in place with the sheet. She then heaves Joyline on to her front, makes sure she is secure and turns away to set off on the long journey back to her village.

“Carrying two babies is very heavy,” she says. “I can take a motorbike for some of the journey but I do not have enough money to go the whole way. It is very tiring.”

Reducing the distance to vital treatment

There are no push chairs in West Pokot. Many mothers in Nancy’s position, with more than one baby to carry, can find it difficult to come to the centre and so sometimes stop turning up altogether, which can be disastrous for their children’s health.

Action Against Hunger is exploring ways to help make it easier for mothers like Nancy to come to the centre. Creating more health centres and training more community health workers are just two ways that could help.  

Action Against Hunger has been working in Kenya since 2002
Action Against Hunger has been working in Kenya since 2002

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Editor’s Note: We're proud to be highlighting some of our nutrition success stories from West Pokot, Kenya, and wish to extend our gratitude to partners UNICEF and ECHO (The European Community Humanitarian Office) for supporting these programs.

Photo Credit: © Samuel Hauenstein Swan