Alfred Ochola points to the title of his panel at the Global Health Conference: "WaSHing (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) to Improve Health in Developing Countries: Opportunities and Obstacles."
I was thrilled when I learned that Alfred, our diarrheal disease control program implementer in Western Kenya, was going to take his first trip to the United States to speak at the Global Health Council Conference. He had been a tireless, gracious host during my two trips to Kenya, and I was excited for the opportunity to return the favor.
Throughout the week, I bombarded Alfred with a broad range of compare/contrast questions. I expected our conversations to focus on the differences between his work in the field and our work in the U.S. office, but instead, Alfred consistently reinforced just how connected we really are.
On the day before the conference ended, we ate lunch at Open City Diner, a restaurant that serves American-style food with American-style Coca-Cola (not as sweet as the Kenyan version), and I gathered Alfred’s thoughts about his trip to Washington, DC.
This was your first trip to the United States. Did anything surprise you?
I wasn’t expecting such receiving and welcoming people. To have realized that Chris Elias [president and CEO of PATH] had heard about my work, the work of an employee in a rural office in Western Kenya – that really stuck with me. I think that it is great that PATH organized a reception for staff that came to the Global Health Conference, because suddenly I didn’t feel like I was in a new country; I was among colleagues like myself. I felt like I was home. And these are the things that move me. If all of us network positively, then the magnitude of change will be greater.
You had the opportunity to tour our nation’s capital, too. What did you think of Washington, DC?
It is a beautiful city. The roads and traffic are very organized, and if someone accidentally bumps into you, they say “sorry.” I enjoyed the tours and visits of historic places, but my favorite was the Air and Space Museum. Reading stories about astronauts who risked their lives, and some who died in the process, was moving, but it was also inspiring.
Participating in meetings at Global Health Council Conference is certainly a departure from the type of work you do in the field every day. How do you like the conference?
There are those that are interested in the policy level, but I was pleased to see that there were sessions for program implementers as well. I was also happy to see the cross-sectoral representation of WASH, which is so important. That’s the emphasis now, and there’s no going back.
And the panel on which you spoke, “WaSHing (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) to Improve Health in Developing Countries,” was a big hit!
For people to come to a global conference to listen to a man from rural Kenya – it moves me quite a lot. I was humbled: that’s the only word I can use. It gives me motivation to work more and to prepare more should the opportunity arise again.
The large turnout is a sign that that what we are doing touches people. I knew that our diarrheal disease control program was saving lives in Western Kenya, but I didn’t know it was touching people who weren’t seeing it firsthand.
Alfred talked a lot about how his week in DC moved and challenged him. It challenged me, too, to make certain that we continue to touch people with stories about his great work. When Alfred presented the results of his work to PATH staff earlier in the week, he said, “The story is not over.” Let’s all work together to make certain this story has a happy ending!
-- Hope Randall, Communications Associate for the diarrheal disease communications/advocacy team, PATH
For more information:
- Do you have a question for Alfred that we didn't cover here? Leave a comment and we'll post his response!
- See Alfred in action in the field in “A Cup, A Corner, and A Community .”
- Read Alfred’s portrait on PATH’s website to learn why he was inspired to enter the field of public health.
- Alfred has revitalized more than 80 ORT corners in rural Kenyan hospitals. Check out photos of his progress.
Photo credits: Hope Randall/PATH