Written by Our Support Sponsors:
Martin is 30 years of age and already has been through much more than most of us ever will in our lifetime. He lives in Dandora which has a reputation for being a slum and full of uneducated people. Martin is not defined by this stereotype definition of Dandora. “Circumstances do not have to define one's character”, he eloquently says.
Martin was born in Dandora to a family bombarded by poverty, alcohol and drugs. His father was a drug peddler and thus drugs to him were but a regular daily interaction. He tells about how his father blatantly sifted his marijuana leaves and seeds right in front of him and his brother. He started inhaling the smoke before he even knew how to read. By the time he finished primary school, he was already hooked to the drug and aiding his father in selling and making of ‘bhang’ cigarettes.
Despite all this, Martin still managed to qualify to go to Starehe Boys Centre. This is one of, if not the academic giant in Kenya for secondary education. During his time in school, business was booming! “I used to sell to most of the rich kids in my school at exorbitant prices since Starehe has students of all social classes. It was easy.” Martin was a student by day and businessman by night. Balancing supply and demand with ease.
One would think that all the ‘extracurricular’ activities would result in a drop in Martin’s performance, but no. At the end of his four years in the school, he attained the grade A in his KCSE. After the good news of his performance, he was offered a place in Nairobi University to further his studies. That’s when life threw a curveball at him. His father couldn’t afford the fee and besides, he had a younger brother who also needed to go to school. According to his father, that was enough education for him. This sent him spiralling. He began to smoke more and indulged in alcohol taking. He had no future plans after all and we all know what a devil’s workshop an empty mind can be.
The dilemma of fuelling his addictions became obvious to him. He needed money to buy more alcohol. This led him to seek out work at a nearby quarry where he blasted rocks all day with only a mallet and his bare hands. This was tough work and offered very little pay. Sometimes he would work till his nose bled and his palms were riddled with blisters. Inhaling the constant dust also left him with respiratory problems. His health was a concern to him but his addiction was prioritized above all. Due to his good results, he managed to secure a job as a lab assistant in a high school. All the while he was indulging in alcohol more than ever. This was however short lived when the school board decided to cut down on expenses, resulting in his termination.
After a few months, Martin got another job in a prominent bread making factory in the country. He started at the bottom as a packer for the loaves of bread. He later became a slicer, worked in the ovens and ultimately an assistant manager. He climbed up the ladder within a 7 year period. During the 7 year period, his health did not improve and his addictions were getting worse. His father passed away and he had to step up and care for his younger brother. He realised this was not the life he wanted to live and he did not want to be a negative influence to his younger brother. He made the decision to turn over a new leaf. Martin sought comfort in Christ and never looked back again. He married and started a family. He is blessed with two sons who mean the world to him.
It was later that the effects of his previous lifestyle started to affect him. The onset was constant chest pain and coughing. He also had difficulty breathing and lost a tremendous amount of weight in a short period of time. He sought medical aid at the nearby Dandora Health Centre and was diagnosed with both pneumonia and TB. The diseases had left him very weak and unable to go to work. His wife who has a local tailoring business cared for him and their children while he was fighting to regain his health. He was too weak to put bread on the table for his family.
Martin tells me of how defeated by the disease he felt before he got treatment. It is a feeling he never wishes to experience again and would not want anyone to. He was particularly scared for his wife and children since they live together in close quarters. To protect his family from the infection of TB he ensures that his family get a balanced diet. He ensures the children in particular have immunity boosters as well such as vitamin supplements. He says it has been his daily commitment to protect his family from the disease and he has taken the initiative to talk to his friends about TB. He says that there is a lot of misconstrued information about TB and majority of the people have no idea of how to protect themselves from the disease. People infected by TB can even sometimes be shunned by society. Most people assume that patients with TB are infected with AIDS. This has brought about community stigma over the disease and led to some people suffering from it to hide it from those close to them. This has resulted in poor management of the disease, leading to easy spread, especially within the family unit.
Martin lost a close friend to TB and believes that the lack of information about the disease as well as non-adherence to taking medication was the reason his friend passed away. He constantly has this at the back of his mind. Losing a friend to a curable disease was a bitter pill to swallow for Martin. To ensure drug adherence, Martin enrolled for the Keheala services to ensure that he gets daily reminders to take his medication as well as get more information about the disease at the push of a button. Working with Keheala as a team to combat TB has given him constant motivation to be a health hero. Martin is doing well in his treatment and is expected to complete his continuous phase treatment in the next 4 months. He is an ambassador for TB awareness and will gladly tell his story to anyone who will listen, hoping that this will empower those affected or infected by TB as well as empower people in life.