MAY 5TH FEAST DAY AND MORE AT RUBEN CENTRE-Director's News May
In August and September 2010, I was asked to lead a process towards Ruben Centre creating its first five year Strategic plan, and even at that time it was evident that the nursing staff at our clinic dreamt of a maternity program. “Common on Br. Frank it is not rocket science,’ they taunted. “We have women galore in the ante natal and post natal care programs, so where do you think they are birthing these babies?”Later in 2015 the reviews of that plan clearly indicated the real need for a birthing unit and so the new plan of 2016- 2020
Objective 2: To Improve Access To And Improve Quality Health Care Services.
Strategic action 2.10: Manage frequent maternal health and emergency birth issues by establishing a maternity ward in 2016.
I guess it was my fault for loosening the reins too much as empowerment and community engagement can be dangerous, but as 2016 kicked off I was still fairly confident that all would be well and I would be able to find enough excuses to contain things.
However in 2017 a plethora of things combined to conspire against me, prime among them a three months public hospital nurses strike resulting in some day time birthing at Ruben Centre for our women, including one nicknamed Prado as that baby was born in our car in the nearby Nairobi Remand Centre on route to a private hospital. And as if the preverbal starting gun had been fired, soon I was under siege.
“ But Br. Frank, haven’t you heard that one in thirty nine Kenyan mothers die giving birth?” ‘NO I am hard of hearing,” I replied confidently. ‘ But Br. Frank everyone knows having a baby is the most dangerous thing a woman can do in Kenya,’ a nurse added. ‘ Obviously I am ignorant,” I muttered before adding,
’maternity services are free in public hospitals, so tell me do I need to get involved,?” prompting one nurse to reply,’ Everyone knows that babies are stolen at these public places, haven’t you been reading the newspapers about several women being charged recently?”
“ See at least the babies lived otherwise they wouldn’t be stolen, so birthing there can’t be that bad,” I retorted.
‘And those not stolen are swapped for dead babies, and you just sit there’ added one nurse to which I replied, ‘ Forget it I am broke, and you know we have lost Irish Aid funding and just now adding some additional costs to my budget issues is the last thing on my mind, and further more hasn’t it occurred to you nurses that we have no room in our present clinic for such a program?”
“AAh but Br. Frank you use to be good at building new things, lost it a bit have ya?” was the next thing drawing a response that I thought would put the case to rest,’ I am not going 24/7 with this thing as that would send me to an early grave. Clear!”
Clinic coordinator replied with,’ But you Frank are a Christian Brother, Why not try to live as one?” “I am a lapsed Christian Brother maybe,” I replied ending the joust.
But not for long and shortly afterwards I was called to the clinic coordinator’s office. Already present was the Sub county Health coordinator and he wanted to take up the birthing unit issue.
‘ The government clearly want the largest health provider in the Mukuru slums to undertake maternity,’ he said and going on explained that the time is right because late last year, we worked together to have Ruben Centre Clinic to be an accredited health facility and with this accreditation comes NHIF (National Health Insurance Fund) possibilities, and what’s more they have introduced a new product to make unemployed women access health care.
For only KES 500/- a month a woman can be covered for birth, so this would mean a cost rebate for your accredited clinic, with every birth and in addition, the government has begun a program called ‘ Linda Mama’ (care for the mother) and it is for those mothers who cannot afford the general health fund. The government is aware of the high fatality rates associated with birthing and is determined to make things safer for both mother and child. Under this initiate, any birth that your clinic conducts means the clinic can obtain a KES 3,500/- refund based on all recorded births. ‘Are you in Sir?’ he implored.
Five pairs of steely eyes were on me and I knew the game was up. It could be termed clarity or just plain defeat but the nurses knew the light had turned green.
Then as they began planning, (no longer scheming) the way forward. By this time my nephew and girl friend had arrived to volunteer at Ruben Centre and before long they were caught up in the momentum being created in the clinic and began a crowd funding ‘ Step Up For Ruben” which involved getting sponsorship for their climb of Mount Kilimanjaro in December. It went ahead and so the first $US 8,000 was ready for the birthing unit.
However good the progress, all marathon runners know the race is not won in the first hour of the race, or before the half way mark.
So in December, I renovated a disused former classroom and re located the occupation therapy from the clinic to the Special Needs program, which in turn freed up the largest room in the clinic. The former farmer from Allansford Victoria Australia, was suddenly an architect and arranged for a wall to come down, framework established and with our local builder soon the extensions including a shower, toilet, wash basins, sluice basins and stores were in place. Four weeks and US$ 7,200 later it was set. One advantage of slum dwelling, is the work with out permit reality if cheeky enough. The immediate outside area got paved and laundry troughs and clothes line were added.
Staffing would need to be recruited, and finally the government walked a bit of talk and supplied a clinician and a nurse, equipment (donated from Australia) has to be sent out, planning and rosters to be established but as all this was happening, one item still loomed large casting a shadow over the whole project. Yes the elephant in the room threatening to smash up all the dreams is an ambulance which of course is so needed for that inevitable emergency of the type that create those deadly statistics quoted earlier. Since January we have been lobbying various groups, politicians and donors but still no sirens can be heard or flashing lights seen; only vague promises.
But hope and ‘faith’ spring eternal and on Saturday just past, our Board chair managed to entice the Nairobi County Women’s Representative MP Ester Passaris to visit Ruben Centre. For three hours she fell under the Ruben spell, engaging robustly with several staff, touring programs, listened to the ‘cry of the poor,’ and then proclaimed echo like , Luke’s gospel chapter 4:
‘Br. Frank and your staff, I have seen and heard it all. I will walk this journey with you all. This place is an inspiration to all Kenyans. What on earth would these Mukuru people do if you were not here. You are healing the sick, educating the kids and now you want to give the best start possible to these yet to be born babes. I will join you in this mission. I want to open the birthing unit, spend the day here and get you that ambulance. `’
Silence filled the room as we listened and tried to comprehend the extent of the meaning of these words, promises, hope and good will that were contained in them and finally I whispered, ‘let it be done madam according to your word.’
Later reflecting on the still very much ‘potential’ developments of the day, and my focus drifted to the date and its significance for us brothers. May 5th is the feast day of Edmund Rice and I was teased to believe he was smiling down upon us while saying,’ Of course Frank it is not rocket science, as you know my motto of ‘ providence is our inheritance’ and you my follower (even if lapsed) are called daily to live this at Ruben Centre.
Now a few days later I am concluding this reflection of these ‘recent happenings’ and am again gob smacked at today’s New Testament reading from Acts of Apostles where Paul is talking to the whole council at Areopagus in Athens.
(In pre-classical times (before the 5th century BC), the Areopagus was the council of elders of the city, similar to the Roman Senate).
I remember it well from my visit there ten years ago, and how I pretended to stand where Paul is credited having stood and talked about their monument to An Un Known God and he challenged them to believe that this un known God is in fact Jesus and He is surprisingly very near, not in these beautiful monuments and temples but in each true believer for in him they live, move and have their being.
The account in Acts goes on to say, some laughed but a few believed, and I too am challenged today not to laugh at yet another Kenyan politician’s empty promises but to believe that God and Edmund are near and bringing our birthing unit nearer.
Edmund Rice prays for us.