Muthoni Mate is the founder of Cancer café, a network that brings together people living with cancer connecting them with resources, information, networks they need to improve their quality of life as they go through treatment and after.
Through the forum, she aims to raise awareness, offer hope and support, and bring back the dignity taken away by cancer.
In collaboration with the Rotary club of Magharibi and The National Cancer Institute of Kenya, she aims to raise 900,000 Bonga for Good points equivalent to Ksh 270,000 that will feed 120 patients ( and their families) for one month.
Bonga for Good is a Safaricom initiative which is a response to the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the biggest being reduced income to the majority of Kenyans. The initiative empowers customers to donate their Bonga Points to those in need as a show of goodwill during this period.
“With the whole coronavirus situation, one of the key things that were coming up was getting proper nutrition to cancer patients who were still on medication or they are not able to support themselves to get that nutrition.
The weirdest thing about people who are living with chronic conditions is that food is a vital part of their wellness. In as much as your taking medicine, you cannot take medicine with poor nutrition. They go hand in hand. A lot of people were complaining about access to medicine, how do you get to healthcare, how do you get appointments? Right along with that is how do you get food?
How Did the Bonga Point Challenge begin?
With coronavirus, many people, especially cancer patients have not been able to focus on getting themselves adequate food. To many, food is for satisfaction purposes. “Nutritionally, it was not beneficial as it should be.”
“So the drive that we had was to try and find innovative ways of fundraising that are going to allow people to congregate funds in whatever way, using either Bonga points or M-Pesa or somebody…So that is how the Bonga Points challenge started.”
“We set a target of 9000000 Bonga, (I have no idea what I was thinking)… to feed 35 cancer patients and their families. Now they are catering for 140 families with cancer patients,” says Muthoni.
“We have realized a lot of people had a lot of Bonga Points on their phones…especially people of the older generation who have never retrieved them. So you had to walk them through *126# where to go and have them transfer them to (+254) 0722642953 .”
“The Bonga For Good points has been used 100 percent to buy the fortified food. It is part of the care package,” she says adding that they are able to convert M-Pesa contributions into Bonga Points to be able to add to the tally.
Muthoni says initially they had hoped to procure food from the local retail supermarkets because they are popular outlets for the Safaricom Bonga points. Fortunately, Safaricom made it possible for them to procure fortified food from a food bank that was cheaper and more nutritious.
“Thankfully, I always believe in serendipity. People coming together for a right course at the right time,” she says after they were linked with KAPU Africa, a food bank whose mission of eradicating hunger & malnutrition in Africa through the collaboration of farmers and beneficiaries to provide food and essentially a warm meal to those in dire need of it.
The nutritionally dense food is able to feed about 5 people in a meal. Ameal is Ksh 15.00 per person. And then you are able to feed more people. So we are able to cater for the cancer patient.
“It is a benefit that I had never thought about,” says Muthoni.
On the other hand, Millicent says, “It is more of a supplement, it has immunity boosters and the patients’ health has really improved.”
Muthoni speaks of a patient who had neuropathy, where one loses nerve sensation as a side effect of cancer treatment, but she was now feeling ok.
Muthoni, says they have streamlined the entire process in collaboration with the Rotary club of Magharibi and The National Cancer Institute of Kenya has been running a Bonga points food drive to gather up Safaricom bonga points and Mpesa from well-wishers and converting this into food to cater for the nutritional needs of cancer patients.
KAPU Africa is now providing nutritionally dense food, and with Community-based organizations, in particular, Stoma world Kenya and Symbol of Hope Warriors, to be able to assess the needy cases so that the food is targeted to persons with no alternatives.
Mate Muthoni, Sally Agallo Kwenda, Millicent Kagonga are both cancer survivors they meet me at the office to have a discussion about the cause.
Mate Muthoni, she is a breast cancer survivor.
Sally has survived cervical, colon, and rectum cancer and works at Stoma World Kenya, a colon cancer survivors network affiliated to the Kenya Cancer Association.
Millicent, is a cervical cancer survivor.
Together, they say their purpose is ‘to keep hope alive’.
For Sally, ones’ life totally changes once you are diagnosed with a chronic disease.
“Stigma is in two parts, I as a patient, you have self-stigma, you isolate yourself. External stigma where people become so sympathetic, as a patient, I need empathy not sympathy,” she says. “They look at you as a sick person even when you are able to do something.”
“What I really hate most about being sick is ‘chakula ya mgonjwa’ the patient’s food, I hate that word. People are in the same house, but they cook in two pots. One for the whole family and the other for the patient.”
“If it is eating, let us eat the same food. It also gives the patient appetite if we are sharing the same meal. I have seen patients just losing appetite because of that.”
The ladies also emphasize that information is need for caregivers and patients on how to communicate with patients because of the emotional and psychosocial impact they face.
“Involve patients in decision making. Involve that person in decisions about their life. They had an identity (before the illness). They need to see the patient as a person capable of decision making, even at that weakened state,” says Muthoni.
Muthoni also says life after treatment is an assumption that people take.
“Your life changes completely,” she says.
“What is lacking is awareness,” Millicent adds.
“What drove me to start the initiative, was when I was diagnosed in 2016 with breast cancer. Going through the process of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy, I had this notion that since I worked in the medical industry, it is going to be a walk in the park. But now once I got into the other side, of not being on the healthcare giving side but being a patient, that is when you realize there are many assumptions being made in the health care industry concerning what patients go through.”
I remember making a promise to mum at that time if I am going to finish up my treatment and come out of the other side be ok, I will definitely dedicate my life to help somebody.”
According to Muthoni, moving out from a clinical setting and putting people in a place that is not ‘with being vulnerable’ so that they can get information, for sure, it is something that has been a collaborative effort with a lot of people behind the scenes
As a parting shot, Muthoni says:
“You get to learn on this journey even on the work that we do. People want to help. There is humanity that we have as human beings especially as Kenyans. Kenyans would really want to help out. The only challenge is they only don’t where to go and find a person they can trust. That integrity to account for everything that comes in because at the end of the day even if you have millions and I am untrustworthy, but the minute I am able to verify, people are willing to come on board.
“You get to learn the beauty of human capital. Getting to invest in people. Investing in relationships. People need people.”