The changing role of Maasai men in maternal health

James Senjura works closely with the Maasai pastoralist community of Laikipia, Kenya, to improve maternal and child health. He is a Project Officer for Mothers’ Union, Anglican Overseas Aid’s partner in The Road Less Travelled project, and also a father and positive role model for other men in his community. The project works with the community to identify key development challenges, and helps to develop locally-appropriate solutions to deliver basic health care and education where access to formal services is limited. James answers some questions about traditions and gender norms relating to maternal and child health within his culture.

In the Maasai community of Laikipia, how would you describe the traditional role of men in maternal and child health?

Traditionally, men’s role in maternal and child care has been passive. Maternal and child health care was in the hands of traditional birth attendants and old women.

Mostly men provide financial support and organise for transportation, and sometimes in consultation with the traditional birth attendant they decide for further action in case of complications or disease occurring. The father would advise on the estimated date of delivery, so that the woman would be prepared.

Image: Matthew Willman / Anglican Overseas Aid

Traditionally, the role of Maasai men in maternal health and child care has been a passive one. Image: Matthew Willman / Anglican Overseas Aid

It was also the role of man to source food (slaughter animals, draw blood) for the mother during and after pregnancy. When a woman was in the last trimester, the man would ready some rams for slaughter after delivery.

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Providing water in Naibor: building businesses in return

This post was written by Loretta Pilla, an Australian volunteer who is currently working in Kenya as a Program Management Officer with Anglican Overseas Aid’s The Road Less Travelled project.

Jchabure Lengunya is a mother of six children between four and 16 years of age. In addition to her family responsibilities, she is also an active member of the Naibor Water Committee. With Jchabure’s youngest child wrapped tightly around her neck, we sit beneath the shade of an acacia tree 50 metres uphill from the recently built rock water catchment in Naibor group ranch, in Laikipia County of Kenya.

“We are now entering the wet season,” she explains, pointing at the vast red clay landscape stretching to the horizon. It is barely flecked with green foliage, with even less houses in between.

Before the water catchment was built the women of Naibor travelled long distances during the wet season to the Naibor open spring to dig for water, and even further during the dry season to the Nanyuki River.

Image: Loretta Pilla / Anglican Overseas Aid

Women of Naibor in Laikipia, Kenya, wait to collect water from the tank at the base of the rock water catchment built by the community with support from The Road Less Travelled project. Image: Loretta Pilla / Anglican Overseas Aid

Jchabure explains that the water committee is responsible for ensuring the sustainable use of water by community members. This is an important role given the pressures the harsh weather conditions and often extended dry seasons can have on water availability.

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Celebrate Mother’s Day with us!

Motherhood Matters exhibition poster

In Melbourne and wondering what to do with mum on Mother’s Day?

Join us at Fed Square this Sunday 11 May for a high-energy African drum and dance performance with Asanti Dance Theatre at 12pm and 2pm!

Then head inside to The Atrium to explore Motherhood Matters – a free photo exhibition that gives insight into the experience of mothers in sub-Saharan Africa. It runs until 13 May and is open day and night.

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Photo exhibition: Motherhood Matters

Image: Kate Holt / Anglican Overseas Aid

Image: Kate Holt / Anglican Overseas Aid

Take a journey along the road to safe motherhood in sub-Saharan Africa with ‘Motherhood Matters’, a stunning exhibition of photographs on display at Federation Square in Melbourne in the lead-up to Mother’s Day in May.

Where: The Atrium at Fed Square
When: 5 – 13 May, 24 hours
Price: Free

Download the exhibition poster and help us spread the word

Gain an insight into the experience of mothers in rural African communities, learn about some of the challenges they face and find out about the vital work being done to improve maternal health in Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda.

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Australia-Africa partnership delivers life-saving results

Anglican Overseas Aid is honored to work in partnership with the Australian Government and nine other Australian non-government organisations to deliver a program in Africa that is saving lives and helping communities take control of their futures.

