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A young life at stake – Denied medical care due to tribe

2013 April 3

Imagine the US presidential candidate you voted for wins the election, but before you have time to celebrate, a brick crashes through your window. Screams cut through the night air.  You reluctantly approach your window to find the members of the losing party attacking people who voted for the winner, smashing cars, killing their neighbors and setting homes on fire.  It sounds more like a blockbuster movie than a reality.

Photo courtesy of Evelyn Hockstein, The New York Times

Photo courtesy of Evelyn Hockstein, The New York Times

During the election five years ago, it was reality for many Kenyan families.  Members of the losing tribes erupted into rioting, arson, and murder to protest the Kikuyu tribe’s presidential victory. Kikuyus retaliated, and the violence escalated.

One Kikuyu woman barely escaped alive when her neighbors torched her home. She carried her two-month-old baby boy for several days, walking to a make-shift camp for those left homeless.a-young-mother-with-her-daughter-in-drc

The problem with violent conflict is that even if you escape the front lines, the danger remains. The over-crowded camp lacked enough food and water. Disease was rampant. It wasn’t long before her baby became sick.

Without the right medical services, the mother carried her son several miles to the nearest hospital. Unfortunately, when she signed in her Kikuyu last name, the nurse in charge refused to admit the baby. She barked,“Take him to a Kikuyu hospital.”

The baby boy died.

Violent conflict doesn’t end when the smoke clears.  Even if bombs, guns, or machetes don’t hurt you, the fear and prejudice behind them can still kill.

This week we recognize World Health Day by addressing violence as a major health issue. Violent conflict cripples every facet of society, especially related to health and well-being.  While remembering the problems that accompany violence, we also choose to celebrate the solutions.

After the violence quieted, the mother moved out of the camp. Soon after, she passed the same nurse on the street. To her horror, she found they were now neighbors.

Months later, the mother attended a Search film and discussion group on the conflict. One man confessed he destroyed his neighbor’s property during the riots. He asked for forgiveness. People from every tribe spoke about that terrible time. Nobody wanted it to happen again. Moved, the mother decided to reach out to the nurse. As they talked and cried together, the nurse openly expressed her regret.

She attended our group with the mother, and there they found the courage to reconcile. Without Search’s program, the mother admits she could not have reached out to the nurse. The nurse was inspired to join a group fostering peace in her community. She promised,

“I will never again withhold medical care because of my patient’s tribe.”

Just last month, after 5 years of painstaking work, Kenyans experienced a largely peaceful presidential election. On World Health Day, we celebrate their courage to change and work together for a healthier future for all Kenyans.

To learn more about our programs in Kenya, click here.  Look for blog “Why Violence is a Health Issue”, by Search’s VP Susan Collin Marks, coming soon!

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