The Power of Progress: Reflections on a Special Visit to the MTRH Nawiri Recovery & Skills Centre in Western Kenya

By Angelique Lewis, Vice President of the Astellas Global Health Foundation, and Senior Director, Access to Health, Sustainability, at Astellas

It started with the warmth of beautiful smiles from the enthusiastic crowd assembled to greet us. It was a Monday earlier this spring, and I was filled with excitement at the opportunity to spend the week visiting the MTRH Nawiri Recovery & Skills Centre, Kenya's first recovery home and skills-building center for adults with severe mental health disorders.

This would be an incredible day and a full-circle moment. The construction of the Nawiri Centre was among the first projects funded by the Astellas Global Health Foundation (AGHF) after its launch in 2018, as part of an initial grant to the Academic Model Providing Access to Healthcare (AMPATH) through the Indiana University Center for Global Health Equity and in partnership with Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital (MTRH).

Mercy Kimaiyo, Nawiri Centre social worker, proudly shares blankets with me and Shingo Iino, president of the Astellas Global Health Foundation. The blankets were sewn by Nawiri Centre patients as part of their skills-building experience while receiving care.

In all, the Foundation has awarded two grants to AMPATH. The initial three-year, $1.35 million grant helped AMPATH impact 400,000 lives by increasing access to and quality of mental care for people in western Kenya with comprehensive mental health education, capacity-building and mentorship of health workers in primary care settings, COVID-19 support, and the construction and opening of the Nawiri Centre. A second, two-year $1.07 million grant awarded in 2022 has enabled AMPATH to further expand mental health services in Kenya, including empowering an estimated 200,000 people, particularly adults and adolescents, to receive critical medical support and live as valued and respected members of their communities.

As much as I knew I would enjoy the visit, it instantly became a life-changing experience for both me and Shingo Iino, president of the Foundation. From the first day, we met current patients and learned firsthand how the home is helping them. For example, I was able to speak to a woman who knows that her time in the Nawiri Centre is going to help her lead a more productive life. During the visit, I watched her interact with her peers, the Nawiri Centre staff and guests, and learned that part of her training is helping with meal preparation as well as learning how to be a hairdresser. She told me while holding my hand that she knows this will change her life for the better.

We also observed community substance use groups set up through MTRH that were part of the Foundation grant. These support groups actively help affected residents move beyond their addiction with valuable skills training, such as farming skills around chick hatchery and how to raise chickens for eggs, to help make their communities stronger.

Each person we met shared such an inspiring story. I am filled with hope for all of their futures. And most powerfully, the impact of the Centre is extending far beyond its walls, as people who receive services return home to share their stories, and use skills acquired at the Centre to help create a brighter future and encourage others to do the same.

This is all made possible because of the incredible Nawiri Centre staff who express how much they love and support their patients as they work long hours inside and outside the Centre to help residents receive mental healthcare and training they need and would otherwise lack access to. The staff includes the amazing Dr. Edith Kamaru Kwobah, psychiatrist and head of mental health for MTRH, who has long envisioned the value the Nawiri Centre would bring to local residents. She knows each patient’s story and personally goes out into the community to ensure her patients are doing well after they receive Nawiri Centre care. I also was particularly moved by Mercy Kimaiyo, who is a social worker and oversees operations at the Centre. She has rescued community residents from perilous circumstances to ensure they have access to care, treating each patient like an important family member. Every staff member I met during the visit was considerate, good-natured, caring, and passionate.

In all, experiencing this truly groundbreaking work in Kenya was transformative. The power of this progress can serve as important inspiration for all of us working to help make a positive difference in expanding health access to people who need it most.

Please consider following the Foundation’s social channels (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter) to keep up with its latest project updates. I also encourage you to learn more about AMPATH and the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital, Indiana University Center for Global Health Equity, and Dr. Kwobah, along with the Nawiri Centre team. Their tireless efforts are underscoring the value of working together to build a more sustainable world.

Asante sana!