The latest annual report has been released for the Australia Africa Community Engagement Scheme (AACES), now in its second year. Through this scheme, Anglican Overseas Aid delivers The Road Less Travelled project with partners the Afar Pastoralist Development Association in Ethiopia, the Mothers’ Union of the Anglican Church of Kenya, the Nossal Institute for Global Health and Australian Volunteers International.

The AACES Annual Report 2012-2013 is now available on the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) website. It highlights the impressive achievements of the 10 Australian NGOs and their African partners in the program’s second year.

To read the summary or download the report, visit: http://aid.dfat.gov.au/Publications/Pages/aaces-annual-report.aspx

Or read the news feature on the DFAT website here.

AACES Annual Report 2012-2013

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Top tweeting for maternal health

This week, The Road Less Travelled project (@ARLTAfrica) was honoured to be featured on The Huffington Post blog, in a list of 25 Leading Tweeters on Maternal Health.

The author, Jennifer James, is the Founder of Mom Bloggers for Social Good, a global coalition of over 2,000 mothers who care about the world’s most pressing issues.

The organisations and individuals that made Jennifer’s top 25 are united by their efforts in “sharing information that is focused on keeping more mothers alive during and after childbirth.”

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The work of the community

This post was written by Chris McKeon, Writer and Production Assistant at Arete Stories.

About three hours north of Nairobi around a high, rocky hill is a collection of small huts. They are part of the Maasai community of Naibor, in Kenya’s Laikipia region.

As well as the mud huts, there is also a small primary school built of metal sheeting and a track, carved through the red dust, linking it to the towns of Nanyuki and Doldol. The odd goat grazes along the side of this track and women can be seen trudging through the red dust daily with water containers on their backs. The lack of water in the community becomes increasingly apparent the closer one gets.

The dusty track that links the Maasai community of Naibor to the towns of Nanyuki and Doldol.  Image: Matthew Willman / AOA

The dusty track that links the Maasai community of Naibor to the towns of Nanyuki and Doldol.
Image: Matthew Willman / AOA

“We were in difficulties with water,” explains James Supa as he sits on a rock near the roadside. “In the dry season, mothers have to walk to the river or Doldol or Nanyuki for water. It can take a whole day to fill their buckets with water.” (Read our earlier blog post about the effects of the water burden on women in Naibor.)

The little water they do find is often contaminated by animals or can only be reached by digging in the mud where the river used to flow, five kilometres from Naibor. Supa acts as a link person between The Road Less Travelled project (TRLT) and the Maasai, to ensure any development activities are locally-appropriate and meet the needs of the community. TRLT is a project of Anglican Overseas Aid, which works in partnership with local organisation the Mothers’ Union of the Anglican Church in Kenya (MUACK).

In Naibor, the community identified the chronic water shortage as a key development challenge.  Image: Matthew Willman / AOA

In Naibor, the community identified the chronic water shortage as a key development challenge.
Image: Matthew Willman / AOA

Women of Naibor at a community meeting. The new rock catchment will mean less time walking long distances to collect water for their households.  Image: Matthew Willman / AOA

Women of Naibor at a community meeting. The water shortage is a burden that is felt most heavily by women, whose task it is to walk long distances on a daily basis to collect their household’s water.
Image: Matthew Willman / AOA

The past few years have seen increasingly long dry spells in the Laikipia region, and the water shortages have worsened. When TRLT started and a community development committee was formed, the people of Naibor identified the chronic water shortage as a key challenge, and appealed for support from the project to alleviate the problem.

After community discussions, the suggestion was made to use the local environment and build a rock water catchment to store water during the rainy season. TRLT supported the initiative, which made use of local labour and resources to build two low walls along the hill’s bare rock face, as well as a storage tank. The walls channel the rainwater down the rock face and into the tank for use during the long dry season, when water is scarce.

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Community Health Workers drive sanitation changes amongst the Maasai

This post was written by Chris McKeon, Writer and Production Assistant at Arete Stories.

The Maasai of Laikipia region in northern Kenya face a number of health issues. With a history of nomadism they had never felt the need for toilets as the bush always sufficed. However, with the decline in size of the territory along with the erection of more permanent structures, safe disposal of fecal matter has arisen as a major concern.

