Life Among the Maasai in Loitokitok

Sharing life and ways to better health among the Maasai people in Loitokitok, Kenya, is just one of the ways we are called to be a healing presence today.

Sister Pat Patton from Tarrytown, New York, was in mission in Africa for over 40 years. From 1971 to 1982, Sister worked as matron at the first hospital in Maasai land, Loitokitok District Hospital in Kenya. The Bishop then invited her to establish a community health program in Ngong Diocese, which covers most of the tribal lands of the Maasai. “This meant preparing myself for an entirely different approach to health care, and combining health care with the development of people.”

The first step was to do a basic survey, to identify the primary health care needs. The community then selected the women and men they wanted to be trained as Community Health Workers (CHWs). Over 300 CHWs were trained in concepts of basic hygiene, disease prevention, and other health issues. They then went out and taught their individual communities what they had learned.

An integrated group from a number of areas in the parish also formed to address the problems of HIV/AIDS. “We decided to have a resource center, so that we could reach teachers, secondary school students, and the local population,” Sister Pat explains. “We started with a series of classes in our parish, and then we linked up with the Centers for Disease Control in Nairobi.” The center, Boma la Tumaini (House of Hope) was dedicated on World AIDS Day, December 1, 2004. World AIDS Day is recognized each year with programs to help further educate the community.

Over 100 people come to Boma la Tumaini each month for testing. If they are positive, they are able to get anti-retroviral drugs through a private clinic. “The most rewarding part of working with these people is to watch women develop their leadership qualities. They start with health education, and go on to the development of their community,” says Sister Pat.

Sister Pat spent her last years in Africa working with FRIFAT (Friends Fighting AIDS together). FRIFAT is a support group of 60 HIV-positive persons that meet weekly for classes, sharing, and celebrations. They learn income-generating skills (bead making, sewing, etc.) and work on a communal farm. Some members of FRIFAT have been trained as community health workers, and other members have learned about home-based care. As a result, they have been invited to give talks at antenatal clinics in the hospital, and at youth group meetings and in churches.

When Sister returned to the U.S. a few months ago, she knew she had left the Maasai people in and around Loitokitok with much-needed skills for a healthier life.

November 15, 2012