In one of the rooms on the second floor of the iconic Ambalal House in Mombasa, a group of young ladies watch a lady attend to a ‘sickly patient’ in a hospital bed.
The ladies, about 20 in number, were watching so keenly that even when I entered, their concentration remained steadfast. The room has a hospital bed, a fully equipped laboratory and a smart library. A video projection is on one of the walls, displaying the ongoing lesson.
This is the facility where students from Mombasa take their lessons. The lessons are facilitated by Ujuzi Fursa Africa, a social enterprise that uses technology to offer nursing and healthcare lessons to its learners.
“They are now doing the practical lessons. These are those students who were on an internship a month ago,” says Nabila Khanbhai, Ujuzi’s Chief Operating Officer.
The bedridden patient is not a human being, but a 3D dummy. The students use 3D dummies for their practical lessons, away from the hospital. However, Ujuzi has partnered with three hospitals in Mombasa, so that the students can have internships in the institutions.
“A good number of the students in Nairobi who went to hospitals in various hospitals that we allocated them got employed there because they were found to be too good,” says Khanbhai.
Pascaline Nzembi used to be an ICU nurse until last year, when she got contracted by Ujuzi Fursa Africa to be a tutor in the Mombasa facility. The facility opened in January this year.
“I teach them using these dummies, demonstrations and video and animation classes. Every student has a tablet and a pair of earphones,” says Nzembi.
She says that for every practical lesson, there is a corresponding video lesson that every student should watch so that they get a better understanding of the subject matter.
Khanbhai takes me to the library and I’m shocked to find only furniture- tables and chairs. No shelves, no books. Just furniture and enough lighting.
“We don’t use books. They come here with their laptops to study. Everyone uses earphones so that there is no noise. In fact, everything here, including assessment and examinations is done online,” she says.
To safeguard the integrity of the exams, the tests are set by examiners in Singapore and the US. The examiners also assess the students, via Skype and WhatsApp video calls. The students demonstrate and explain using the dummies, while the examiner watches and listens virtually. During exams, Pascaline Nzembi, the nurse and tutor in charge of the students is not allowed in the exam room.
The class is full of ladies, and my presence in the room is so conspicuous. I’m the only male around. At first, I thought the lessons are meant for females only. I was wrong.
“We accept all people, not ladies alone. Perhaps it is because of stereotypes or the African culture that men are not coming to enrol,” says Christine Wakesho, who doubles as the administrator and sales executive for Ujuzi Fursa Africa in Mombasa.
The majority of these students are fresh from high school. However, some have finished college and even university. One of them is a graduate with a bachelor of science in nursing. She came to get more hands-on experience and the certification that comes with the completion of the classes.
Some other students, Nzembi told me, are those with relatives abroad, who want to get the skill and go work out there.
“Caregivers and nurses earn better abroad than in Kenya. In addition, male nurses and caregivers are in a higher demand abroad than here. Unfortunately, we have very few male students here.”
In the room across from where the practical lessons are taking place, another group of 32 youths are learning by videos projected on a wall. These, Khanbhai says, are the ones sponsored by Swahilipot Hub. Today is their second day in class. They are expected to study for two months, proceed to internships for a month and come back to do exams.
Swahilipot Hub, a technology centre in Mombasa recently partnered with Ujuzi Fursa Africa to train coastal youth in nursing and home care skills. Swahilipot will pay about Ksh 2 million for 35 youths.
The training, which is largely technology and practical experience-oriented will enable the youth to earn nursing and caregiving skills. They are expected to get jobs in hospitals and private homes, in Kenya and abroad. The students are required to attend the daily classes for 8 hours a day. Two hours will be practical in the lab.
On the technology front, Ujuzi Fursa has provided the learners with tablets to facilitate the training. Every student has a tablet and headset. The gadgets are stored in the facility, and they only use them while in school.
Ujuzi Fursa Africa’s chief executive officer, Jinit Shah, says that there is a big demand for trained home caregivers in Mombasa, and they look forward to bridging the gap through the local youths’ training.
“Most of the people here in Mombasa who work as homecare givers are not Mombasa natives. They come from other parts of the country,” he said.
“It is hugely because of a lack of training institutions for such services. That’s why we have brought this opportunity for the locals.”
Ujuzi Fursa Africa, a social enterprise has been working and offering homecare services and training in Nairobi, until six months ago when it expanded into Mombasa. In the last five years, the enterprise has trained more than a thousand youth in Nairobi, and 40 in Mombasa in the last half-year.
Shah says the Covid-19 pandemic exposed a huge gap in homecare givers, not just in Mombasa but across the country. At the height of the pandemic, hospital beds were fully occupied and some patients were advised to recuperate from home. Then, the demand for professional home caregivers was so high that some nurses, according to media reports, had to juggle working in hospitals and at patients’ homes.
Mahmoud Noor, the executive director and founder of Swahilipot Hub says Covid-19 exposed the soft underbelly of Mombasa County in health care provision, a thing he says disturbed him so much.
“I remember working with some youths at Likoni Ferry crossing channel and even when the police became brutal and harmed some people,” he said.
“Those youths were so willing to help the injured people but they couldn’t do much because they had no know-how.”
Swahilipot Hub, through the Global Opportunity Youth Network, has consequently sponsored the youths to enrol in the 4 months programme. The programme costs Ksh 55, 000 per individual, and conventionally, one is supposed to pay for themselves.
Amina Mahmud, a volunteer at Swahilipot, and a health associate of the Global Opportunity Youth Network heads the Swahilipot caregivers’ program. Swahilipot Hub identified the 35 youth through its database and referrals from various community-based organisations in Mombasa County.
“Here at Swahilipot, we connect youths to opportunities for learning and jobs. So when one comes in, they give their details including their areas of interest,” Amina said.
“We went to the database and contacted those who have an interest in the healthcare field. We contacted them and did some interviews before we could narrow down to the fellows.”
The minimum qualifications for the candidates for the programme are a D+ (plus) KCSE grade and English language proficiency. However, the community health workers who have worked for some time are also eligible, even if they dropped off school in class eight.
Shah says that the 40 youths who have been trained in Mombasa have shown extraordinary skill and “a difference in caregiving.”
“The Coastal people we have realised are doing so well. They offer companionship, empathy and kindness to their patients, and these are important aspects which one can’t be trained to do,” Shah said.
After the training, the graduates will be taken for internships in hospitals and homes for health care services. They will also be linked to employment in Kenya and abroad. Upon completion of the programme, one is awarded three certificates from Kenya, USA and Singapore.
“In Kenya, the starting salary is Sh 24, 000 but with the certificates, one can work anywhere including the UK, Canada and even USA and out there the salary is big,” Shah said.
The member of Parliament for Mvita, Abdulswamad Nassir, witnessed the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding between Swahilipot Hub and Ujuzi Fursa Africa.
“This is a great opportunity for our youth, and we intend to use this first cohort as a study case so that we see how effective it can be and scale it up,” the MP said.
The program is open even to those who didn’t get the Swahilipot Hub sponsorship, and they will be paying the programme fee in weekly instalments. In addition, even those in college can enrol in the programme to diversify their skills and serve the community.