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Crossing continents

Lutheran health program brings together women from Kenya, Uganda and Chile

Nelly Koyo was standing in the middle of her chicken house in Kisumu County, Kenya, when she learned she was about to travel to Chile. Joyce Amoyi didn’t believe she would travel outside of Kenya to such a faraway place until she was sitting in an airplane for the first time. Lisper Bundi, a Nairobi social worker, had never heard of Chile and doubted she would learn anything in such a small strip of a country.

Fast forward to two weeks later when Bundi said: “We have learned so much.”

Amoyi agreed, saying: “I look at things differently now.”

For her part, Koyo was “ready to put in practice what we have learned.”

What changed their perspectives? They were part of a delegation of Kenyan and Ugandan women who attended “Popular Education in Health: Dignity, Empowerment, Equity-Participatory and Community-Based Strategies for Health.” The two-week training course was run by Fundacion EPES (Educacion Popular en Salud, Popular Education in Health Foundation) in January in Santiago, Chile.

Founded in 1982, EPES began as a health-training project of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Chile. 

Since 2010, thanks to ELCA World Hunger support, nearly 90 people from 14 countries have attended EPES’ annual course, gaining skills to run participatory preventive health programs. 

The 2014 course was coordinated with the Hope Foundation for African Women (www.hopefaw.org), a Nairobi-based nonprofit that empowers Maasai and Kisii women to bring positive change to their communities.

ELCA missionary Karen Anderson, who directs the EPES International Training Program, said it was “probably the first time a Chilean and a Kenyan organization have worked so closely together to share strategies to empower women. The experience has been transformative for all of us.”  

HFAW director Grace Mose was a student in EPES’ first international training program. She carried back to Kenya the seeds that sprouted into the HFAW, which she co-founded with Hellen Njoroge, a counseling psychologist at the Nairobi Hospital’s Gender Violence Recovery Center. Mose has a doctorate and works in domestic violence prevention.

Mose returned to Santiago in January with five other women, including Njoroge and Generous Turinawe, director of ACT-Muko (Agape Community Transformation) in Uganda. The group learned the methodology that has been key to EPES’ success. They immersed themselves in participatory community assessments, learn-by-playing techniques, strategic planning and creative evaluation methods.

Hands-on learning

Their teachers, health promoters trained by EPES, shared knowledge, skills and experience gained over decades of work in their communities in Chile. As the teachers demonstrated such popular educational techniques as murals, skits and neighborhood canvassing, language proved no barrier to communication and new friendships.

After canvassing the local open-air market with health promoters to raise awareness about violence against women, the Kenyan and Ugandan women were enthused. They shop in similar farmers’ markets at home, but had not imagined their potential for health education.

The group’s time in Chile was the first step of an HFAW plan to adapt the EPES model to address widespread violence against women, HIV/AIDS and female circumcision (also known as female genital mutilation) in Kenya. HFAW is undertaking a six-month pilot project to train community health promoters, with ongoing support from EPES via Skype and email.

The 2011 U.N. Global Report on HIV/AIDS indicates that 1.6 million Kenyans live with HIV and more than a million children have been orphaned as a consequence of AIDS. The prevalence of AIDS among women (8 percent) is nearly twice as great as for men (4.3 percent).


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