Some of Bethwell Ogot Otieno’s fondest memories of his mother are tied to his childhood days accompanying her on rounds as a CHW.
“I’d join her on her household visits before or after school or when on holiday. It helped me understand community-level issues, and I was so proud watching mom confidently advocating for our neighbors, even with village chiefs.”
While her work inspired him, it also left Bethwell a bit confused. “I couldn’t understand why my mom would be willing to spend her days as a volunteer,” he recalled. “It was a big debate in our household, since I was one of 13 kids. We’d ask her, how will you keep food in our bellies? But she was unrelenting and always confidently replied, ‘Being a CHW is a calling—the Lord will take care of us.”
And sure enough, the families his mom supported returned the favor in their own ways, bringing gifts of flour and sugar in appreciation for her time.
“I was ultimately convinced that I had to follow in mum’s footsteps. She introduced me to all the households she supported. When she passed away a few years later, I took on caring for the same families that she did.”
But Bethwell also knew that his education was important. He persisted and finished university, getting a certificate in community health even as he continued delivering community health services at the household level.
“In 2011, a miracle struck—the government launched a community health strategy using money from the Primary Health Care budget. They were finally investing in hiring community health supervisors,” Bethwell said. “I rushed to interview alongside many other people, and was one of the only 10 they hired.” He currently mentors and guides 10 CHWs who serve more than 900 households. He also continues to work as a CHW and provide direct care to households. Bethwell is proud that Kenya’s eCHIS was piloted in Kisumu and is pleased to have played a part in training and digitizing the county’s CHWs. Although working within a government bureaucracy can be challenging, he says:
“I feel great being part of such a progressive government and knowing that we’ve already equipped more than 2,400 CHWs to use digital tools, and I can already see the benefits— the quality of reporting has improved.”
As a supervisor, he gets alerts about all the tasks for each CHW he supervises, which means he can easily spot disease outbreaks and support every patient to get proper care.
Given the increasingly aging CHW population, the next generation of digitized CHWs could very well come from Bethwell’s own family.
“I’ve got two girls and a boy, and they are constantly clamoring to accompany me on my work—just like I did with my mom. I guess that community health work is just our family legacy!”