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Working together in respect

Good morning to all women in this group,

I am a French girl, working on maternal health in partnership with Kenyan organizations - especially in the Kwale county. I have been twice to this region to work with my Kenyan colleagues, hospital staff and community health workers.

It's been long time I'm also on World Pulse but thought it's time to interact more with Kenyan women here (as a French speaker, I'm more familiar with the Congolese group here).

When I go to Kwale, as a white girl, I try hard to be respectful of the people we encounter, especially women living in rural communities. I can very welll imagine that having "Western" people arriving and working on health must sometimes be tiring and confusing for local communities.

Have some of you already interacted with foreigners working on health issues in Kenya? What should we as foreigners do to respect Kenyan women in our work, especially when we don't speak the same language and have to pass through interpreters to talk to each other?

Sending all my deepest respects to the whole Kenyan World Pulse community!
Asante Sana (which is one of my very limited 5-word Swahili vocabulary.....)


Jacky Kowa's picture


Hi Aurora,

Am Jacky. Am working from our Kwale office this week and I have worked in Kwale County (Msambweni, Kinango and Kwale) for 2 years. Working mostly with all youth drama groups, linking them with health facilities.

My observation from your story is that you are on the right track, which is respecting the community women and learning swahili words. I believe that, respect enables you to be a good listener hence learning alot and serving the community better. You've got the right attitude.

It's true that I can get overwhelmed working with volunteer foreigners. I think we are all foreigners when you get into a community that is not where you grew up, but you can make that community your home with time. Try the following, they helped me alot:

-Calm-not getting over excited over small cultural indifference: taking unnecessary photos that is never brought back to the subject, giving sweets to kids and they wonder if you can actually build a toilet for them because that is their need at this particular moment.

-Respect and positive attitude

-Contextualized dressing (If this makes sense): I would dress in jeans and tshirt pass my hips;-), loose skirts, just decent

-Language: words like Asante sana, pole, kwaheri, jambo, shikamoo (when saying hi to older people) The community feels excited to hear one or two swahili words when you get an opportunity to talk. They feel welcomed and want to teach you more words. You write English, can you speak English? Some young women will be able to listen to afew English words, so once in a while, through in a word and see their reactions. Some women would love to also learn your language.

-Mingle: When possible, attend weddings, funerals, village parties, the ongoing culture festival. These community events helps in understanding the role of women in Kwale community, when it comes to health seeking behaviors.

Enjoy Kwale!


Aurore's picture

Thanks Jacky

Thanks very much for all the advices Jacky!

I will adapt them as much as possible. I am not a volunteer in Kwale, so when I go there it is only for a couple of days which really gives me sometimes the feeling I'm "transferred" there and have so many chances to do something wrong by mistake.

What I do is definitely wear long clothing and not take any picture where we can identify faces (or then, asking for permission). Definitely speaking English, but sometimes from what I understood even Swahili is not their mother tongue.

But I'll keep in mind your last point, "mingle". Maybe sometimes I get so self-conscious about being the European white girl who arrives with a monitoring plan that I don't mingle with local people out of fear I'd say/do something wrong, which probably sometimes just make it look like I have no interest in these interactions. So, will work on that.

Thanks again so much for having taken the time to write all of this. You didn't have to and I'm extremely grateful.
Have a great day!


Jacky Kowa's picture


Karibu sana! You are already doing great!

Notice how close the Kwale Community mother tongue has some swahili words in it. For example Habari.....they will still answer, mzuri. The greetings are conversation starters you know.

Stay well Aurora and thanks to you too.


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