What is Art?

Art is the product of the reaction to something you love.


A Beautiful Delivery – The #Pumwani Hospital #Art Project

Last year, I fell in love with two things. Pumwani Hospital and the work of Dr. Wambui Waithaka and other committed and energetic doctors like her.

Pumwani Hospital is an Obstetric and Referral Hospital for delivery of expectant mothers in Nairobi and adjoining districts. Pumwani also caters to HIV+ mothers through its PMTCT program.  Daily normal deliveries are 50 – 100, and Caesarean Sections are 10 – 15. It is the largest maternity hospital in Kenya and Sub-Saharan Africa.

I was told that I should become a doctor, pilot or architect when I was growing up and because it was important, I suppressed my dream to follow what I actually knew I was – an artist. The last half of 2013 was about actively getting back to that place: Africana

It is in this time that serendipity crossed my path with the other Wambui’s – I can’t even remember how. Then somehow, I found myself at Pumwani with Wambui. And somehow, I heard myself committing to creating art pieces for the antenatal clinic.


Somehow the project took a life of its own. Then Kuona Trust put some money for materials, towards supporting the project through it’s Outreach Programs Grant. Then it seemed befitting to have more artists from Kuona be part of the project. Then Tonney Mugo made a stained glass panel. Then Mondeas decided to support the project further and Kevin Oduor said he wanted to make a sculpture garden bench.

Tonney Mugo’s stained glass panel in progress.

Somehow the project has continued to grow. Wambui Waithaka challenged me a little by asking why only a few pieces. So through Kuona Trust, I made a call to contemporary visual artists to donate art pieces. In the last couple of weeks we have been collecting art from all over Kenya.

It is powerful to see love extended in this way.

I have been selective about which pieces to include and the theme is around nurturing and hope and/ or mother and child. The pieces are by some well known Kenyan artists and they are of the same quality that you would expect from a private hospital that has a budget to commission artists.

Artwork in hospitals can serve as a positive distraction for what the patient is experiencing. It is the ultimate way to demonstrate the healing power of art and its utility beyond aesthetics.

In 2004, a clinical study* showed that placing original artworks within the healthcare environment had the following benefits:

  • Reduction in levels of anxiety, stress and depression
  • Reduction in patients’ length of stay within the hospital
  • Reduction in the use of some medications
  • Increase in staff morale

*Public Art in Health Spaces: http://www.publicartonline.org.uk/resources/research/healthcare_research_evaluation.php

It is because women like Wambui Waithaka exist that change can be effected through unlikely synergies. It is because of artists that we can bring joy and healing through something as underestimated as art.

We need more artists in this, our beloved Kenya. More artists alongside the doctors, pilots and architects.

In a couple of weeks, we will handover the art pieces to Pumwani Hospital and hopefully this will be the start of more projects that put contemporary art in healing places.

The Importance of the Humanities

Judith Butler and the Importance of the Humanities

[The humanities allow us] to learn to read carefully, with appreciation and a critical eye; to find ourselves, unexpectedly, in the middle of the ancient texts we read, but also to find ways of living, thinking, acting, and reflecting that belong to times and spaces we have never known. The humanities give us a chance to read across languages and cultural differences in order to understand the vast range of perspectives in and on this world. How else can we imagine living together without this ability to see beyond where we are, to find ourselves linked with others we have never directly known, and to understand that, in some abiding and urgent sense, we share a world?


You will need all of those skills to move forward, affirming this earth, our ethical obligations to live among those who are invariably different from ourselves, to demand recognition for our histories and our struggles at the same time that we lend that to others, to live our passions without causing harm to others, and to know the difference between raw prejudice and distortion, and sound critical judgment.

The first step towards nonviolence, which is surely an absolute obligation we all bear, is to begin to think critically, and to ask others to do the same.

via http://www.brainpickings.org

Fuck luck – a venn diagram on the preposterousness of chance.

“Fuck luck. It is an intentional coincidence.”

@jessicahagy puts a venn diagram to my thoughts on “becoming.”

#BabyRescue – Final Report


Pumwani Maternity hospital is the birthplace of Nairobi. With 354 beds and 150 baby cots; 60-80 deliveries everyday with 10-15 of these being caesarean section deliveries. The nursery (new born unit) admits 17-20 babies everyday and is the biggest and busiest in East and Central Africa. Pumwani mainly serves all of Nairobi (Eastlands areas mainly, up to Kangundo and Ruiru).

Pumwani Maternity Hospital is a Nairobi County hospital and the hospital and health workers are Nairobi County employees.

When the county workers issued and fulfilled a 7-day strike notice in September 2013, the hospital was closed.

