The Health Centre

Fran’s Kenya Diary – Tuesday 10th January 2017

Today is the day of the great plaque unveiling for the new ward that we helped fund at the Ashburn Ohuru Medical Centre. Peter has told us the ceremony will be at 11am.

The new ward

Inside the new ward

We get up for breakfast at 9. I investigate a jug of thick, brown stuff that I think may be some kind of gooey hot chocolate, but it turns out to be millet porridge. Peter and Julie disappear to sort some stuff and must have had lots of problems as they come back a lot later. The ceremony is not going to be at 11! We investigate the nocturnal clanging and it turns out to be a well outside our window with a chain that accelerates as the bucket gets going, then stops again. Due to the poor rains, the water table has lowered and the well only just reaches water now. It dries out after several people have taken water, then recharges over the next few hours, so people are having to space out their water taking throughout the night.

Millet porridge

Peter and Julie have been busy,  getting a gate fitted across the entrance to their field. They have also investigated getting a culvert for the gateway to channel the water that is currently in a ditch across the entrance. We chill at the guest house, but there is no internet as they are reliant on a mobile connection.

At last, we are ready to go. Even when we do arrive, there is a certain amount of milling about before we get going at a kind of African 11am, or even village time 11am (more like 1pm). There are numerous people gathered in the waiting area of the health centre, including the staff, the board and several local pastors. We both spot a glossy ibis stalking up and down the grass in the background. There are many speeches, all translated to/from the local language Luo as we go. Pastor Enos prays for the health centre and the dedication. Pastor Chris talks about the sacrifice of the staff, who aren’t always able to be paid, and gets them all to stand up and introduce themselves. The cleaner and cook look particularly shy, like they don’t feel as though they count as proper medical staff. I tell Pastor Chris afterwards that cleaning and nutrition have become big issues in our hospitals and they should know how important their work is. Peter talks about living in the village as a child, and about his uncle who died of malaria trying to get to the town for treatment. He gets Grandma (Dana) to come up as he commends her generosity in donating her land for the building of the health centre. She talks about how she spoilt Peter when he was a child and how she didn’t make him go to school when he claimed he was a bit unwell. Julie talks about Peter being a dreamer, who has these mad ideas then makes them happen. James talks about the similarities and differences with his health centre in the UK. I tell them about how it was snowing the first day Peter came to live in our house, strongly suspecting that Luo will not have a word for snow, which it doesn’t. I also tell them how impressed we are with how much good use they make of every small thing and that they work very hard with what they have, that they have all invested such a lot in the success of this place and we thank them for allowing us to be involved in a small way – erokamano.



James’ speech

Is there a word for snow in Luo? Thought not!

Then everyone moves out to the new building, singing and clapping as they go. I make no attempt to clap in time with Africans, that is well beyond my capabilities. There are more prayers as we unveil the plaque, feeling a bit weird at the celebrity status we have been awarded.

Praying for the new ward

The plaque

We have a quick look around the clinic and the fish farm, with a promise of more time tomorrow to have a better visit. It’s late afternoon now and we need to go into Siaya. We check out the new gate on the way, with me teetering about the field in my fancy shoes. Then we carry on to the town. Peter finds a roadside café and leaves us to have a drink while they go and attend to some more business. They need to get a new phone for the tractor manager to contact clients. Julie thinks this is when she lost her ID card. ID cards are needed for many transactions in Kenya, including such things as purchasing a new mobile phone. The health centre keeps ID cards of patients who cannot pay their bills. If they need it to make a transaction, the supplier is referred to the clinic for verification. As they are so essential, everyone does have them, though you might imagine in slum and tribal areas, this might not be very enforceable. People who do not have documents like birth certificates, such as older people like Grandma, are vouched for by elders in their community when obtaining their IDs. One of the posters in the health centre urges new parents to register their babies with the plea from the baby, “Who am I? Please register me.”.

Posters in the health centre, including the bottom left appeal to register babies.

More posters

Try telling our patients to be patient!

The next part of the project that needs more funds to complete is the construction of a morgue. Currently, people have to take their dead to the hospital in Siaya. It will have a capacity of 16 bodies. Local custom dictates that several days elapse before a funeral to allow family to be gathered. The morgue will use a form of embalming so that it will only need some simple air conditioning, not refrigeration. The power requirement will therefore be modest and the service will be much cheaper and more convenient for  local people than using the hospital, but will make a good profit to support the clinic.

Part-built morgue

Dinner is chicken, with rice and ugali again. Grandma still doesn’t come and eat dinner with us, though she does come in later on and we show her our old photos from our previous visit, with many people who are either older now, children who have grown up and got married or gone to university, some people who have died since then. The family are very excited to see these pictures. They also love one of Peter holding our daughter, Lily, who was born while he lived with us as a student. She is 14 now.

As we go to bed tonight, the clanging doesn’t seem at all annoying now we know what it is, and that people are having to come out in the middle of the night just to get their water.

All posts in this diary series:


Getting There


To the Village Via the Tractor Dealership

The Health Centre

Village People

Choices: Kibera and Kabete

Women's Issues: Cups, Confidence and Cake

Opposite Ends of the Spectrum


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