Fieldtrip to Kenya, Part 1

 

IMG_3765
Elly Weke, Shamba Maisha study manager, conducts a farmer training to study participants.

 

April 25, 2017

Dear Friends and Family,

As many of you know, I’m conducting research in Kenya for my MS program at UCSF.  At the suggestion of Brent’s mom, Laurel, I’m going to share my experience with a weekly newsletter over the next four weeks.  If you’d rather not receive this, please let me know.

I’m now in Kisumu which is in the Nyanza region in the west, bordering Lake Victoria.  This is the primary site of our study, however it’s expanding rapidly and as such there are other sites in this region where I’ll have the opportunity to learn.  There is much activity in the streets today because the primary elections are taking place.  Long lines of people waiting to cast their ballots and police and military patrolling the streets are as relevant to my research as the agricultural livelihood training and HIV care protocols that comprise our study.  It’s nice to see citizens actually voting and apparently giving up a lot of time to do so.

My coursework in foundations of global health, socio-cultural and structural determinants of health, global health economics, global healthcare systems, and health policy gave me the chance to explore how and why some low and middle income countries experience progress in some areas of health and economic growth while others do not.  However, there is nothing quite as educational as feeling the tension of the Kenyan people during this precarious moment.  I’ve spoken with a variety of Kenyans today about their fears that history will repeat itself; their memories still fresh from the 2007 post-election violence with large death tolls and even larger mass raping followed by internal displacement of people.  But they assure me that this time it should be different because the heavy presence of police and military we see today were not there a decade ago.

In my coursework, while I was writing my hypothetical plan on how to engage the Kenyan government to support the infrastructure required to solve agricultural development’s sluggish results for smallholder farmers that would then lead to improved health outcomes, I kept questioning why the people of Kenya didn’t organize and protest more.  As I researched civil unrest I learned that it’s not just the government Kenyan citizens protest against, but also each other as there are conflicts between tribal communities.  The process of researching Kenya’s political and cultural systems and how they impact health has been quite humbling.  I’ve realized there is no way I’m going to fully grasp the structural barriers facing Kenya’s people in my hyper-fast one-year MS program.  All the more reason I’m so grateful to be here now.    

Today I had the opportunity to sit in on my first conference call with our projects’ joint Kenya Medical Research Institute and UCSF research teams when I realized, I’m learning a new language.  As I listened to these experts report on their progress and troubleshoot hurdles, the factors they brought to the discussion again circle back to the socio-cultural, political, and economic forces at play in our study participants’ lives.  I can’t wait to learn more. 

Until next week,

Tammy 

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