From the Field: A Day in the Life of a Community Health Volunteer

In Kenya, approximately one out of four children under the age of five suffer from malnutrition. The triple threat of food insecurity, inadequate care at the household level, and limited access to healthcare in Kibera exacerbates this acute public health issuerequiring a multi-level response including malnutrition treatment, community education, and one-on-one nutrition support. 

Living in Kibera for many years, Bentado, one of the Community Health Volunteers (CHVs) working out of CFK’s Lishe Bora Mtaani Nutrition Centre, has experienced firsthand the health challenges facing the community. Now, she has become part of the solution.  

CFK Lishe Bora Mtaani Nutrition Centre Kibera
Children enjoy a meal at CFK's Lishe Bora Mtaani Nutrition Centre.

CHVs are critical to the implementation and success of CFK’s primary health program, including its nutrition services. In addition to identifying malnourished children in the community, they conduct follow-up visits to prevent relapse, provide one-on-one nutrition support, and teach caregivers how to improve their families’ nutrition without increasing their daily budgets. 

From the Field

On a typical day, CHVs convene in the morning, share a cup of tea, and then go into the field. They travel door-to-door conducting follow-up visits, identifying new children or expecting mothers in need of support, and leading “health talks” with caregivers on topics such as handwashing and nutrition.  

Though the nutrition centre focuses on supporting expecting mothers and malnourished children under five, CHVs must be prepared to respond to diverse needs in the field. 

“We tend to believe there is a child in almost every household,” Bentado said, referencing Kibera’s largely young population. “Sometimes, we have to care for the caregiver or act as the caregiver to make sure children in need have access to proper support and healthcare.” 

One day, Bentado remembers working in the field and coming across a household with a child and no caregiver. Unwell and underweight, the child neeeded medical assistance, so Bentado and a team of CHVs took action. They asked neighbors for the caregiver’s contact information and arranged to meet them at the clinic to ensure that the child received critical care. 

“It takes a lot of time to make those calls [and coordinate with caregivers],” Bentado said. “Sometimes the caregiver does not have money, so you have to dip into your own pockets or ask the neighbors to help support the child. My priority is making sure that these children live, so I will do whatever it takes.” 

CFK nutrition center team in Kibera
Part of the team at CFK's Lishe Bora Mtaani Nutrition Centre

One-on-One Nutrition Support

Bentado visits one household daily to monitor the health of a five-month-old child who gets limited attention from adult caregivers. Unable to eat anything, the child needed access to milk, so Bentado asked CFK to purchase the milk and then delivered five tins of it to the child’s brother 

She continues to visit the household every day to ensure the child receives necessary support and the caregivers understand the child’s needs. 

“Many other nutrition services only have the means to provide food and supplements to families, but that does not mean that the families are using them in the correct way,” Bentado noted. 

Sometimes they have no cooking oil to make the porridge provided, and other times they don’t use the products as intended. CFK provides one-on-one nutrition support through CHVs. If [caregivers] don’t know how to give their children the supplements, we show them how to.” 

One day, Bentado remembers working in the field and coming across a household with a child and no caregiver. Unwell and underweight, the child needed medical assistance, so Bentado and a team of CHVs took action. They asked neighbors for the caregiver’s contact information and arranged to meet them at the clinic to ensure that the child received critical care. 

“It takes a lot of time to make those calls [and coordinate with caregivers],” Bentado said. “Sometimes the caregiver does not have money, so you have to dip into your own pockets or ask the neighbors to help support the child. My priority is making sure that these children live, so I will do whatever it takes.” 

Multiplying Community Impact

In addition to field visits and personal nutrition support, CHVs make appropriate referrals within CFK’s health program and lead training sessions with caregivers. Since it can be challenging to find and engage with many caregivers during the day, CHVs like Bentado often work into the early evening to connect with as many community members as possible. 

Reaching just one caregiver in the community tends to have a multiplier effect. Those involved in the nutrition program often bring in other caregivers for trainings or refer their friends and family to the  centre. Soon, they naturally build a network with their neighbors and friends, mobilizing community members to visit or make referrals to the nutrition centre when they come across malnourished children in the community. 

 

Learn more about CFK’s nutrition centre and help support the work of our community health volunteers 

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