Mary Rose Muthoni Nzimbi, a midwife nurse working with Medecins Sans Frontiers, believes in Martin Luther King Jr. famous quote; “If a man hasn’t found something he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.” She asserts that every human being should live with a goal of impacting other people’s lives, a philosophy that she lives by.
Mary Rose started her career in midwifery in 2000 and has since delivered thousands of children. “I always admired nurses since I was in primary school. Their lovely dresses and white caps drew me to the profession. After seeing them at work in a hospital, I knew that I wanted to join them. After high school, I enrolled in a nursing college, where I met my husband Charles Makau, who is also a nurse,” the mother of two starts off our interview.
Mary Rose reveals that together with her husband, they were among the pioneers of St Mary’s Mission Hospital in Lang’ata. “After graduation, we started working with mission hospitals and that’s how we ended up at St Mary’s Lang’ata just as it was starting operations,” she says.
In 2010, the Nzimbis heard of Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF), also known as Doctors Without Borders, and the work they were doing. They dug more information about the organisation, especially since they desired to help those in need of medical care. MSF, an international humanitarian medical non-governmental organisation best known for its projects in countries afflicted with endemic diseases and conflict, fitted the bill.
Since they were looking for new challenges, her husband decided to give it a try. “There is nothing that fulfills our life like attending and caring for patients and this demands hard work and mastering the craft of medical practice,” she notes.
Her husband applied for the job but it took two years before he was called for an interview. He got the job and was immediately sent to Papua New Guinea for a nine months’ mission.
“Whenever he called, he would give us fascinating stories of Papua New Guinea, its people and about the fulfilling work he was doing,” says Mary Rose, adding that her husband never made it to come home for the nine months as Papua New Guinea is quite far from Kenya and there was so much work.
“My husband would tell me about gender-based violence cases in his new work station and how he attended to expectant women who had been assaulted. He spoke with enthusiasm and I could tell he had a passion to help those in need of medical care especially the vulnerable people in society. I felt the need to join him in this noble work, ” she notes, adding most doctors don’t like working in hostile regions.
Her husband’s enthusiasm made Mary Rose desire to work with the organisation grow and when he finally came home, they agreed that she would apply to join MSF once their children came of age.
“We all value being comfortable but if we can’t sacrifice for the people living in war torn countries who will?” she poses, while highlighting the sacrifice made by people working in such areas.
Her husband would later be posted to Yemen, Bangladesh and Afaghanistan. “The good thing with MSF is that they guarantee their staff security. In case of severe conflicts, they evacuate them to safer grounds,” she points out.
In 2015, Mary Rose decided to try her luck and she applied to work with MSF. Her application was accepted.
“I received an email to join MSF in late 2017 after a long wait. In early 2018, I was deployed on my first mission to Ethiopia, which was an eye-opening experience. After working for some time in one of the hospitals, I identified a need to take maternity care to women from the nomadic community who lived in the bushes. After discussions with the project coordinator, I was able to set up an outreach project providing antenatal services at 11 clinics. I run the service with three Ethiopian midwives. As the supervisor, I spend up to a week at a time at each site, training my colleagues and helping to provide the medical services,” highlights Mary Rose.
Apart from providing care to women closer to where they live, Mary Rose together with her colleagues, were able to set up a referral service to bring women to the hospital to give birth. “It can be dangerous for women to deliver in the bush without medical care, especially for those with complications,” she remarks.
“Working with MSF is never routine. I loved my work in Kenya but after 17 years, I was ready for a change. My new position took me to the eastern part of Ethiopia where I was able to work in and experience a different culture. The heat was a challenge, but being able to create a new project to meet the need that this group of women had for medical care is incredibly gratifying,” Mary Rose says with a smile on her face.
She points out that it’s culturally very sensitive for women to have a Caesarean section in some parts of Ethiopia hence they work closely with the local doctors to explain the procedure to the women so as to get their consent whenever this procedure becomes necessary.
“But some patients become adamant, pack up their bas and walk away from hospital. I am always scared for such women because I know the risks involved. I work very hard to convince them to go through with the procedure. The other challenge is family planning. Women in the areas we work are valued for the number of children they have, but carrying multiple pregnancies poses huge health implications for them,”
She notes it’s not a wonder to find some women living in this locality bearing up to 17 children or even more.
She adds that the job is challenging, as apart from being in a conflict zone, the terrain in some places is also hostile. There also places where disease outbreaks occur often but the heart to help makes them suppress their fears and put their lives on the front line.
“If you don’t love what you do, you won’t do it with much conviction or passion. I could have worked in Kenyan hospitals but I feel I am making a bigger impact out there,” she says.
It’s all about sacrifice
She considers working with MSF as a sacrificial call to help the less privileged. She says that tending to people in war torn and marginalised areas of the world has been rewarding to both her and her husband. She adds that it has not been easy being far from each other. It also took a while to convince their children that mum also needed to go away to help those in need, just like their dad.
“I explained to my children, who are both in university, why I needed to go away. I let them know that I had this burning passion within me and staying in Kenya wasn’t going to help me put it into use,” she recalls how she was able to win her children.
To ensure the family bond remains intact, Mary Rose and her husband always ensure their leaves coincide. “It helps us to come together and review our lives, as well as look at the projects we have embarked on as a family,” she says in conclusion.