Building a Maternity Clinic from Scratch in Africa
Written by Sarah Morgan
Jerome Kilkenny has successfully opened a maternity clinic in a remote region in Africa called Malambo. I interviewed Jerome to find out what inspired him to take on this venture and how he managed to bring the dream to life. Jerome has been traveling to Africa for about 12 years, working independently on grass root health, education and infrastructural projects. During his travels, he discovered that there was high demand for a maternity clinic for the under-privileged women of Malambo. After the passing of his own mother in October 2016, he endeavoured to open such a clinic, with the goal of having it completed by what would have been her 80th birthday; the 19th October 2018. With incredible dedication to the cause and financial aid from The Indreni Foundation, Jerome’s goal was achieved by the 20th of October 2017 when the clinic officially opened!
I contacted Jerome to gain a deeper understanding of where the idea for the clinic came from, what was involved in setting it up and what his plans for the future are. I received some awe-inspiring information about the conditions and traditions of the local tribe, as well as the work he’s been doing and am looking forward to sharing them with you!
Firstly, where and what is Malambo? Malambo is a village located in the remote Maasailands of Northern Tanzania, close to the border of Kenya. The tiny village is the centre point for the Maasai tribe; people who are typically nomadic herders – Moving their cattle hundreds of kilometres in search of grass and water, often coming face to face with dangerous wild animals, such as lions, buffalo, hyena and snakes. The village is surrounded by a circular thorn bush fence to keep lions and hyena out and the Massai tribe live in small mud huts called “bomas” where 5-6 people share a small single bed with goat skin blanket. Baby goats, sheep and cattle are kept in the same mud hut as the people for safety. The people face extreme poverty and food shortages in times of drought and during these droughts it is common for the village to be deserted of all men, as they have left with the herd of cows, sheep or goats to find grass. They could be gone for months and travel to areas as much as 100kms away.
Fundraising and construction for the clinic began and continued throughout 2017 and construction was completed by October that year. In addition to funds from Indreni, Jerome received incredibly generous donations from friends that helped make this project a reality. The official opening of the clinic happened then, which was an incredible thing for Jerome to behold! The ceremony lasted 7 hours with dancing, speeches and goat meat feast – All in 35 degree heat! Jerome describes an incredibly synchronistic moment occurred during the ceremony; “At the EXACT moment we were cutting the ribbon to open the clinic the doctor was inside cutting the cord on the first baby- for a suspicious tribe this was seen as incredible good luck and the clinic has thrived since”. The first baby born was called Anna, after Jerome’s late mother, which he describes as an incredible honour and such a generous thing for the family to do.
Jerome discussed the ways in which Indreni helped to progress the project quickly and smoothly. “I partnered with Indreni initially to provide me with support; receiving funds/donations I generated, redistributing funds to builders, reviewing project accounts, but incredibly, once Indreni understood more about the project, they stepped in with huge financial assistance that made the project possible.”
During the time he previously spent in Africa, Jerome travelled to Malambo. “When visiting the area I was struck by stories of young girls dying in child birth. The average age a Maasai women/girl has her first baby is just 15 years of age! Deliveries were happening in a mud hut without access to any medical supervision or assistance. Infant and maternal death rates were some of the highest in Africa. The nearest hospital was a 4-5 hour jeep journey away and almost none of the local people could afford the cost of paying for a jeep to bring them to the nearest hospital.”
When asked about the experience setting up the clinic Jerome joking said that “herding kittens is a good summary of the process”, he’s “worked in project management for 25 years but working on grass root projects like this in remote Africa was one of the biggest challenges [he’s faced yet]”. Jerome has worked closely with the same building for the last number of years, a man called ‘Babu’ (grandafather). Babu is from the Iraqw tribe and a three-way or sometimes even four-way translation has to occur when talking with him or his builders! Amazingly, the clinic was built from start to finish without the use of a single power tool or vehicles! That means no drills, no diesel cement mixers, no JCBs – 100% manual labour.
With the success of the opening of the clinic, there are great plans in place to proceed with. “We’ve just completed the garden around the clinic and the laundry and kitchen rooms are work in progress. I hope to have these completed by December 2018. Once again Indreni have been a wonderful help, gathering any funds I raised and transferring those funds to builders and suppliers in Africa.” Jerome is incredibly conscious of ways in which to improve the local village comprehensively, alongside the clinic. He’s intending on beginning a project of getting infant blankets, hats, and feminine pads made in the village by local women/men, rather than having them sent from Ireland. He is “trying to partner with another charity to purchase some sewing machines and organise some classes in the village. This would provide an income and skills transfer”.
Jerome will travel back to the Maasailands in January 2019 for a month and will use the time to close off all 2018 projects, pay the bills and start planning future projects. Indreni are very proud of the affiliation with the Malambo Clinic and are so impressed by Jerome’s passion and relentless energy he puts into this project. We’re excited to keep you all posted on the efforts made to help make the world a better place.