Our leaders do things their way

November/ December 2016

I was back in Kisumu after a year, discussing progress with Lillian, who oversees the baby bonding groups for us when we are not around.  Since the last visit, 6 months ago, she has taught a new group of women about baby bonding and found leaders there.  We talked about the increasing burden of visiting more and more groups.  I suggested a new leader to help her, a lively extrovert, who I knew could command a group.  But she had other ideas.  ‘What about R?’ she enquired, ‘She’s kind.’  In another area, one of our quietest leaders, H and her co-leader P had got together a large group of 50 or so women, many of whom were new to the teaching.  They needed another leader here, so I suggested appointing the woman we had all recognised as understanding our teaching and interacting beautifully with her baby. ‘No’, H said, ‘We’ll interview her and appoint her later.’    Our translator didn’t turn up one day, so we used a couple of our leaders who have a good command of English.  You could see confidence growing by the day.  Our leaders in Kenya are not educated people – most did not complete secondary school, but they are our equal partners in this work, and I’m so excited by the way this is their mission to teach baby bonding and they are doing it their way.

We’ve now met three babies with different forms of disability.  There’s still a strong belief around here that disability is a curse, which is why most disabled babies are hidden from view.  But attitudes are beginning to change and these mothers are starting to be welcomed into the baby bonding groups.  Lillian has chosen to regularly visit the mother who lives near her and help massage the baby.  Now his legs are stronger, and he can move his fingers.

This visit we met a completely new group of women through a new contact, James.  He’d expected about 50 women.  100 turned up, and to his surprise, nearly all came back each day to hear all the teaching.  It was encouraging to see women of different backgrounds and also many who were HIV+.  [The prevalence of HIV around here is around 20%]  Helen was invited to talk at James’ church on the Sunday, and used the opportunity to talk to the men about loving their babies.  This is not what was expected, but very graciously received!

We discussed the issue of porridge for babies: people come to groups to hear about baby bonding with genuinely hungry babies, and expect to get something to keep them going.  Some of the group leaders are starting to provide porridge when they can.  We had always steered away from giving money for food, because we knew we couldn’t feed everyone with our limited resources, and were focussed on the teaching which we know is changing lives.  However, given that our leaders are more generous than us, we made a policy decision to give money to group leaders for porridge rather than give out photos ourselves.