Amina: I have the heart to help people!

Globally, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like asthma, diabetes, heart disease and cancer are responsible for an estimated 40 million deaths every year. They take a particularly heavy toll on low- and middle-income countries, where more than 80% of all deaths from NCDs occur. Yet the fight against NCDs receives comparatively little attention, and is consistently under-funded. But if we are to achieve Universal Health Coverage, the global health community must step up its efforts to combat NCDs.
Amina Awadh is a Community Health Volunteer (CHV) in Kilifi County, Kenya, where NCDs including asthma and diabetes have a high prevalence. She was trained on asthma and diabetes via Leap, the mobile learning platform Amref developed in partnership with Accenture. As a CHV, she makes sure that community members know what services are available, and how to access them. She also knows how to recognise the signs and symptoms of asthma and diabetes, meaning that she can refer people she suspects might be affected to the appropriate health facilities. Thanks to her training, she can also offer them advice and support as they manage their conditions, helping them make changes to their lifestyles and environments.
"I loved doing the mobile learning. I was the top performer maybe six or seven times - can you imagine? Some of the other CHVs are a lot younger than me. But you know what? I beat them almost every time! Why? Because I’m interested! Every time when the results came and I saw I was on top, I was very happy.
We were learning continuously. We did diabetes, and then we finished with asthma. I was very interested. At night when I was finished my work, I went on my phone and learnt. When we finished the course, I said, What are we going to do? I would like to do more training. I’d like to learn anything concerning helping people, you know? I was enjoying, that’s why I was the top performer every time, I’m telling you.
"I’ve always had the heart to help people. When I was in school, I was a Girl Guide, I was in the YWCA. We were going to the hospitals, talking to people. I would have liked to continue my education and maybe become a doctor, but my family could not afford to send me. But what I have, I feel like I can do to help. So I didn’t go training as a doctor but I have knowledge, I rely on myself. 
"I started working as a CHV four years ago, when I came back to Kenya after living in England, where I worked as a counsellor, and then in nursing homes, taking care of the old ladies. I had a good time, but I came back to look after my son. I was very sad because I’m jobless here. That’s why instead of staying idle I decided to volunteer, you know? I do it to help people also, because when I was in England I was helping people. I was getting money, yes - this was my job. But you know, if you have the heart of helping people you feel: Why should I sit? I can help that man, I can help that lady. Why should I just sit and watch her suffer?"
A mobile phone showing eLearning content on diabetes
"I’m responsible for 26 households. In this household [where the interview took place], they are about 14 people. We have some households where they are only two to three, but a lot of households - like my own - might have eight to twelve people. So it’s a lot of people to take care of!
"When I started, I didn’t know the households - but I knew how to approach them. I’m good with people and I understand how they work. First you say hi, in a good way. So that even if somebody’s gloomy, their face will open and you start talking to him. To me it doesn’t take long to build a relationship of trust with my households. Because I believe in myself. If you know how to handle people, you won’t have a hard time. But if you are difficult, they’ll be difficult with you! 
"Most people are quite cooperative, and open to talking about making changes to their lives. But the difficult people, they take time. Like sometimes I come and try to talk to people, but they are not open to it on that day. They say, 'Sisi no, we don’t want to hear that. Sisi you are not a doctor. How do you know that?' And I say, 'I see you’re busy. Let me come back another time.' You don’t argue with them. You just say you’ll come again. You greet them and you say, 'Let me talk to you. We have families, and these are our children. Let’s sit down together and see how we can make things better for our children: we don’t want them to become sick; then it’s a burden for us, and we are poor. And if you get sick, how will you look after your children?' It’s a process, and it takes patience. But you don’t get tired. Slowly, slowly, slowly, we get there. But I truly believe it’s working. The messages are getting through." 
All photos (c) Corrie Wingate for Amref Health Africa UK