On this International Women’s Day, Amref Health Africa joins the rest of the world in celebrating the strengths and achievements of women at family, community, national and regional levels in Africa. We believe that sustainable development will only come to Africa if women are at the centre of it. It is for this reason that Amref Health Africa has prioritized the health of women and children as an entry point to lasting health change in Africa.
We mark 2015 International Women’s Day with the words and experiences of women who are at the forefront of creating lasting health change in Africa.
“I hope for a community where women and girls are free to speak out on issues without being judged unfairly. I want them to be empowered. I cannot help but smile when I think of how things have turned around for the people in my community, I am proud of that. They are no longer victims of circumstances and neither am I.”
Nice Nailantei bring girls together in her Maasai community in Kenya to talk about their bodies and their rights, empowering them to discuss sexual and reproductive health and challenging the practice of female genital cutting (also known as female genital mutilation). Through Amref Health Africa, more than 7,000 girls in Kenya and Tanzania have experienced an Alternative Rite of Passage instead of female genital cutting. Nice, and other young women like her, are key to changing how communities mark the transition of girls into womanhood to avoid harm.
“I will continue to demand that girls can grow into women without being circumcised. Every young girl in Kenya can become the woman of her dreams. I am, for sure.”
Credit: Richard Pohle/The Times
"I just wanted to die. No one wanted to see me. If I went anywhere I had to carry a heavy bag of rags on my head and change them every hour to soak up the leaking. I suffered regularly from infections and sores. Just walking was painful."
Caroline Ngina was just 12 when she first gave birth in Kenya. She was in labour for three days.
Her body – too young for the task demanded of it – was simply not developed or strong enough to deliver her child. The labour was obstructed and with no access to professional medical support Caroline’s baby did not survive. Caroline herself was left with one of the most debilitating and traumatic complications of childbirth: fistula. A condition almost unheard of in the West, almost two million women across Africa suffer from the double incontinence that not only has debilitating physical affects but that also carries with it the burden of stigma and social isolation.
Carrying her secret with her, Caroline became a housemaid and fled to Nairobi. It was here that she first learned about the work of Amref Health Africa, and our dedicated team of surgeons that travel around Kenya bringing surgical outreach - and with it hope - to thousands of women like Caroline.
Caroline is now 24, married, and a mother to two healthy baby boys. She hopes that in the future she will be able to give them a sister.
"I felt like I was born a second time… If it hadn’t been for Amref Health Africa I would be dead. I could not bear the stigma any more. I had reached the point where I could not go on.”
Mary Leonard Raphael
“For the past 18 years, I have yearned for a diploma. But, with limited resources, I couldn’t go back to school. Beyond my personal challenges, an academic break would create a great gap in an already overstretched work force at my health unit. When eLearning was introduced, I was very excited. Hopefully, the more skills I can get, the more women I can reach – and the more lives I can help save.”
Mary Leonard Raphael always wanted to be a midwife to help women in Tanzania have a safe pregnancy and childbirth. Mary’s training grants her the status of an enrolled midwife, which limits the number of unsupervised procedures she can do. Yet, in Tanzania where the lifetime risk of death from pregnancy or childbirth is 1 in 23 and only 50% of births are assisted by a skilled health worker, the need is great for highly trained midwives.
Through Amref Health Africa, Mary is upgrading her skills using eLearning – allowing her to study while continuing to work.
“I feel more empowered and confident now. I can diagnose diseases and even offer advice to the doctors. In case of an emergency, I’m able to make life-saving decisions.”
“I love my job and my profession, but I find charity evacuations the most fulfilling. Some of these cases really break your heart. You meet people who really, really need our help.”
Hellen Muchai is a Critical Care Nurse with the Amref Flying Doctors (our emergency medical evacuation service). She knows there is no typical day, so she has to be ready to respond to emergency calls on short notice.
Along with the emergency evacuation service offered through the Flying Doctors’ “Maisha” program, Hellen and her team respond to a limited number of emergencies for free – all depending on the donations provided to the charity evacuation program.
Amref Flying Doctors responds to almost 1,000 emergencies every year. In 2013, they flew nearly a million miles on charity evacuation missions.
“When I am needed I go with great spirit because I am assisting people in my community; I am ready to do the work."
Resty Nsamba is a volunteer member of the Village Health Team in Kyeyindula, Uganda. She admits that her role was not always well accepted by the community. That started to change after Resty and her colleagues received health training through Amref Health Africa, which included training on malaria prevention and treatment – one of the more prevalent diseases in her community.
Now, Resty is highly respected in her community with families following her advice on matters of their health.
“As the World Health Organization states, the highest attainable standard of health is a fundamental right of every human being. I continue to do this work as my small way of contributing to this goal. One’s economic or social status should never limit anyone's ability to access appropriate and affordable health care.”
Anne-Marie Kamanye joined Amref Health Africa in Canada nine years ago, first as Programmes Director. She is now the Canadian office’s Executive Director. Committed to women’s and children’s rights, Anne-Marie was the recipient of the African Canadian Woman Achievement Award by the Endless Possibilities and Hope Development Organization.
Dr Koki Muli-Kinagwi
“This international Women’s Day is a time to reflect and appreciate the gains made by women in the struggle to promote equality and better opportunities for women. I am a doctor today working with AMREF and managing a 50 million USD programme in the Northern Arid Lands of Kenya because my parents gave me the opportunity to study and follow my dreams. I believed in myself and saw the sky as the limit. People around me gave me the strength to believe that I too can fulfill my dreams. My husband gave me the freedom to pursue my career and supported my ambition. My children trusted me to balance being a working mum and still be there for them. My employers saw the potential in me and gave me the opportunity to work for them. And so, this year, let’s Make It Happen for women and girls in Kenya. Let us give them opportunities that will keep their hopes and dreams alive. “
Dr Koki Muli-Kinagwi is Programme Manager for the APHIAplus Imarisha project at AMREF Kenya
Dr Lilian Mbau Simba
“The journey towards achieving my dreams in health leadership and the dreams for my family has enabled me to discover that the strength within every woman is unmatched.
My contribution towards saving lives of women and their children gives me the opportunity to unearth this strength and allow my dreams to create a healthy society. ”
Dr Lilian Mbau Simba is the Project Manager for the AMREF Kenya Healthy Heart Africa Project