Success Story: Every child’s advocate

Mar 12, 2010


One woman’s stand against diarrheal disease

Women rarely hold office in Kenya. Florence Weke-sa is an exception. Currently deputy mayor of Kimilili, Florence is the first woman to hold the position and was the only female councilor on the Kimilili Municipal Council. She has become a voice for the mothers of her ward and their children. Wrapped in her customary bright colors, Florence stands out in a crowd—and so does her message:

“We need to care for our children.”

As a councilor, it was Florence’s duty to be present at every funeral in her district. Too often, the funerals are direct evidence of how quickly and how often diarrhea kills. The funerals affected Florence as both a leader and a mother. She vividly remembers a long week almost 20 years ago that she spent nursing her son through a nearly fatal outbreak. Florence took part in a pilot project run by PATH, joining a workshop that taught practical methods to reduce diarrheal disease with a comprehensive approach: breastfeeding, use of oral rehydration solution, zinc treatment, proper hygiene, and safe drinking water.

The workshop was part of a new, community-based approach to diarrheal disease control in the region and a proving ground for techniques that have since been integrated into Kenya’s National Plan for Diarrheal Disease Control. The model will soon be transitioned to Vietnam as well. Learning how to respond when diarrhea breaks out in a village—including slowing its spread from household to household, keeping children hydrated, and ensuring the availability of clean water—gave her a fresh set of tools. 

Florence, who believes her job is to lead by example, said, “The seminar opened up so much.”

Now, Florence is a strong ally for PATH’s project. “Do not do this in silence,” she says, “Work with local leaders. Shout about it. Make a loud noise.”

Armed with information, Florence can provide immediate aid to families who come to her when a child is violently ill. She travels every week to churches, schools, and health clinics, spreading awareness among parents and community leaders and creating a safety net for her community’s children.

According to Florence, “Diarrhea is still here—but it is no longer killing.”