By Sheila Gabeya
After the morning with Fred in Narok, our next destination is Chabera, where the WVD team is eager to meet a man whose link to World Vasectomy Day is now legendary. George is Kenya’s most renowned vasectomy story and the man the co-founder, Jonathan Stack, credit with having inspired the launch of the event.
After getting temporarily lost again (how much character building does one team need?), the WVD team meets George at Sondu, a town just kilometres from his home in Chabera. George is not your typical celebrity; calm and collected, he does not want to invite the slightest attention to himself or his family. Still, he is very pleased to meet us and even tells me as I start taking pictures, “You have to tell me to smile because I don’t smile a lot.” Soon we arrive at his residence; a small and humble, but inviting bungalow set in a lushly green compound a few hundred meters away from the chaos of Chabera’s town center. There awaiting us are his wife Ruth and their five-year-old daughter Neda.
George is not only the opposite of a typical celebrity, he is also not your typical African man. Indeed, we soon learn that he has lived as an outcast from childhood. In a household of four wives and twenty five children, his was what he calls, “the D Family,” and as such never received the love or the attention of his father. George grew up in conditions similar to many African households that practice polygamy; basic needs were never met and he had to struggle his way through school.
Experiencing poverty and neglect, he decided at a very young age that he would not have any children and for ten years he and his wife Ruth, lived childless but satisfied. Then in 2011, with his wife suffering the affects of birth control, she got pregnant and they had an unplanned baby. To make matters more stressful, Ruth had serious complications during delivery and they were informed that if she had any more children she could die.
Fearful of the consequences of another unplanned pregnancy, George decided to take matters into his own hands. He went to a local internet café and after a bit of research discovered a procedure for men called a vasectomy. Everything he had heard made him concerned as the myths were frightening; such as vasectomy is castration, or that it will make you dumb, or not a complete man. But what George read on the other hand, made him curious. To learn more, he met with Dr. Charles Ochieng, a vasectomist based in Kisumu, who was working for Marie Stopes at the time. Dr. Ochieng told him that there was a vasectomy clinic scheduled to take place in Busia a month later and suggested he take advantage of the opportunity and travel there.
At the time, George and his family were living on the border of Tanzania, a 20 hour bus ride away. Going to Busia would be a major sacrifice, but in early May, he boarded a bus and headed off. George said, “My final word to Ruth was that unless I was convinced by all I saw, I would not risk the procedure.” Once there, he had a chance to talk with American urologist and co-founder of World Vasectomy Day, Dr. Doug Stein, who explained in detail everything about a vasectomy. Impressed by what he observed in Doug’s manner, knowledge and confidence, George proceeded without fear.
Now, 4 and a half years later, he is very comfortable with his decision.
Having many children does not mean you are well off or more of a man and too many children puts financial, emotional, and even spiritual strain on a family that makes life so difficult. I know my life is not easy, but with one child we can dream that Neda can emerge from poverty.
The stress of economic survival is not their only strain. George and Ruth are Kisii but Chabera happens to be predominantly Luo. Tribal clashes are common in these areas and they have experienced the violence that takes place when tribal clashes occur.
They walk us back to the compound where he was brought up, “It looks peaceful now, but it can explode overnight.” There we meet his brothers and sisters. As they stand near the spot where their mother was buried, George reminds us, “It was only a few years back after the elections that they attacked our home and stole all our possessions.” Fear for his family’s well-being inspires George to work extra hard. “My hope is to purchase a shamba closer to the center. We will be more secure there.”
Ruth appears to be of a very shy nature, but she is not shy about sharing the love she feels for her husband for having had a vasectomy. Ruth declares, “Many women here would oppose a vasectomy, but I trusted he would make the right decision.” Ruth, who was on birth control pills for ten years, says:
The side effects took a toll on my body but since then, I feel so much better. I tell you it was a relief that George decided to get a vasectomy.
It is obvious that Ruth has learned about the importance of family planning as shared decision making between men and women, “Let us hold hands and make decisions together.” And she wishes that more heal centers would teach men to take responsibility for Family Planning and consider getting a vasectomy when they know their families are complete.
After a night and day together, we witness how the support of a woman for her husband and a husband for his wife creates a strong bond and a loving home in which their lovely young daughter will grow up.
George’s parting words, “I did my vasectomy as an Act of Love for my wife and it was the best decision of my life”, send the team off on the road to Kisimu filled with respect and gratitude for George and his family. After four days on the road they are certain that although their mission is not an easy one, it is definitely a good one.
Donate to build a sustainable vasectomy outreach program in Kenya! We’re looking for $35,000. Will you help? https://igg.me/at/rrp0V1ZxLSw
About the Author: Sheila Gabeya is a 25-year-old Ugandan writer and photographer living in Nairobi, Kenya. She will be documenting World Vasectomy Day triumphs and challenges through her pictures and storytelling.
Photo: Sheila Gabeya