Working to Promote Maternal Health in Rural Kenya: An Alumna Interview with Gabriella DelHoyo (WCAS 2012)

Name: Gabriella DelHoyo (WCAS 2012)

Major: Political Science

Minor: Global Health Studies

Gabriella DelHoyo graduated in 2012 with a Political Science major and Global Health Studies minor. For the past year and a half, Gabriella has been working with the 2020 Microclinic Initiative to improve maternal health in rural Kenya.

What else were you involved in while you were at NU?

The biggest thing I was involved in at NU was the Living Wage Campaign. It was really exciting, a lot of work, and my involvement was definitely a reflection of my interest in social justice and making an impact in our community. It was a student-run campaign to gain living wages for dining hall employees, some of whom had worked at Northwestern for 15 or 20 years, yet were still not receiving living wages. Ultimately the campaign won the wages, and I’m so grateful I got to be a part of it!

What did you do after graduation?

To be honest, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do after college, so I saved some money and went on a trip through Europe for a few months with a good friend. After that, I came back to Los Angeles and was offered an opportunity to work for a wealth management company. I knew it wasn’t what I ultimately wanted to do, but I took the opportunity to gain experience and worked there for almost two years. I realized pretty quickly I wasn’t happy doing something that didn’t work to improve people’s health and well-being, so I decided to explore the reasons I had worked on a global health minor in college, and I started looking for work with nonprofits and for-profits with a social impact. I came across a job opening with 2020 Microclinic Initiative through an NU job listserv because the executive director of the organization is a Northwestern alumna as well. I was really excited to work with a fellow Wildcat and to gain experience in international development work.

Could you describe 2020 Microclinic’s mission and work in your own words?

Our mission is to make pregnancy and childbirth safe for women in medically underserved communities. Fifty percent of maternal deaths occur in Sub-Saharan Africa and almost all of these deaths are preventable. Dr. Moka Lantum, the founder of our organization, began his work in Kenya because the country has a great desire and will to improve maternal health. There’s a modest infrastructure of medical clinics throughout rural Kenya with medically-trained healthcare workers, but Dr. Moka saw that almost no women were giving birth in them or seeking care. Most women in these communities give birth in overcrowded hospitals or at home in unsafe conditions and without a medical professional present. Dr. Moka began reaching out to women and healthcare workers to find out the reasons why mothers weren’t delivering in clinics and found many contributing factors, one huge factor being a lack of access to transportation- meaning women have to travel miles on foot to get to a clinic. However, the most surprising reason he heard again and again was that women didn’t have clothes for their babies and were embarrassed to leave the clinic after birth with an unclothed baby. After hearing this, Dr. Moka began testing the idea of offering baby clothes to women who came into clinics for prenatal care, delivery, and postnatal care. Women quickly began coming in by the dozens, and clinics saw an increase of as much as 300% more deliveries when baby clothes were offered. Dr. Moka then began training women in Kenya to sew t-shirts into baby clothes, providing them with a marketable skill and recycling t-shirts from the US in the process. Today, the program exists in seven clinics, offering baby clothes and safe healthcare to thousands of women.

In addition to the baby clothing incentive, we offer emergency transportation services to women with high-risk traits, and we offer birth preparation and infant care training for all women in our program. This last element is the educational part of our program, which is actually evolving pretty quickly right now. Before, we offered women educational classes, but we recently turned those classes into an original maternal health card game, which has been something I’ve been especially proud to be a part of. The game teaches women the importance of coming into the clinic to seek care before, during and after birth. It also teaches them critical danger signs to look for and what to do about them. Ultimately, the game helps women view health as a community, rather than individually, so that we raise awareness and provide education for the community as a whole.

Lastly, we run two other programs: A medical residency program and an e-health data collection program. The residency program provides an important exchange of knowledge between US residents and Kenyan healthcare workers, as well as improves the healthcare practices serving families in the communities where we work. The e-health program works to improve data collection and organization in rural Kenya.

What is your position within 2020 Microclinic? What are your day to day responsibilities within this role?

I work with the Executive Director here in Los Angeles as the Development Associate, and, as the only US employee, I’ve been lucky to gain experience in so many different aspects of nonprofit work. I manage all of our donor and volunteer engagement, as well as maintain our donor database. I coordinate volunteer events, facilitate t-shirt drives, and design campaigns to raise awareness. I write and send all of our newsletters and correspondences. This year I designed a new website for the organization from scratch, which was really interesting, and I continue to develop our social media presence. I assist our Kenyan team with whatever support they need to maintain and improve our expanding baby clothing production and incentive program. I help organize and maintain accurate programmatic data, as well as assist in logistics. I’ve also supported the expansion of our medical residency program. I love the work I get to do most directly related to the program, so developing the maternal health card game has definitely been my favorite work in the past year.

What would you say is the most challenging aspect of your job?

First, I think learning to juggle a lot of different kinds of tasks and wear different hats is challenging, but very important in any job. Second, I would say that in this kind of international work, there can be some disappointment and frustration when projects don’t work out or there are time differences and communication issues or stalled projects. But I think those issues are manageable and pretty common in this kind of work.

What is your favorite part of this job or field?

It’s a wonderful feeling to see a positive outcome from the work we’re doing. It really captures the whole mentality behind everything you learn in the Global Health Studies program at NU in terms of being a global citizen and feeling connected to other people even though you haven’t gotten to meet them. For example, when I saw the pictures of mothers in Kenya playing our maternal health game with the trial cards I had printed here in LA, it was an incredible and awesome sensation. It’s what makes all the challenges worth it.

What role do you think your Global Health Studies courses at Northwestern are playing in the work you are doing now?

Honestly, Northwestern provides an incredible education, and I really realized that after college. Northwestern teaches you to be a good critical thinker and to explore any issue or idea in a multidisciplinary way. The most important thing that the global health program teaches you is to look at international development in a holistic way and to look for sustainable solutions that must be developed based on individual communities and real people’s day to day experiences. The global health program teaches students how to understand and explore the challenges people face in communities that are very different from what they know. I think the most important thing I learned is that you can’t go into someone else’s community and expect to bring a solution to them from an outside perspective. You have to learn about the people you want to help, and you have to learn with them. You have to try to understand how they see the world, and you have to learn how to work with them to figure out the best and most sustainable solutions. That’s part of the reason why this organization and its founder have been very inspiring to me.

Where did you study abroad? How do you think it influenced you and where you are now?

I went to Santiago, Chile. We learned about their public-private healthcare system, and we got to assist local research projects. I got to do mine in a middle school, which was really fun and definitely my favorite part of the program.

Do you have any advice or suggestions for current global health undergrads on how to get involved or prepare themselves for this type of work?

Being in college is the best time to explore different professional interests you might have. It’s a great time to try out different classes or internships for a few months at a time. If I could go back I would do much more exploring. Also, Evanston is such a great community and there is so much you can do there to learn about community development. No matter where you are, there is always so much to do in your own community, and doing so will always teach you more about yourself and what you want to do.

Do you have any advice or suggestions for current global health undergrads on choosing a career path in global health?

I think it can be overwhelming to know there are so many possibilities. Don’t be afraid to try something. If in six months you want to try a different aspect of global health or want to try something completely different, go with it!

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