The month of March marked Health Workers Week, a time set out to celebrate these frontline health warriors. At PS Kenya our Community health volunteers are our boots on the ground, reaching Sara with invaluable health information and services so that she lives a healthy happy life. One of them is Mr Pote.
A health facility just like any other business requires marketing to create awareness so that it can expand its client base. With services such as family planning (FP) and cervical cancer screening and treatment (CCST), the barriers to uptake of FP methods and services are deep and personal hence requires a more personal approach to convert awareness into uptake of services. To address this gap, PS Kenya has employed Interpersonal Communication (IPC) strategy to reach out to women of reproductive age (WRA) in the community through Community Health Volunteers (Tunza Mobilizers). The Tunza mobilizers are trained and equipped with IPC tools and attached to selected Tunza facilities to drive demand for the services.
As part of PS Kenya’s intensification strategy, Nuru Medical Clinic in Mtwapa, Kilifi County was selected as one of the facilities referred to as an “Intensification Site” for FP and cervical cancer screening and treatment services and therefore a Tunza Mobilizer was attached to it to help reach out to more women around Mtwapa. Our TMs are generally women but the one in Nuru is a gentleman – Mkanyi Pote. Pote as he is commonly referred by his clients, is a hardworking and very passionate community health worker, working in Mtomondoni village and Shimo la Tewa sub location in Mtwapa.
Pote had a different vision for his life but poverty led him down this road and although it was difficult at first, he is excited about his job and how he helps women in his community make healthy decisions. “I got to study until high school but unfortunately, my parents were not able to support my education any further and I could therefore not proceed to college. This did not deter me and I sought to find another way of building a career for myself,” says Pote. He embarked on job searching and finally secured a job at India Beach Hotel where he worked as a security guard for 2 years. In 1997, Mkanyi resigned and decided to follow his passion-community work. His community work begun when he signed up as a volunteer at the Mtwapa Health Center where KEMRI had a project on Malaria. He later found the Tunza Health Network where he has been working as a Tunza Mobilizer.
As a Tunza Mobilizer he has been trained to conduct health talks to women in his community around various health areas including safe motherhood, family planning, malaria prevention and treatment (using mRDT kit), safe water, HIV prevention and enlisting with NHIF. He was also trained as a Trauma Counsellor with Amani Counselling Center and Institute. Pote carries out his health talks at the household level through one-on-one visits and small group sessions. During this time, various organizations with projects around Mtwapa have also involved him especially on mobilization and community education. However, he confesses that being a man who talks to women about their reproductive health has been a challenge. On the one end, he has to cover long distances when doing his door-to-door visits because he is passionate about ensuring his clients follow through on their check-ups especially after receiving treatment. Other clients have high expectations of receiving some additional assistance especially when they see the him with his branded shirt and job-aids. In addition, Pote has on several occasions had to deal with suspicions from jealous husbands when he engages their wives during the household visits. “In most coastal culture, there is what we call the ‘Mwenye Syndrome’ where the man has the final say in all matters including those that are health related and most men are suspicious about another man talking to their wives about their health,” he said.
All these challenges he has been able to slowly overcome by persistence and growing the trust of their community. Today, he boasts that his community is well informed about modern family planning methods and even embracing long-term family planning. “Beforehand, there were very few women taking up family planning methods due to myths and misconceptions but through the constant talks and support from Tunza providers and the PS Kenya team, a lot of these myths have now been put to rest,” mentioned Pote.
But Pote is not the only community health worker targeting the women with health messages and getting audience with the women is a continuous challenge. However, over time, he has perfected his interpersonal communication skills which give him the edge and the trust of the community to do his work. All in all, Pote remains determined to soldier on empowering women and the community in general on matters health as he sees that as a way of giving back to his society.