Working for change by empowering others

as told to Linda Espenshade

Judith Siambe, a leader in an MCC partner organization in Kenya, shares about her efforts to help families lead healthier lives.

I believe in people and in giving them the opportunity to explore their capacity and their potential to become who they want to be.

What I want for my life is that every single day, I can say, “Today, I impacted this amount of lives.” I want to impact more lives.

The mothers and children I work with live in Mathare, an urban settlement in Nairobi, Kenya, which has poor sanitation, an inadequate water supply and lacks a proper health care system and infrastructure.

Judith Siambe is the director of the Centre for Peace and Nationhood, which provides health training to women in sections of the Mathare informal settlement, where families commonly live in one-room shacks without adequate nutrition, clean water and latrines. (MCC Photo/ Matthew Lester, 2019)

Some people have been living there all their lives. Others come from rural areas, driven by drought and climate change. Some people in Nairobi move to Mathare (the least expensive place to live) when they fall on hard times like job losses.

My heart really goes out to people living there. The kind of life conditions they are living in, it is really not good.

I am the director of the Centre for Peace and Nationhood (CPN), a ministry of the Kenya Mennonite Church. MCC supports CPN’s maternal and child health project in Mathare.

“How can I inspire more people, so they can know their purpose?”

In 2017, I started with CPN as a nutrition officer. I really wanted to meet people at a personal level, to understand the problems they face and figure out how we can work together to solve those problems.

I remember when I was just hired, about three weeks into my work here at CPN, I met with Beth Good, who was then MCC’s global health coordinator. She told me, “You don’t need to change the life of the whole community or the whole society, but if one or two people change, that is something to be proud of.”

So that advice keeps pushing me on a daily basis, looking for that one woman, looking for that one child whose life has changed as a result of the project interventions.

One change is handwashing. Through CPN’s teaching, mothers have really been insisting that their children wash hands before they eat and after using the bathroom. When COVID-19 became a threat, CPN put up handwashing and soap stations. Now, people are washing their hands not just to prevent COVID-19 but also to prevent cholera and diarrhea.

On the April 6, 2020, before masks and social distancing were required, Munee Matheka, a Centre for Peace and Nationhood (CPN) health promoter, shows other health promoters and CPN staff how she makes inexpensive liquid soap with ingredients provided by CPN. Handmade soap is used at the 50 MCC-funded handwashing stations placed in the Mathare settlement in Nairobi, Kenya. (CPN photo/Christabel Awuor)

“The reason I have come this far is because someone saw the potential in me, trusted in me and gave me an opportunity and resources to change my life and become who I am today.”

I still want more though. I want to see the women in Mathare improve their income. From CPN, women know about the need to get prenatal care in a health facility, but they don’t have money to pay for transportation to get there. They learn about the importance of giving birth in a hospital, but they need to have a plan to be able to pay for the services.

Increasingly, women who have been learning together about health through CPN care groups are pooling their savings each month so they can borrow from this money to start small businesses.

My desire for them is to get to a level where they can sustain themselves, so that, after giving them the information on maternal and child health best practices, they can use the information to better their lives and the lives of their children.

Rosenika Mulaliav (right), promoter with MCC partner Centre for Peace and Nationhood meets with women in the Mathare Valley community of Nairobi, Kenya. (MCC Photo/ Paul Plett, 2018)

When they have proper income, they can have proper food. They can have backup plans to cope with crises. During COVID-19, people who have a sustainable source of income through a small business or jobs are more able to purchase soap, masks and clean water to help protect themselves and their families.

One thing that I believe in as a person is that we all have some hidden potential in us.

I am someone who could easily have been mistaken for not having the capacity that I have now. I look back at where I was born and brought up. I was born in a village, so far the only person in my family who got to a university level of education.

The reason I have come this far is because someone saw the potential in me, trusted in me and gave me an opportunity and resources to change my life and become who I am today.

Also, I know that it has taken the hand of God to bring me this far. I believe that as long as he is part of my purpose, as long as I include him in everything I do, he will take me to the level that I want to be, so that many people can be impacted by what I do in one way or another.

The question I ask myself every morning is, “How can I inspire more people, so they can know their purpose?” I believe that in knowing your purpose, you will not be limited.

That helped me to come to where I am today. I knew what I wanted. I went for it and no one would stop me. I want everyone to know what they want, know what their purpose is and learn to go for it and not allow anything to stop them.

Over the next three years, I want to see women who can come to us and say, “This is what I have and this is what I want. How can you help me get what I want?” That would really inspire me a lot. My hope is that people in the community will be willing and able to solve their problems within their context and with the resources available to them.

Judith Siambe is director of the Centre for Peace and Nationhood (CPN), an MCC partner and a program of the Kenya Mennonite Church.

Are you working for change in your context? Are you like Judith and asking yourself everyday how you can inspire people? MCC works with local partners around the world to support local solutions and creativity to create change. For more information about MCC’s work and to browse our current advocacy initiatives, visit our website here.

This story was originally titled “Judith Siambe” and published by MCC here.

Banner Image: A rooftop view off the Mathare informal settlement in Nairobi, Kenya. (MCC Photo/ Matthew Lester, 2019)

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