Hesperian is a non-profit publisher of books and newsletters for community-based health care. Their first book, Where There Is No Doctor, is considered one of the most accessible and widely used community health books in the world. Simply written and heavily illustrated, Hesperian books are designed so that people with little formal education can understand, apply and share health information. Developed collaboratively with health workers and community members from around the world, their books and newsletters address the underlying social, political, and economic causes of poor health and suggest ways groups can organize to improve health conditions in their communities.
If you’ve ever been to Kenya (some may accurately generalize – anywhere in Africa), you know that time is rarely of the essence. When you plan to meet a friend at 1pm, you know never to show up punctually at 1pm because you WILL wait anywhere from 30 minutes up to 2 hours for your friend to finally arrive.
In 2008, when we set our building completion date for December 1st, 2009 – in celebration of World AIDS Day – we knew we were setting ourselves up for a challenge. We gave ourselves 1 full year to design and build a solar powered community center … on a remote island in the middle of Lake Victoria, with no electricity, no vehicles, and a 3-hour wooden ferryboat ride between the mainland and our site at Kitawi Beach on Mfangano Island. We also decided to build this center as from our community—no outside contracting firms… We decided to build the EK center from local designs, with local sand and stones, with 100% local labor, and through local leadership.
Back in 2008, Adam Sewall, one our Kenya-based construction crew leaders and OHR founders, had highly recommended using an eco-friendly yet extremely durable building technique using ferro-cement. Its economical advantages and sustainable characteristics made it a desirable option for our vision of building – in its broadest sense – a long-lasting, ecologically sound, community owned and operated, public education and support center for the people of mfangano.
Learning the skill seemed to be invaluable to the islanders as a way to build stronger structures with less material. Ferro-cement took the cake and we all jumped aboard. Before we knew it, ferroism had taken over and we were all eating off of ferro-cement forks and wearing ferro-cement shoes.
So far, we’ve encountered only a few bumps along the way. Designed, built, and managed almost entirely by Kenyans, we are extremely proud of our work thus far. We continue to work hard to complete the roof, windows, doors, and interior details.
If you happen to be in the area (Mfangano Island, Lake Victoria, Kenya) stop in for a tour of the building, a game of football, and most importantly, a warm welcome. Our next steps of interior set-up and program implementation will begin in the Spring of 2010.
World AIDS Day is celebrated on December 1st. The World AIDS Day theme for 2009 is ‘Universal Access and Human Rights. December 1st is an opportunity to increase awareness of HIV/AIDS, as well as a reminder of the education and commitment needed to eradicate this disease. OHR is hosting a large World AIDS Day event at the new Ekialo Kiona Center at Kitawi Beach.
The Ekialo Kiona Center will provide access to resources to encourage young people and residents to get tested and know their HIV status. It is centered around improving access to care and increasing education through free high-speed internet access, as well as a library and study room. World AIDS Day and the opening of Ekialo Kiona Center provide a chance to generate enthusiasm worldwide to work towards an end to HIV/AIDS and is the beginning of an opportunity on Mfangano Island to stimulate discussion, reduce stigma, and connect this island community with communities around the globe.
The OHR-GMCP Initiative for HIV/AIDS represents a unique partnership between the Organic Health Response and the Global-Micro Clinic Project (GMCP). GMCP is a global organization that seeks to catalyze integrated health solutions around the globe using the power of an organic social network. The partnership recognizes a shared vision for activating the force of social solidarity to implement sustainable community health strategies. Through this partnership OHR is providing the necessary institutional, physical, and human infrastructure on Mfangano Island, Kenya that will support GMCP to implement the worlds first Micro-Clinic pilot for people living with HIV/AIDS.
This pilot program and partnership represents a best practices collaboration with a focus on scalability and expansion for similarly affected communities across East Africa and the globe. In the past year, OHR has recruited a diverse team of public health expert, researchers, and student volunteers in the US and UK to contribute energy towards health experts, research, and service projects for OHR and GMCP. “The OHR-GMCP Initiative for HIV/AIDS” now represents a coalition of staff and volunteers based in the US that will support a local partnership between OHR and GMCP on the ground in Kenya.
A group of students at the University of California San Francisco have proposed a research project to measure the potential impact of the Organic Health Response on the overall health of HIV-affected communities on Mfangano Island. Their scientific evaluation will evaluate program effectiveness and determine potential scalability of OHR pilot programs for similarly affected communities across Lake Victoria, sub-Saharan Africa, and beyond.
The overall objective of this study is to gather comprehensive qualitative and quantitative data in four general Domains to establish a community-wide health baseline for the long-term evaluation of OHR’s indigenous HIV/AIDS initiatives on Mfangano Island, Suba District, Kenya. Broadly, the four Domains of this baseline investigation include: Health Literacy, Attitudes and Support; Utilization of Biomedical and Traditional Health Resources; and Nutrition and Water Security; HIV/AIDS Disease Status.
This baseline study aims to:
Establish systematic health baseline within Mfangano East sub-Location, Mfangano Island, Kenya.
Inform the development of systematic program evaluation and monitoring strategy for OHR pilots.
Generate hypotheses for subsequent collaborative research projects for Kenyan an US graduate student teams.
Inform the ongoing design and implementation of OHR and FACES health interventions on Mfangano Island.