Global Health Travel Blog

UNC Gillings students share their global field experiences around the world.

Category: Dana

My last weeks in Kisii, Kenya

The remainder of my practicum in Kisii with Curamericas Global was a whirlwind. Since I was only in Kenya for one month, things moved very quickly in order to complete my projects on time. My first week was spent preparing for my qualitative research studies – writing research questions, preparing interview guides, and randomizing participants for my focus groups. I also visited and toured the Matongo Health Centre and familiarized myself with the facility and its services. In addition to beginning my projects, I enjoyed exploring Kisii. I familiarized myself with the local market to purchase fresh produce, located a grocery store for my other dietary staples, and determined the most efficient route to the KIKOP office at the Ministry of Health.

The maternity ward at Matongo Health Centre in Kisii, Kenya.

Focus group discussions began during my second week in Kisii. I quickly realized that my results would be richest if the focus groups were conducted in the local language by KIKOP staff. I held a qualitative research “crash course” for the KIKOP staff to familiarize them with the process of a qualitative study and the most important things to know about facilitating focus groups. Since I held about 10 focus groups during my practicum, I was extremely grateful for the willingness of the KIKOP staff to assist with my studies and facilitate the focus groups.

Davis and Esther, two KIKOP staff members, facilitate a focus group discussion with traditional birthing attendants in Matongo.

Following data collection came transcription. Local volunteers transcribed the focus group discussions into English for me, and I began data analysis shortly thereafter. Thus far I have completed analysis of transcripts for one of my studies – operational research on what constitutes a culturally appropriate birthing space and care at Matongo Health Center in Kisii. The preliminary results have been very informative and fascinating to read about, and I am looking forward to seeing the space that is designed as a result of my findings.

Life in Kisii was certainly challenging at times and different from my life back in the U.S., but it was a good learning experience. The KIKOP staff were helpful, members of my focus groups were welcoming, and I learned a lot from experiencing such a different culture. As I reflect on my month in Kisii, I feel grateful for the opportunity to experience life in a city so different from my hometown. I will always look back on my time here with gratitude and deep respect for all the individuals I worked with and will remain optimistic that they are able to obtain the positive health outcomes that Curamericas Global and KIKOP are working so hard to achieve.

– Dana

Home is where the chapatis are

Kisii, Kenya is a city that is full of life. Less than one mile from the city’s center, I wake up to the sound of a rooster crowing at the small farm across the street and fall asleep to local music playing in the city. The streets are populated by locals walking, driving, or riding “boda bodas” (small motorcycles) around town. Vendors line the streets to sell their delicious, locally-grown produce, grains, meats, and clothes. I quickly learned that the staple food in Kisii is “chapatis,” which are basically glorified flour tortillas to accompany meat, vegetables, or beans. You will not find a single restaurant without them! Thank goodness, because I was hooked on day one.

Part of the urban center of Kisii, Kenya.

Walk just a few miles from the city center in any direction and you will find yourself surrounded by trees and small farms. Here, cars and boda bodas are replaced by cows, goats, chickens, and local farmers transporting their goods to the city.

The view from my room overlooking small farms and the urban center.

For my practicum, I am working with Curamericas Global to conduct operational research on an intervention in Kisii aimed at encouraging healthy behaviors for prenatal, postnatal, and newborn care. Curamericas has partnered with the Kenyan Ministry of Health to form what is called the Kisii Kenya Oroiboro Project (KIKOP), which has implemented health education programs in two catchments (called Iranda and Matongo) thus far. KIKOP initiated a Care Group training cascade in each of the two catchments and expanded the hours of each catchments’ health center so that they are now open 24/7.

Through my qualitative research on the project, I will meet with various stakeholders to determine what is going well so far for the project and what can be improved going forward. I am also conducting qualitative research on what constitutes a culturally appropriate birthing space for women in Kisii. Many mothers chose to give birth at home with a traditional birthing attendant rather than at the local health centers with nurses who are trained to handle birthing emergencies. My research will be used to create a birthing space at the Matongo Health Center that mothers in Kisii are more comfortable using.

One of the buildings at the Iranda Health Center in rural Kisii.

I have only spent one week in Kisii, but I am enjoying the city, culture, and my projects here already. My first day began with an orientation of the project and meetings with individuals at the Ministry of Health. I also visited the Iranda Health Center and observed a training that KIKOP staff were conducting for community health volunteers, clan elders, and traditional birthing attendants who are involved with the project. I was greeted with many warm smiles and a local song and even given my very own Kisii name (Betuku)! The rest of my first week has been spent on preparing for focus groups, qualitative interviews, and training sessions for KIKOP staff so that they can assist with data collection. I am excited for next week when I will begin field work to collect data and meet with local community members to hear about their experiences with the KIKOP project.

– Dana