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Published: March 3, 2023

Caregiving through cooking: the women who feed Lwala Community Hospital

Most Lwala staff would agree that the hospital cafeteria–an open-air meeting space furnished with several picnicstyle tables, adjacent to a small kitchen–is the heart of the hospital complex. This is the place where every employee finds themselves at least once a day to take a cup of chai (tea) and a warm mandazi (fried bread) mid-morning, or to sit with colleagues for a hearty lunch. The weekly rotating menu has been fine-tuned, featuring a staff favorite nyama na mchele (stewed beef with rice) on back-to-work Mondays. Throughout the week, other nourishing dishes include ndengu (lentil stew) and chapatis (handmade tortillas), rice and beans with kabichi (cabbage), enormous vats of simmered greens, and the Kenyan staple, ugali. These meals feed patients like laboring and post-delivery mothers, as well as Lwala staff and any visitors who desire a meal.

Cheline Atieno is one member of the four-woman catering team that makes the Lwala Hospital cafeteria a crucial part of high-quality care–and a welcoming social center for staff and visitors. Born in Homa Bay County, Cheline moved to the village of Lwala in 2012 with her husband and 7 children because she wanted to be a community health worker (CHW). “When women were giving birth at home, lots of babies were dying–and mothers too,” Cheline says. “I wanted to prevent that. So I became a CHW and encouraged women to deliver at a hospital.”

At that time, Cheline would accompany women to the hospital for their births, and she often made them tea as she waited with them. Then in 2013, the hospital began taking inpatients and needed someone to provide regular meals. So Cheline stepped out of her role as CHW and into a role as full-time cook.

Over the next few years, as the number of hospital staff and patients grew, so did the kitchen. It became a fourwoman team. This structure was working well, but the team wanted to feed even more people. That’s when Lwala connected the women with a finance expert, who helped them establish their own catering business and open up new revenue streams. The women creatively combined their four first names–Grace, Cheline, Mary, and Rosalyne–to title their business Grachel and Maros.

“Cheline knows how to work quickly, she is good at the budget, and she has many ideas for us. When we have 20 people visiting, she knows how to prepare for that.”
- Grace Anyango, Chef at Lwala Community Hospital

Grachel and Maros show up every day and make delicious and nutritious food together. They shift roles occasionally and bump into each other often in the small kitchen. “What makes Lwala successful is the management,” Cheline says. “The staff get compensated well, and they know they can receive good health care, so they are motivated to work hard. What I want most is for this organization to grow bigger–to create more jobs for the whole community.”

Agency, health, and wholeness of life.

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