Tabitha in Kenya set up a cottage hospital
Despite being only 28 years old, Tabitha Achieng Ogungu emanates a rare sense of calm, similar to the wisdom of an old woman. Tabitha moves slowly. When she opens her mouth, the words flow slowly out of her. Her voice is soft, like velvet. But it also has immense strength. “I know I’m good at speaking. And it’s my duty to use this gift to help others,” she says, looking me straight in the eye.
Tabitha is standing outside the little cottage hospital in Ondong, western Kenya. A couple of years ago there was just a small shack here and very limited activities.
“You couldn’t get any help here. Women gave birth at home, and both mothers and babies died,” she says.
The hospital committee supposedly in charge of running activities was corrupt.
“They put the money in their own pockets,” says Tabitha.
Tabitha’s struggle against corruption began when she was invited to a seminar with Diakonia’s partner organization, Clarion.
“I didn’t know what rights I had as a citizen. I didn’t know what demands I could make. I thought that it was the state’s money and that they were the ones who decided. But then I found out that it’s actually our money and I’m entitled to ask how it’s used and why.”
From shack to proper cottage hospital
Along with a few other villagers Tabitha started asking questions. They got the hospital committee fired and freed up funds for a new cottage hospital. Today there is a small delivery ward and a brand-new microscope. This is important in a part of the world where malaria, diarrhoea and typhoid can be fatal.
“Previously there was nowhere in the area where women could give birth,” says Tabitha, slowly shaking her head.
She herself gave birth to two of her five children at home, and it was a terrible experience. That is why she has worked hard for the delivery room to be set up at the cottage hospital.
“I was terrified when giving birth at home. I know that you can die,” she says.
Women need access to care close to home
Tabitha works on behalf of everyone in the village but she is especially passionate about women’s rights.
“The women here are extremely vulnerable. They’re often bad at English and Swahili. They don’t go to the big hospital in town because they don’t understand what the doctor says.”
She also thinks that a lot of men still do not want women to take part in meetings – they should preferably keep quiet.
“I was inspired by my mother. She was a fantastic role model and a character. She was special and always said what was on her mind.”
Tabitha’s mother taught young women and encouraged them to stand up for their rights. She had eight children to take care of and was left on her own early on. Tabitha was only five years old when her father died. The financial situation was difficult, and Tabitha was forced to leave school after eighth grade.
“But I learned to read and write. And I read a lot,” she says.
Mediates in conflicts
Tabitha and her husband grow maize and tobacco, giving them an annual income of just over SEK 5,000. And Tabitha has a second job in childcare, which earns her SEK 900 a year. The money does not stretch very far. Despite this Tabitha takes on a lot of work for free. Apart from being on the committee that ensured that the bridge in Mapere was completed, and the cottage hospital committee that made sure that the hospital was built and is fully functional, she is also treasurer of the cottage hospital and is summoned if there are conflicts in the village.
“They’re often about land. Sometimes things get violent – people sometimes even want to kill each other. But we sit down and talk and we find a solution,” she says, smiling.
Even if Tabitha does not get paid for what she does, she sees it as rewarding.
“I get to the see the results of what I do, and that’s good for everyone, including me. So in that way, I get my reward,” she says, smiling.