Because of the strike, pregnant mothers coming to the hospital to deliver were turned away and had to find their own way to surrounding public hospitals.

Only one media outlet, The Star newspaper carried the story on the hospital’s closure on the morning before the BabyRescue campaign was launched.


BabyRescue was initiated on the 10th of September 2013 by Dr. Wambui Waithaka, Alice Odera and Wambui Wamae Kamiru and kept running by Kenyans of goodwill. It was supported by Safaricom Ltd. and Kenya Red Cross Eplus.

The BabyRescue campaign’s aims were:

  1. To provide a temporary solution by providing transportation to transport mothers in labour safely from the closed Pumwani hospital gate to other operational hospitals (namely Kenyatta National Hospital, Mbagathi Hospital and Mama Lucy Hospital).
  2. To raise awareness on the closure of the Pumwani Hospital, in order for mothers to make alternative arrangements to seek treatment in other facilities based on that information.

The BabyRescue campaign was about ensuring that mothers in labour who go to Pumwani Maternity to seek medical attention are provided with safe and fast transit to hospitals that are operational.

Stationed outside the hospital on standby was a Kenya Red Cross Eplus ambulance. This ambulance was in place to transfer women from the Pumwani Hospital to surrounding hospitals.

The Kenya Red Cross Eplus ambulance supported the single Pumwani Maternity ambulance which was scantily staffed and stretched due to the strike. The KRC Eplus ambulatory service was provided at no charge to any woman in need.

The charge was covered by citizens of good will through the BabyRescue Campaign.

Kenya Red Cross waived all charges for the paramedics and only charged for the ambulance fees at a rate of Ksh. 30,000 per day.

The ambulance was just a stop gap temporary measure and was in the right place and at the right time for mothers in medical emergencies.

To pay for the costs of the ambulance, we set up a Safaricom MPESA Pay bill account.

Pay bill Business no. 939310, Account no. B

Safaricom zero-rated this Pay bill No. so that all the donations we receive from you go directly to #BabyRescue

We then pushed for crowd funding through traditional and social media using #BabyRescue as the hashtag.

Kenya Red Cross (KRC) Involvement in BabyRescue

On Tuesday 10th September 2013, the KRC began the Eplus Ambulance standby outside Pumwani hospital. Over the three days that followed KRC Eplus rescued four women and their babies. The women were between the ages of 21 and 28; (21, 22, 23 and 28) One of the women had previously had children through C-section and would likely have been a candidate for this procedure this time around. Two of the women were past their delivery dates and the other two were in various stages of labour.

The women were transferred during high traffic periods of the day, three to Mama Lucy Hospital (Kayole) and one to Kenyatta National Hospital.

KRC Eplus provided the ambulances at a discounted rate of Ksh.30,000 (discounted by 16%), waiving the cost of paying for the four emergency personnel on board the ambulance who worked in shifts for the duration of the campaign.

The total cost of maintaining the ambulance on standby came to Ksh. 90,000 for the three days (72 hours).

Dr. Abbas Gullet, MBS Secretary General of the Kenya Red Cross had the following to say about the ambulances and emergency team:

We remain committed to provide professional emergency care to exclusively evacuate stranded expectant mothers.
Our Advanced Cardiac life support Ambulances are well-equipped and will ensure that trained Paramedics and Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT’s) attend to the mothers in labour, administer intravenous fluids (IV fluids), oxygen when necessary, deliver those that have precipitate labour (emergency delivery).
Our medics are trained in handling labour complications and each ambulance is equipped with emergency delivery kits and the relevant maternity medication for pregnant women besides the instruments to monitor the foetal heart rate.

Safaricom Ltd. Involvement in BabyRescue

Safaricom Ltd. Set up a zero-rated Paybill number on Tuesday, 10th  September 2013. This enabled the public to come to the rescue of the women through crowd funding.  The Paybill number was pushed through various media, traditional and social (Facebook and Twitter).

The three initiators of the BabyRescue Campaign at the beginning committed a total of Ksh. 40,000 (roughly the cost of one day of ambulance standby). This figure significantly dropped through the goodwill of citizens who contributed to BabyRescue through the Paybill.

In total, through active campaign, BabyRescue raised Ksh. 79, 043. The three initiators contributed Ksh. 10, 957 to bring the total to Ksh. 90,000 which settled the bill accrued by keeping the ambulance on stand-by.

Over 180 people contributed through the Paybill with the lowest amount being Ksh. 1 and the highest being Ksh. 3,000.

By zero-rating the Paybill, it meant that all contributions, every single shilling went to the campaign and kept the ambulance on standby.

Media Awareness and BabyRescue

Before the campaign began, the story of Pumwani’s closure had only been carried in the Nairobi Star.

