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. In Kenya, this school is known as an academic giant for secondary education. During his time in school, Martin found that he could easily sell marijuana to his classmates. “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.”
One might think that these ‘extracurricular activities’ would result in a drop in Martin’s performance, but he still managed to excel. At the end of his four years in the school, he attained a grade A in his KCSE. After his graduation, he was offered a place in Nairobi University to further his studies. Unfortunately, his father couldn’t afford the tuition, as he was paying for his younger brother to attend secondary school. Martin began to smoke and drink regularly. He no longer had any plans for the future.
Martin soon realized that he needed money to buy alcohol and drugs, to fuel his addiction. He began working 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 until his nose bled and his palms were riddled with blisters. Inhaling the constant dust left him with respiratory problems. Martin was concerned for his health, but his addiction was prioritized above all.
After a few months, Martin got another job in a prominent bread making factory. He started at the bottom, packing loaves of bread for delivery. He worked in the factory for seven years, and ultimately became an assistant manager. During this 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. Martin realized that he didn’t want to be a negative influence on 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, and is blessed with two sons who mean the world to him.
A few years later, Martin began to feel the effects of his previous lifestyle. It began with 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 left him very weak and unable to go to work. His wife, who owned a local tailoring business, cared for him and their children.
Martin told me about how defeated by the disease he felt before he got treatment. It was a feeling he never wished to experience again. He was particularly scared for his wife and children, since they lived together in close quarters. To protect his family from the infection of TB, he was careful that his family eat a balanced diet. He ensured that his children had immunity boosters, as well as vitamin supplements.
Martin took the initiative to educate his community about TB. He says that there is a lot of misconstrued information about TB the disease, and many people don’t know how to protect themselves. People infected by TB can even sometimes be shunned by society, as many assume that patients with TB are also infected with AIDS. The negative stigma has led to a trend of hiding the disease, and suffering without treatment. This practice has made it easy for TB to spread, especially within families.
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. Losing a friend to a curable disease was a bitter pill for Martin to swallow. Martin enrolled for the Keheala services to ensure that he gets daily reminders to take his medication, as well as access to more information about the disease. Working with Keheala to combat TB has given him constant motivation to be a health hero.
Martin successfully completed treatment in June 2016. 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.