The nurses at the Lalmba Clinic in Matoso, a tiny rural fishing center on Lake Victoria, deliver approximately 100 babies per year. So far, in the second year since opening the maternity suite in December of 2016, we are very fortunate that all of the babies have been spared HIV infection. This is quite remarkable since approximately 25% of the mothers are persons living with HIV (PLHIV). (The infection in Kenya affects young women disproportionately, and our region is part of Migori County, one of the counties with a high rate of infection.)
Because the region is so poor, and also because it can be considered bad luck to plan for a baby to survive delivery and infancy, some mothers arrive at the clinic with little more than the clothes they are wearing. In the past, the clinic was on such a shoe-string budget that there was no provision for cloths to dry the babies at birth, and it was impossible to supply the mothers with blankets to wrap the babies for their journey home. Usually the woman had a shuka, or shawl, of thin cotton, but not always. The nurses disliked it when they had to send the baby wrapped in rags or bits of the mother’s clothing, especially as transport to the woman’s home usually involves riding a motorbike on our dirt roads. And I disliked trying to dry the newborn with edges of the maternity bed sheets, while the new mother rested on them!
I managed to find some baby blankets in the local used-clothing market and bought all they had, but they had all run out by the time I left Matoso in May. Tamara, my colleague in Public Health here, found a few in the market in my absence, and convinced Lalmba to budget for towels and blankets in the future.
When people read of the sparsely-clad babies in The Independent, the weekly paper for Livermore and Pleasanton, CA, there was an outpouring of support for them. People donated blankets their children had outgrown or that they found at thrift stores and garage sales. Several people bought sheets, swaddling cloths, and towels and delivered them to my door personally, or shipped them to my house.
And a very special group of quilters in Roseville, CA, responded with dozens of homemade blankets of the softest cotton flannel in beautiful patterns and colors.
For two weeks it seemed that we got deliveries daily, or even multiple times per day. Some were sent to Colorado for eventual delivery by people from Lalmba’s headquarters. (Someone from Colorado visits here each quarter during the year.)
One hundred and twenty blankets, cloths, and towels fit in my luggage on my return to Kenya in August! The nurses assure me these will last for one year, and they have already designed a system to make sure that each new baby goes home with a new blanket. The towels are stocked in the delivery room so each baby can be dried off with a clean, warm and dry cloth—not paper towels as was sometimes the case.
Hundreds more blankets are in my basement at home, ready to be shipped gradually to Colorado or carried back to Kenya . Thanks to the generosity of so many, the babies of this little corner of the world will be warm and dry for years to come. Thanks to all who made it happen—you know who you are.