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Published: May 11, 2023

A mother-daughter duo: two generations of stigma fighters

“Winnie and I are world changers!” 
- Leah Oyugi, Community Health Worker and Winnie’s mom

Less than a 5 minute walk down the road from Lwala Community Hospital is the home where Leah Oyugi, a Lwala-supported community health worker (CHW), lives. Her daughter Winnie Oyugi, who also works for Lwala as a Program Officer, visits her there several times per week. They talk for hours, sharing news of beloved friends and neighbors, and of course, talking about their work.

Their mother-daughter journey with Lwala began before its founding, when Leah was delivering babies in the community as a traditional birth attendant (TBA), after her husband died. Like most TBAs, Leah was trained on the job by women who came before her. She learned properties and locations of medicinal herbs as a treatment for postpartum hemorrhage, she knew how to breathe into a baby’s mouth to encourage its first breath, and she saw firsthand how common it was for women and babies to die during childbirth. Leah was also cognizant that when she helped women deliver babies at home without protective equipment, she was at risk for contracting diseases such as HIV. 

After Lwala’s founding, Leah and several other TBAs in the community joined together to design Lwala’s CHW model.  Leah was eager to lower the death rate of mothers and babies, and she was also driven by the payment incentives Lwala was offering to bring laboring women to the hospital. Leah saw her transition from TBA to a professionalized CHW as a significant step in the right direction. Ten years in, she still makes rounds of health visits to households during pregnancy and after delivery, visiting 15 to 20 households per week–but now she accompanies women to the hospital for safer births. Before Lwala began working with CHWs, 26% of women gave birth in hospitals compared to 99% today, a change Leah is proud to be a part of. 

Finding strength in her interactions with Lwala Community Hospital’s clinical staff, and buoyed by the support of her daughter Winnie, Leah decided to get tested at the clinic to learn her HIV status. She tested positive. Soon after that, she decided to go public about her status to fight the stigma of being HIV positive, for herself and for other women. Doing so has contributed to a new acceptance of HIV care and treatment in her community. As a result, people who are HIV positive are more likely to get care, enabling them to live full lives, as well as prevent transmission of HIV to their children. 

When Winnie completed secondary (high) school, Leah encouraged her daughter to volunteer with Lwala. For 6 months she supported the public health team collecting data and then went on to work on issues of education and economic development. After 10 years with Lwala, Winnie is now a Program Officer, where she focuses on sexual and reproductive health for youth through education sessions, community outreaches, and facility-based care.  

“When people ask Winnie for help, she does it. A lot of people look up to her. She’s more than a daughter. More than a friend or neighbor or employee. She’s a great woman and a true leader in the community.” 
- Leah Oyugi, Community Health Worker and Winnie’s mom

As an educator on the topic of reproductive health, fighting stigma and challenging gender norms are daily work for Winnie, who has become a stalwart source of information and a symbol of access and upward mobility for women. “I feel passionate about my work with Lwala, and I work with all my heart. I learned that from my mother, because she taught me to believe in change. Some moments in life and work are so difficult to overcome, but my mom taught me how to navigate through them. She gives me the strength to do what I’m doing every day.”

Agency, health, and wholeness of life.

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