Dispatch from the field: Moments from Kisumu

Living in Kisumu, I was exposed to community and love in ways I never anticipated.

As a Clinical Support Fellow, I had the opportunity to work in regions where health was not a given and to observe the necessity of health institutions not only as a place of mitigating illness but as a place of community gatherings – for families, grassroots movements, and the reunion of old friends.

Jenna walking down a hallway in Aga Khan Hospital Kisumu. Credit: Michael Goima / AKFC

Working with the Special Projects team at Aga Khan Hospital Kisumu (AKHK), I used practical skills in project management, such as sustainability planning and evaluation, all within the projects AKHK facilitated.

Most of these projects took place in partnership with public hospitals within rural regions of western Kenya. I had the privilege of working closely with these hospitals to determine the needs of their communities.

The impact rural hospitals were able to make with very limited resources was inspiring, and while Aga Khan Hospital Kisumu aimed to increase the capacities of these institutions to serve their communities through training and resources, the love that hospital staff had for their patients was unmatched. The biggest differences were made when nurses, hospital admin, physicians, lab techs, and local governments worked in harmony towards the common goal of improving the lives of everyone in their communities, communities filled with individuals whom they had grown up with and come to love and care for over the course of their lives.

One individual I met, who worked as a nurse practitioner in the Busia County Referral Hospital, had grown up in Busia and trained in nursing specifically to help the individuals she grew up around. She ran vaccination campaigns in the region and was able to advocate for the community members she knew and grew up with because she had a personal, longstanding relationship outside of the hospital. This relationship made a huge difference in the health outcomes of those she was serving because they trusted her and were more likely to come to the hospital for check-ups because they knew that they would be taken care of in a meaningful way.

This video is only a glimpse of the people I met and interacted with during my Fellowship. I created this using videos I had taken during time spent with family and friends (including other Fellows!) who visited me in Kisumu. I realized while putting this video together that a large group of people are missing from these clips – the people I met while working at the hospital.

While I completed this experience in Kenya to learn more about health systems in another part of the world, I was overwhelmed with the passion people had for their homes and reflected on the importance of change at the local level made by those who directly grew up in the communities they are serving.

Going back to the place my mom was born brought up feelings of dissonance and nostalgia for a place I was only experiencing for the first time I saw firsthand so many places I had grown up hearing about, like Lake Victoria (where my mom learned to swim) and the Aga Khan Sports Club (where my mom used to hang out after school) – places which felt like they belonged to another world.

At the same time, I spent my time in Kisumu listening to stories about my mom from the Ismaili families I met who knew her when she was younger, a person who felt like they belonged to another world. The mom who lived in Kisumu and the mom I know now, to me, are two different people, each belonging to the “before” and “after” of her immigrating to Canada. I was only ever able to integrate the two when thinking about the communities I was a part of, both in Kenya and in Canada, and how, despite being in different locations, they practiced the same traditions and celebrations, making the world a little smaller.

Jenna Mulji was part of the 2023-23 cohort of International Youth Fellows, working as a Clinical Support Fellow in Kisumu, Kenya. Since 1989, over 500 young Canadians like Jenna have participated in AKFC’s International Youth Fellowship, a program that has launched diverse careers in government, non-profit, media, and finance. The application period typically runs from November to February annually.