The campaign initiators mobilized media around the closure and possible crisis, involving the engaging media houses within the first six hours of the campaign:

  • Standard Group (KTN)
  • Radio Africa (Kiss FM)
  • Royal Media Group (Hot96, Citizen News)
  • K24

The #BabyRescue campaign was launched on media on Hot96 (Royal Media Services) during the Drive-Time Show on the 10th of September 2013.

Within 12 hours, all the major news outlets were covering the story. This dramatically reduced the number of women who came to the closed Pumwani Hospital to seek medical attention. In that time, the campaign was actively being pushed through:

  • Capital FM
  • Radio Africa (Kiss FM)
  • Nation Media Group

Prior to focusing media attention on Pumwani, several women had been turned away from the closed hospital.

While traditional media became the primary form of communication on the closure of the hospital and the need to fundraise for BabyRescue, social media, acted as a secondary rallying point.

Through the #BabyRescue, the campaign trended at number three on the first day of activation against #ICCTrial and other related topics.


The BabyRescue campaign was initiated by three women, Wambui Waithaka, Alice Odera and Wambui Kamiru.

In the three days that the campaign was active, it was evident that it is within the power of the people to make a change. It was Kenyans on Twitter (#KOT) who directed the conversation on raising money for the campaign and together with the media, kept the focus on what was important.

The safety of mothers to-be and the health of the babies were central and paramount to the campaign and together we challenged the situation.

#BabyRescue and You

The worst thing is reading from a newspaper, about a maternity hospital being closed.

Not just any maternity hospital, but the largest and busiest maternity hospital in East and Central Africa.

It means that 60 – 80 women, daily are not getting the medical care, even when the system offers it for free. 10 – 15 of these are emergency cases that require C-Sections. Daily.

We can’t vilify the council workers who are on strike. They have to fight for their salaries, what have been broken promise after broken promise over pay.

But you and I cannot wait to read another story in the press about a mother who died while giving birth because she could not access free medical care at Pumwani Hospital. It cannot be our continuing statistic when strikes happen. We cannot let a mother die and leave a family motherless, because chances are, she has other children at home.

By the time a woman turns up at the gates of Pumwani to seek medical help to deliver her baby, she is likely nearly in the final stage of labour. Which means that the baby is on its way. She can’t be turned away at the gate to find a taxi (if she can afford it) or a matatu (which will allow her onboard, knowing how messy birth is).

With #BabyRescue we are working to save two lives who did not choose this particular set of circumstances to be born in. These are Nairobi women in our city, in our country.

You don’t have to sit and be frustrated with the system because in this moment it has failed the women. You don’t have to fail them.

I am a mother and had it not been for the doctor who attended to me, I would be dead. I was that emergency case. Only that I could afford a hospital that does not close over a strike.

With two friends, Dr. Wambui Waithaka a medical doctor who works at Pumwani Hospital and Alice Odera, founder of Pretty Influential, we initiated #BabyRescue

We initiated it, but it is up to all of us to keep it going. We can’t do it alone. You have a part of play. Those women are mothers to be of our babies. Our Kenyan babies.

Let the dialogue continue over long term solutions, but in the meantime, we need to rescue mothers to-be and babies.

The #BabyRescue campaign is about ensuring that mothers in labour who go to Pumwani Maternity to seek medical attention are provided with safe transit to hospitals that are operational.

Stationed outside the hospital on standby is a Kenya Red Cross ambulance. This ambulance is transiting women from the hospital to surrounding hospitals.

The Kenya Red Cross ambulance is supporting the single Pumwani Maternity ambulance that is currently scantily staffed and stretched. The service is at no charge to any woman in need. The charge will be covered by citizens of good will (you and I).

Kenya Red Cross has waived all charges for the paramedics and is only charging the ambulance fees at a rate of Ksh 30000 per day.

The ambulance is just a stop gap temporary measure but so far it has been in the right place and at the right time for mothers in medical emergencies.

To pay for the costs of the ambulance, we set up a Safaricom MPESA Pay bill account.

Pay bill Business no. 939310, Account no. B

Safaricom zero-rated this Pay bill No. so that all the donations we receive from you go directly to #BabyRescue.

Please contribute where you can to keep the ambulance present at the hospital.


Kenya Red Cross Ambulance outside Pumwani Hospital paid for by you through #BabyRescue


“Somebody Almost Walked Off with All of My Stuff.”

A poem by Ntozake Shange. Excerpt from “For Coloured Girls Who Considered Suicide When the Rainbow was Enough.”

I want my flea bit leg back. Yes, all my imperfections, I want them because they are me. Don’t go showing them off to strangers. Those imperfections are mine. Just like the perfections. That is all my stuff.