Working for the future in Kenya’s National Parks and Reserves

Throughout Kenya there are areas that have been designated as national parks and reserves, areas under threat that need to be preserved for future generations. Through our partners, CHASE Africa is working in two of these vitally important areas – the Mount Kenya National Park and Kakamega Forest National Reserve. Both areas face the consequences of Kenya’s fast population growth – the destruction of habitat and increasing pressure on resources.

There are also issues of poverty that are being addressed through the work that is being done by the mobile clinics that we fund. Free access to family planning opens up previously unavailable choices to women – the opportunity to choose the number of children they have and how close together they will be. Choice is the beginning of breaking the cycle of poverty in which many families in these regions find themselves. And families with choices have better futures – better maternal health and better child health.

The Land

Mount Kenya National Park

The Mount Kenya National Park was established in 1949 to protect the Mount Kenya, its wildlife and environment. It covers 276 square miles, centred on Mount Kenya itself – Kenya’s highest mountain. It is the main water catchment area for two large rivers – the Tana, the largest river in Kenya, and the Ewaso Ng’iso North. Mount Kenya’s ecosystem provides water for over 2 million people. The whole area is some 90 miles north northeast of Nairobi.

Kakamega Forest National Reserve

The Kakamega Forest National Reserve lies to the northwest of Nairobi, near to the border with Uganda – it was designated a National Reserve in 1985. It is Kenya’s only tropical rainforest. The whole forest covers about 90 square miles, with the reserves, in the northern part of the forest being only 17 square miles – less than a tenth the size of the Mount Kenya National Park. Despite its size, the reserve is home to nearly 400 different species of plants and is famous for its birds. The forest is also rich in rare minerals such as gold-bearing quartz and feldspar – this makes it attractive to those who would extract and sell these minerals, at the cost of the forest. Logging for timber and firewood is also on the increase.

The People and the Work

Mount Kenya Trust

We have been working with the Mount Kenya Trust (MKT) since 2014, having heard about them from people we already know who are working in the region. MKT itself was established in 2000 and its aim is “to help protect and restore the integrity of the forests and wildlife of Mount Kenya by partnering with Government Agencies, communities and other stakeholder organisations in the region”.

With a team of nine, and working with volunteers, MKT runs a whole range of different projects, including running mobile health clinics reaching out to local communities with healthcare and family planning. These clinics and MKT’s no-nonsense approach are what draw us to work with them.

In December 2016, Henry visited one of MKT’s day clinics. The visit started with a trip to the Timau Sub-County Hospital in Meru Country to pick up a doctor, nurse and supplies for the clinic. From the hospital the group travelled to a small church and setup the clinic. At the clinic they welcomed members of the local community who were seeking healthcare for themselves and their families. The clinic also offered family planning to those who wanted it – counselling and advice are offered to help women make the best decision for themselves and their families.

During the month of December, MKT ran eight such clinics and a total of 1,092 women chose to use their family planning services. Of those women, 472 chose long-term methods and 620 chose short-term methods.

These numbers are typical of a month’s worth of clinics which means that throughout the year MKT is reaching many thousands of people. In family planning terms – with the combination of short- and long-term methods – the clinics provide nearly 24,000 Couple Years Protection every year.

Community Health Volunteers

In the Kakamega Forest we work with Community Health Volunteers to bring mobile clinics to rural communities. CHV in Kakamega was founded in 2006 to “create awareness to the residents on HIV/AIDS, as well as on issues of sexual and reproductive health”. The team of volunteers who all live in the area they serve is headed up by Gabriel.

Before starting CHV, Gabriel was a bird guide, like his father before him. During his work he visited homes around the edge of the Kakamega forest. There he was shocked to see the number of people who had contracted jiggers (Tunga penetrans) – a parasitic insect that burrows into the sole of the foot, where it grows causing itchiness and pus-filled sores that often become infected.

Treatment is easy and costs pennies but treatment was well out of the reach of the poor households that Gabriel visited regularly. Together with other bird guides, Gabriel bought, and gave out, jiggers treatments as he went round forest. Over time he realised that there were more serious health issues in the communities he visited, and from that realisation was born CHV which now runs a clinic in Vihrembe, Kakamega. The clinic is part financed by a church in the UK – a collaboration that came from a chance bird watching encounter! The clinic is now working towards getting a status as a government recognised clinic – which will bring in more funding.

As a way of expanding the work and reaching larger numbers of people, in 2016 CHV successfully started running mobile clinics funded by CHASE Africa. Under Gabriel’s leadership they will continue with a number of clinics every month for 2017 and beyond.

Parks, reserves – and people – with a future

We must remember that preserving the national parks and reserves is only one aspect of working for the future, and although it is a hugely important aspect in a country like Kenya, perhaps more important still is giving women choice. Being able to choose the size of their families – the number and spacing of their children – allows women to plan for the future, work their way out of poverty and give the children they do have many more options and opportunities.

By working with MKT and CHV we are able to bring much needed family planning treatments to many communities. Over time this will bring many benefits to those who are able to access MKT’s and CHV’s services– not least that pressure on resources will be reduced as women are given a choice about their families, hopefully contributing to a long term future for these two important national treasures. If the wildlife is given space to flourish, tourists from around the world will want to visit, a great boost to the local economy.