Public Health Student Founds Medical Facility in Kenya

By Purnell T. Cropper | April 23, 2010

By Dave Reale ’09

Graduate student Kelly Sykes’ work in Kenya started in Kibera, one of the most crowded slums in eastern Africa.  She worked at a clinic gaining valuable experience as well as a love of the country and its people. It was a start, but she knew there was more she could do.

“The clinic treated primarily those who were of the Luo ethnic group, and tended to charge money,” she says. “I wanted to work at a clinic where anyone could come and be treated for free.”  Her idea has since become the essence of her clinic’s mission statement to provide quality health care to those who would not otherwise receive it.

Registered with the government as a 10-bed hospital, Strawberry Fields Clinic is a non-profit medical facility in Kenya nearing its second year of operation. Started in July 2008 with the help of Cyprian Lumumba, a Tanzanian medical doctor whom Sykes had previously worked with organizing free medical camps in Kenya, the medical center now treats hundreds of people of various tribes and ethnicities each week.

From the beginning the locals and surrounding communities welcomed Sykes and soon became protective of her, from helping her to buy supplies at “non-mzungu,” or non-foreigner prices, to making sure she got home before dark. “The people there are so resilient, and they are thankful for everything.  When I’m among these people it feels like home, and where I am meant to be.”

In March 2009, after only a few months of operation, the clinic suffered a setback after it was robbed at gunpoint by several men who proceeded to strip the clinic of every piece of equipment, medical or otherwise. “It was discouraging because all we try to do is help the community, but in a place that is so stricken by poverty, it’s sort of understandable why we were robbed.”

Since then the clinic has become more organized and efficient. Originally a single open room, the facility has been divided into a pharmacy, an examination room, and a child delivery room.

Though Sykes tries to get back to Kenya as often as possible, her pursuit of a dual master’s degrees in Physician Assistant and Public Health limits the amount of time she can spend there during the year.  Yet as much as she hates to be away, Sykes’s experience in Arcadia’s Public Health program has proven to be invaluable to the success of the clinic.

“The Public Health program allowed me to see health in a new way, more aligned with the World Health Organization’s definition of health—a state of complete physical, mental, and social-well being.”

While Sykes is at school here in the United States during the year, Cyprian runs the clinic, updating Sykes everyday. She hopes to get back as often as she can until she graduates in 2012, when she will move there to work full-time.