Public health champion is making a real difference for the Maasai community

Stella’s story

Stella began her career in palliative care after caring for her aunt who was living with breast cancer. Once she joined Nairobi Hospice, she knew immediately that this was the kind of nursing she wanted to do.

After moving to the Kenya Medical Training College, Nairobi, where she now works as a tutor, Stella developed an interest in advocating for localities and communities that had previously had no access to palliative or end of life care. With limited resource outside hospitals to help, she set up a voluntary organisation: The Association of Ongata Ngong Palliative Care Community in 2012.

The principle focus of the organisation is empowerment of the Maasai community through education, training and support. The vision is to raise literacy about life threatening illnesses and death, bringing such topics out into the open and in doing so, lessen the taboo. 

In 2017, Stella was able to secure three registered nurses, a social worker, a clinical officer, a counsellor and two church pastors to join her and help when they can. Their work focuses on three geographical communities; one is local but two are over 55 kilometres away. So far, they have established three groups comprising of five, 14 and 17 community health volunteers respectively, with whom they work, train and support to care for the sick and dying within their own communities.  

The local volunteers are trained to screen their own communities and refer back to the team if needed. The more commons conditions include tuberculosis, HIV, malnutrition in the elderly and cancer.

They would  love to  increase the number of volunteers as well as maintain more frequent  support for those already active. They are challenged, however, due to limitations on the times when two or three of the team are free to commit. They need to fund the fuel to enable the volunteers to reach the communities. Currently they do this through fundraising and support from their own families and friends.  

Educating a community is key to better care & health outcomes 

Stella’s tireless work has reached communities that have been historically disconnected from palliative care provision. She has built skills and worked hard to remove stigma and fear in talking about death and dying.  When Stella and her colleagues meet with local communities, they encourage them to join the National Hospital Insurance Fund. Once in the scheme, people can contribute through the exchanging of goods. For example a payment made with a goat, in turn builds credit, so that they can access health care when needed. The scheme is gaining traction and enabling people to have better access to treatments such as opiates which are not dispensed routinely.   

What’s your mantra Stella?

When asked what she wants student nurses and volunteers to take away from her training, Stella says without hesitation: “I tell them all about the importance to have a heart for those we care for. I also tell them about our voluntary work and encourage them to go back to their villages and see what they can do.” She is always delighted to hear what they get up to! 

So much can be done at  grass root level!

Stella has such a vibrant, ‘can do’ energy. The challenge of accessing resources does not dampen her resolve and ambition. She is a great example of a pioneer; a pioneer with a heart for the Maasai community.  Stella is truly committed to improving end of life care and is showing what can be achieved when working at grass root level.

Stella Mwari Rithara
Nairobi Kenya