Father, daughter work to build health center in Kenya - Albuquerque Journal

Father, daughter work to build health center in Kenya

Belinda Jivetti, left, and her dad Billy Jivetti, together are working on providing health care in Kenya via the Fellbaum Health Center. Billy Jivetti founded the center in 2012. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

Billy Jivetti is one with helping his community.

It’s a skill that he’s passing on to his daughter, Belinda, who is a freshman at Atrisco Heritage Academy High School.

The father-daughter duo continue to work to put together the Fellbaum Community Health Centre in Kenya.

Belinda is involved in a global health project – working with her parents to provide health care in her community in Kenya. She traveled to Kenya last summer, and is set to travel again this year.

“We caught up with the family we haven’t seen in a while, and had a classic Kenyan meal of ugali, mboga and cultured milk,” Belinda said. “The taste of being home was definitely in the food.”

The trip was not all fun and games, as Jivetti was helping assist the locals in the area.

“We also tried to take school supplies to Kenya. So we also did a school supplies distribution where we give pens, pencils, soccer balls, to our local schools around,” he said. “Professionally, I was also on an international fellowship at a nearby university, where I was mentoring graduate students in research.”

Jivetti currently serves as a research scientist at the University of New Mexico and the project in Kenya is one of his passions.

While on the trip, Belinda accompanied her father to see some of the things he was doing.

“I would visit the university he was working with at the time, and also made a few trips to the house center that was being built,” Belinda said.

Back to basics

While in Kenya, Belinda got an opportunity to get reacquainted with her roots.

“After about two weeks in Kaimosi we traveled to spend a little over a week in Bungoma and it was there I met my mom’s aunt and my cousin Nelson,” Belinda said. “Sometimes due to the weather, the power would go out and this taught me that even in the literal dark times you still have your family.”

The power outages were a surprise as she’s not used to them in Albuquerque.

“One thing that was different was just the way things were like the internet,” Belinda said. “I automatically connect to the internet and use my phone without a second thought but over there it takes the time to connect, or having my own hotspot for something like the power go out.”

Internet became available in Kenya in 1993.

Jivetti said experiencing the outage was eye-opening for his daughter because she went without free internet for the first time in her life.

“So she’s talking about the digital divide and free accessible,” Jivetti said. “… We use cellphones to connect online so you purchase bundles.”

This is where Jivetti’s life in Kenya provide crucial lessons for Belinda.

“My father grew up watching people struggle to afford or find nearby health care, and thought to help his community,” Belinda said. “His mother came to him and said she saw it in a vision when he went to tell everyone else about the plans he had in store, and that was just the start, as the Fellbaum Health Centre is now a reality and thriving.”

Jivetti started the Fellbaum Community Health Centre in 2012 and named it after Lloyd Fellbaum, his friend’s late cousin.

“I am one of the very few from the community to be fortunate to study, work and live in America,” Jivetti said. “So the community expectations are way up here from health, education, water and supporting one or two people with a scholarship, so I try to go as much as I can to see family since my mother is about 85 years old.”

Working for change

Jivetti grew up in Western Kenya in a family of 10 and would walk three miles to attend school.

“I understand the issues of their needs, be it waking up and there is not internet, or something that we take for granted as a refrigerator,” he said. “As being able to live or study in America is a blessing that a lot of people don’t have access to.”

Rice was considered a luxury so the family could only afford it during major ceremonies or holidays.

When Jivetti left Kenya for the United States in 2002, hundreds of locals came to sing, dance and give speeches on his behalf.

“We both share the dream for the health center for the community so I’m waiting to catch up with the construction part of it,” Jivetti said. “During the corporate period, there was a lockdown in the country and a lot of people had not visited our health center for a long time and there was a lot of sickness undiagnosed in the community.”

Primary health care is a struggle in Kenya as there is a 33.4% mortality rate from childhood malaria and 10% from infant mortality, according to Jivetti.

The son of a teacher, Jivetti was the only child in his village who owned a pair of shoes.

“I speak several native languages in Western Kenya and I also speak a national language called Swahili that has also been adapted to several international contexts,” he said. “We use English as our official language of instruction and business and all that.”

Though they have been hard at work for this crucial project, the job is not done.

“We are praying for a miracle to complete the ground floor so we can commence service to the people,” Jivetti said.

The health center is over halfway complete but there is still work.

“I’m working on shipping containers of medical equipment through an organization in Colorado, that is costing me around $30,000,” Jivetti said.

Thankfully, there is more in store for Fellbaum.

“And then also we would like to invite medical professionals who can come on short term visits, to treat people with illnesses … when we conduct the medical services,” Jivetti said. “So some specialists around such as graduate students to do research, who have the capacity to come in and just for a week or can make a big difference help bring these issues, to knowledge.”

The father and daughter hope to bring awareness to this issue.

“We also need help in putting this information on our website we don’t have currently,” he said. “Anybody out there willing to help us come up with our website, so that we can reach out to students and inspire them.”

Once completed it will be the closest health facility for 25,000 people in the immediate area and up to 75,000 more in neighboring communities.

After leaving Kenya for brighter opportunities, Jivetti wants to help brighten their future.

“It came full circle as when I left, I was single and I was just a graduate student,” he said. “So this time we went on a bus and meeting her grandmother, was such a moment to behold for the three of us.”

For Belinda, the opportunity to return to Kenya cannot come soon enough.

“Just having company is always amazing, even though they teased me because they thought I couldn’t understand Swahili,” Belinda said.

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