Right from the start and while concentrating mainly on the secondary school, Materi investigated obvious local needs and tried to help out the local community. One of the first initiatives was to tart a well-stocked and daily Medical Dispensary for the students and local Tunyai/Kithino community. Before then, sick people had to travel 30km on a rough road to Nkubu to seek treatment.
Very soon thereafter, and observing that about 31 per cent of the children under the age of five years died too early in life, with mothers also losing their life in child birth, the Centre began its maternal Child and Mother Health Care Unit, first staffed by a religious order of Irish Franciscan nuns and a team of local nurses and nursing aides. The unit provided medical, and sometimes, nutritional relief, mainly from the US through the Catholic Relief Services, as malnutrition then and still is a serious prevalent condition in the community around the Centre. Even today, 35 years later, the Tunyai/Kithino area lacks a single hospital, a single doctor or dentist, piped treated drinking water or electricity among others.
But thanks to loving care, responsible follow up and visits to local homes and the setting up of numerous kitchen gardens in the area, child mortality and morbidity dropped dramatically from 31% to about 3% today. The unit still runs today within the Centre.
In 1997 the Centre, with generous funding from Finnida and Save the Children (Helsinki) started the Tharaka Primary Health Care project or PHC, to serve the people of South Tharaka, especially the 24,000 residents of upper South Tharaka. Like so many other projects, it fell under direction of Materi Girls’ Centre and her legal holder, the Catholic Diocese of Meru.
Its principle beneficiaries were to be mothers and children in this rural, undeveloped region but not to the exclusion of men, schools and market places.
The major reasons for the establishment of this project were:
Poorly developed health infrastructure
Poor access to preventative and promotional health care services, especially immunisation and
Lack of awareness in the use of available, simple and effective health interventions.
Lack of training of health workers in the effective delivery of PHC interventions.
Ineffective health worker supervision.
The main objectives of the MCH were;
To alleviate crippling poverty and strengthen the socio-economic conditions in the area by reducing morbidity and mortality.
To improve the nutritional status of child-bearing women and children under the age of 5 years.
To strengthen the environment through safe water delivery, achievable sanitation systems and home improvement plans.
To control malaria, HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases.
To promote greater health education in the schools.
To give ill-developed communities greater access to advocacy programs and funding schemes.
In short, the project was concerned not only with disease prevention and control but more so on health promotion and delivery services. The complete physical, mental and social well-being of the individual was to be addressed.
It also sought to help individuals and communities to be more self-reliant, to improve through their own efforts and with minimal external assistance, in bettering their all-important health status.
Initially planned to be a three-year funded scheme, the PHC initiative ran for 11 years, served nearly 30,000 men, women and children and institutions, before it had to cease operations due to lack of adequate resources. During those eleven years, the project carried out valiant and very effective strategies and programmes in:
The selection and training of 200 health care volunteers.
Ran weekly training sessions/workshops for local leaders and its principal beneficiaries.
Conducted integrated practical educational interventions in the areas of water sanitation, nutrition, infectious diseases especially malaria
School health clubs, reproductive health and home improvement.
The PHC project won the first ever and very prestigious National Health Insurance Fund award in 2004 in Public Health Education and delivery. The award was presented to Materi at internationally famous Mt Kenya Safari Club in Nanyuki. A cash donation of $5,000 also accompanied the plaque.