Lilian Kaivilu @liliankaivilu
To Ajukwony Samal Aukot, getting children was almost guaranteed after getting married more than 15 years ago. As a newly married woman, Aukot looked forward to being a mother, a status that is regarded in high esteem in her Lolupe village in Turkana Central sub county. Today, she is a mother of 10 children.
She gave birth to her first child when she was about 20 years. On this particular afternoon, we find Aukot,44, arranging files at the nearby Lolupe dispensary. She has just completed her cleaning assignment at the health facility.
“Since I was a little girl, I had a lot of interest in sanitation. I would go from house to house encouraging people to dig toilets,” she narrates. So far, the now community health worker has led her community in constructing 175 toilets.
But this is just part of her work as a community health worker. Aukot is vocal about family planning, a topic deemed taboo in most parts of Turkana county. Although the county ranks low in the uptake of popular family planning and contraceptive use, Aukot takes us through little-known traditional methods of child spacing that the community has used over the years.
“My neighbours have used the method when they wanted to stop giving birth,” she narrates. Once a family is satisfied with the children that they have, Aukot explains, a woman has a number of options to adopt for family planning.
All you need, she adds, is your husband’s consent. “You see, many of us use what was traditionally introduced to us as a means of family planning. We mainly prefer sheep oil,” she says. In the traditional Turkana culture, the oil is believed to prevent the woman from conceiving.
“All you need to do is to take about four spoons of boiled sheep oil, after smearing a good amount of if all over your body. This is enough to close your reproductive system for good. I have witnessed it,” she says with confidence.
The women first boil the oil from a sheep that is slaughtered by the husband. Usually, the sheep is slaughtered on the day that the woman gives birth. The oil is then boiled in a sufuria and left to cool before the mother applies it all over her body and traditional beads. The woman then takes in four spoons of the oil.
“Once you swallow this, you cannot conceive. It has worked for many women over the years,” she says. Health workers in the area, however, say that although the method is popular in the region, it has not been proven medically right. In her daily work, Aukot is a community health worker in charge of 44 children.
As part of her duty, she encourages women to adopt family planning; something she says is not easy. “Traditionally, our community valued children. They see them as a source of wealth.
But we are slowly trying to bring in the aspect of family planning,” she explains. In this community, other families opt to let their husbands away for two to three years in search for pasture for his livestock. The husband departs a few days after the wife has given birth. “We believe that the husband’s absence is a good opportunity for a woman to stay off sex for those years.
This allows our women to space their children without using any contraceptives,” she says. According to Geryson Lotot, the Lolupe community health extension worker, the community is slowly changing their perception towards new and proven methods of family planning.
“We are keen on community dialogue and that is the approach we use to engage the community,” he says. Lotot, however, says it is the women who come for contraceptives from the health facility. “In a month, we get about 40 women coming for family planning commodities. The commonest is the injection,” he adds.