Preventable diseases such as diarrhoea are widespread, and pose a significant threat to the health of the Maasai – especially that of infants and children under the age of five.

The problem stems from a lack of basic hygiene. “The Maasai aren’t used to using pit latrines,” says Daniel Kipishe, a Community Health Worker in the Morupusi area. “They just go in the bush.”

A traditional Maasai home in Morupusi Group Ranch of Laikipia County, Kenya. Image: Matthew Willman / AOA

A traditional Maasai home in Morupusi Group Ranch of Laikipia County, Kenya.
Image: Matthew Willman / AOA

Each year, around the world, more than 1.5 million people die from water, sanitation and hygiene-related diseases, according to WHO. Millions more suffer from preventable diseases such as diarrhoea and intestinal worms.

For the Maasai, the lack of adequate sanitation may be hindering progress in other areas of community development, including maternal and child health.

Simple health advice is the solution to stopping the spread of disease. Anglican Overseas Aid (AOA), along with the Mothers’ Union of the Anglican Church of Kenya, has trained 25 Community Health Workers in Morupusi to help overcome this problem. Their role is to provide basic health advice in the villages and report on the area’s health needs to the Kenyan Government. Although the health workers were selected from the population, initially the Maasai were wary of engaging with them.

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Identifying a model for improved maternal and newborn care in pastoralist communities

This post was written by Natalie Stephens and Dr Michelle Kermode of the Nossal Institute for Global Health – Anglican Overseas Aid’s partner in The Road Less Travelled project.

A woman in Kenya is hundreds of times more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth than a woman in Australia. The level of risk for women and their babies during pregnancy and childbirth is the largest health gap between rich and poor countries.

Fifteen percent of all pregnancies and births have life-threatening complications and, while most cannot be predicted, the majority of complications can be managed safely by skilled birth attendants such as doctors and nurses.

Pastoralist mothers wait for check-ups outside a health clinic in Samburu County, Kenya. Image: Matthew Willman / Anglican Overseas Aid

Pastoralist mothers wait for check-ups outside a health clinic in Samburu County, Kenya.
Image: Matthew Willman / Anglican Overseas Aid

There is strong evidence to show that access to skilled care during pregnancy, birth and the first month after delivery, is key to saving the lives of mothers and their babies. Yet, in 2013 more than half of all women giving birth in developing countries do so alone or attended by people such as traditional birth attendants or family carers, inadequately trained or resourced to respond in the event of birth complications. As a result, maternal mortality rates are unacceptably high and women are dying unnecessarily as a result of preventable causes.

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On the road to safer birthing practices

This post was written by Sarah Manyeki, Monitoring & Evaluation Officer for Mothers’ Union Kenya – Anglican Overseas Aid’s partner in The Road Less Travelled project.

In the remote Maasai community of Morupusi, in Kenya’s Laikipia County, the training and deployment of Community Health Workers (CHWs) is beginning to see positive results. Elizabeth Kaparo was trained as a CHW in 2012, an initiative of The Road Less Travelled (TRLT), a project that is committed to improving access to basic health care for nomadic pastoralist communities.

CHWs, people trained in basic health skills and who live within the nomadic pastoralist communities, are part of the Kenyan Ministry of Health’s (MoH) strategy to find local solutions to the barriers to accessing health services. TRLT partner the Mothers’ Union works with the MoH to facilitate the training of CHWs. This collaboration is an important step to bridge the gap between the traditional practices of these communities, and formal health facilities.

The efforts of TRLT-trained Community Health Workers are starting to have a positive effect on the health of mothers and children in the Maasai community of Morupusi.  Image: Matthew Willman / Anglican Overseas Aid

Mothers and children in the Maasai community of Morupusi are starting to benefit from the training of Community Health Workers, who provide a link between traditional practices and formal health services.
Image: Per Arnsäter / Anglican Overseas Aid

The project envisages the CHWs as a vital asset to their community, offering a cost-effective, accessible, and community-owned health resource.

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