49-year-old Lucas Omulo lives in Kibera with his wife Eunice and their one-year-old baby, Mark. By day, he’s an artist, working with bones and brass to make jewellery and other items, which he sells mainly to tourists. But his real passion is his community. That’s why he also works as a Community Health Volunteer (CHV) - and why, more recently, he’s taken on the role of ‘Male Champion’.
"I began coming to the clinic when Eunice was pregnant," says Lucas, beaming as he plays with Mark. "When she gave birth, I was with her. Now, when she has check-ups, I come along too, with the baby. The Amref team saw me around and they said, 'Lucas, you should come for a training'. They called me in for a meeting for Male Champions in Kibera, and I saw immediately that it was an opportunity to make changes in my community.
I was already working as a Community Health Volunteer (CHV). And I was aware of the importance of ante-natal care and post-natal care: Eunice and Mark are well, but before, in 2003, I lost my wife and a baby due to pregnancy-related complications. So I saw that supporting her is a very important thing I can do - for my wife, and my child. It's not her baby; it's our baby."
Eunice, Lucas and baby Mark at the 'Amref Kibera' clinic, Nairobi.
Lucas had already undergone some training in ante- and post-natal care as part of his work as a CHV. He's able to draw on this knowledge as he goes about supporting other men in Kibera.
"The role of Male Champions is to talk with men in the community to encourage them to help their wives and be involved in the pregnancy," he says. "We also talk to younger men about the importance of family planning, and try to help them avoid getting into drink and drugs. All of this I learnt in my training. Today, there are about twenty Male Champions in Kibera, and we've become friends: we support each other.
I am responsible for 75 households in my community. When I visit them, we talk about all kinds of health issues: how a man can assist the wife when she is pregnant, for example. A man can bring something to the table. When your wife is pregnant, you should take her to the clinic. After the birth, a man should know the date for appointments. When a wife is not aware of the date he should tell her, 'On this day our baby should go to the clinic'. Because sometimes a wife can forget, because women are very busy!"
Kibera is full of health heroes fighting every day for the right to health. Mural by Boa Mistura.
"If you want to talk to people, you have to find the right forum. You are asking people to change their behaviours and maybe even their beliefs, so they need to trust you. As a health volunteer some people come to see me, sometimes we meet in groups, and some people call me on the phone. If you're talking in a group, you have to let the conversation take off and then you chip in: 'Me, I'm Lucas, I'm doing this this this', and you see the response. You have to tell your own story.
If you get a negative response, you cannot leave it there. It can be a long process, because men are so difficult to handle! But you cannot leave it there, you have to proceed. Something is there and you have to work on it. You cannot stop.
And I can see it working, our patience is paying off: when we go to households nowadays, there are no more deaths in the community. Because without talking with people there are many bad things that can happen, but people are gradually changing their behaviour. In terms of my own practices, I used to use traditional, herbal medicines. But now I stick with medical, and I think this is the case for a lot of people.
When Mark was born, it wasn't easy: he was not positioned properly, and Eunice had to have an emergency caesarean. At that time the doctors were on strike, so we had to go out of Kibera to another health facility. But now Eunice's health is fine and Mark's health is okay. We bring him for check-ups now and then. The days come, we bring him to the clinic. He's starting to walk.
I completed primary school, but I didn't take my education any further. I began working as an artist, because I had a natural talent! And it all brought me to this place. So today I work for the community, and I do this. It’s my passion."
Lucas featured on BBC's The One Show in March 2018 as part of their Sport Relief coverage.
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