“Tobias is a person who will not sit on any good idea that can make the team grow. He always innovates new approaches to any challenge that might affect the organization’s performance.” - John Oyugi, Program Assistant, Mother and Child
Every day, Tobias Masara wakes up motivated. In his role as Mothers and Children Officer for Lwala, currently working in Awendo, Tobias is in charge of coordinating care for community members. This work involves supporting the deployment of over 400 community health workers (CHWs), as well as planning and facilitating community committee meetings–spaces where community members come together to solve health challenges. His passion stems from his belief in community-led health: “Community members understand their own problems,” he says. “Our process is to understand these issues so we can ensure that even the most vulnerable, hard-to-reach people receive care.”
Tobias is proud to explain that Lwala’s model is sustainable because it’s not just providing services–it’s about building community ownership of health. He sees himself as part of a team that is changing societal norms by enabling the community to lead. “We don’t take a top-down approach,” Tobias says. “We don’t go into communities and just start building latrines. Instead, we build an understanding of why they need latrines. Once the knowledge is there, community members are empowered to work together to solve their own issues.”
For example, there was a pregnant mother who was hesitant to seek antenatal care at the clinic–she was preparing to give birth at home, supported by a traditional birth attendant (TBA). She was HIV positive but didn’t know home deliveries increase the risk of mother to child transmission of HIV. Hearing her story, Tobias took action that resulted in two positive outcomes. First, during a community meeting, he created space to address the mother’s concerns. Community members chimed in and helped her understand the care that was available to her throughout her pregnancy, during a hospital birth, and after delivery, which could prevent HIV transmission and still allow her to breastfeed. Meanwhile, Tobias also sought out the TBA who was making visits in this area, and he connected her with the training she needed to become a CHW.
As a result of Tobias’s work, the mother delivered her baby boy at her nearest health facility. Because she is now taking medication, her viral load is down, and her baby is HIV-free. Additionally, her TBA is now a trained and equipped CHW who regularly brings women to the hospital for their births. These tangible changes in his community are what keep Tobias motivated day to day.
Tobias was raised by his family to value hard work. Born in a small village not far from the communities he serves in today, Tobias’ earliest memories are of trailing along behind his mother on her daily chores. He always found ways to lighten her load, from escorting her to the market and carrying fish, to hand washing and hanging the laundry. A natural leader with an ability to build up others, Tobias trained his siblings to help out, and to love doing so. This work ethic, instilled early on, has stayed with him, and he approaches his work with joy.
Tobias’ formal schooling began in 1982. He went on to become a nurse and worked for 3 years in Tanzania before coming back to Kenya to register as a nurse here. He then decided to pursue community health at the undergraduate level at Jaramogi Odinga University in Bondo, finishing in 2019. Next, he plans to pursue a masters in community health at Mt. Kenya University.
In Tobias’ heart and mind, Lwala is an influencer–provoking changes at the national and global levels that go far beyond the organization’s original dream. He points to the digitization of CHWs, the expansion of the Obstetric Hemorrhage Initiative, and advocacy for CHW payment as examples. “Lwala is catalyzing profound changes in the health care system,” Tobias says. “Seeing those lasting changes motivates me to get up every day and do more.”
“I know I’ve done a lot. I am gratified when I see my ideas create a big change in the community–one that helps many people.” - Tobias Masara