This blog post was originally posted on Upworthy.com as part of a project with Girls’ Globe, Upworthy and Johnson & Johnson.

When Jack Hisard was a young boy, he lost both his parents, one after the other, to diseases that could have been cured — if they had lived in other parts of the world.

First, Jack lost his father to malaria when he was only four years old.

“I remember that night clearly in my head because his last moments were spent sitting next to me in our small grass thatched hut in the village,” he writes in an email. “There was no hospital nearby where he could be treated.”

Jack’s Father. All photos by Mama Clinic/YouTube

Malaria’s considered a Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD), which affect more than 1 billion people in over 149 tropical and subtropical countries. While these diseases are preventable, it’s estimated that 57 million years of life is lost due to premature disability and death from NTDs.

After Jack’s father’s death, life for his family became tough. His mother couldn’t provide for herself or her children for a number of reasons including the fact that she suffered from depression. Then, just two years after his father passed away, she had a stroke and died too.

The period after her death was difficult to say the least, but Jack was determined to find a way take care of his remaining family.

So, when he was just nine years old, he started fishing in Lake Victoria to pay for his school fees and feed his two younger siblings. He did this while still going to school, because he believed an education would ultimately make a difference in his life.

Jack (right) fishing with other kids from his village.

“Life was tough but my belief in education never faded,” he writes.

There were still some times when he couldn’t pay all of the fees associated with school so he had to miss some of it,  but he still remained the top student in his class for many years. Finally, thanks to all his hard work and dedication, he managed to graduate high school and secure scholarships that would take care of his college tuition.

But while he was in high school and college, he was thinking about how to solve the problem of the lack of health services in rural areas like his hometown.

Jack had witnessed firsthand how devastating preventable diseases can be to a community when they have limited access to health care. Aside from his parents, he saw close friends, relatives and neighbours succumb to malaria and other treatable diseases.

In their village, homeopathic medicine had been the main medicinal resource for as long as he could remember, because people could easily access the herbs they needed.

“I remember the many times I accompanied my grandmother, an herbalist, to go deep into the forest to dig for roots and tree barks which would be used as medicine for various ailments,” recalls Jack.

When it came to assisting births, traditional midwives would conduct deliveries on the floors of people’s grass thatched houses. These midwives and healers didn’t wear gloves or use any form of sterilization. They would use boiling salt water to clean wounds after deliveries and, if complications arose during a delivery, lives would be lost because they didn’t have the lifesaving tools one might find in hospitals.

So he decided he’d find a way to bring better health care to his community. That’s when Mama Clinic was born.

Mama Clinic provides primary healthcare services, outpatient and inpatient care and free maternal and child health care services to people in rural Kenya. Jack started the organization back in 2012, when he was only 19 years old. In just the last six years, it’s served over 40,000 patients.

The clinic has a lab, which allows for proper screening for diseases and reliable diagnosis. They currently have 42 beds available and 14 full-time employees to attend to patients. Jack has also built partnerships with national hospitals to ensure that patients who are severely ill can be referred or transferred for more specialized care. In keeping with their mission of providing access to quality and affordable healthcare to all in rural Kenya, Mama Clinic currently manages two satellite clinics in two other remote districts in the country.

Beyond what the facility provides, Mama Clinic also conducts Community Health Outreach programs where volunteers walk from village to village providing free health screenings and treatment to the villagers who cannot go to the facility.

“No other child should have a loved one die to a Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD), and mothers need a safe place to deliver their babies near their homes” says Jack. “My experiences as a child shaped my dreams. I knew I wanted to be a doctor… a doctor who wants to make a difference in his community because I don’t want to see another child go through what I had to go through, to live without the care and love of a parents”he explains in his Youtube video for Mama Clinic.

A mother and child at Mama Clinic.

Unfortunately he’s up against a number of obstacles. The high rates of malnutrition and the broken health care system in Kenya make people vulnerable to contracting NTDs.

Right now Kenya lacks operating facilities, medication and professionals. A mere 4,300 doctors currently work in the public healthcare sector for the country’s 38.6 million people.

What’s more, in 2017, it was estimated that around 9 million people in the country are undernourished, according to a report released by the United Nations last year. Severe malnutrition stunts growth and makes children more susceptible to diseases because it weakens their immune systems. High rates of malnutrition are also affecting almost 40,000 pregnant and nursing mothers in Kenya and their babies.

Malnutrition in childhood and pregnancy can be very dangerous. Women who are malnourished while pregnant face higher risks of mortality during labor and premature births. These are exactly the types of problems Jack’s Mama Clinic is trying to address by bringing a functioning health care facility full of professionals to his underserved community. His initiative makes screenings and treatment more accessible, which in turn is helping combat these treatable health problems.

Jack knows that in order to offer the most comprehensive health care, he’s got to flesh out his education even more.

Jack with a young patient.

That’s why he’s currently attending Michigan State University where he’s studying public health and nutrition, and focusing on the epidemiology of diseases and their relation to nutrition. He wants to learn how poor nutrition can make it easier for people to contract NTDs, because that’s such a huge problem in rural Kenya.

His next step is to become a medical doctor so he can acquire the expertise and experience to better attend to his patients, expand Mama Clinic’s work and run it long term.

He knows that this knowledge is essential for him to run the best health clinic he can and ultimately save more lives in his community.

But perhaps what’s most rewarding for Jack is seeing how his  dedication to education is inspiring other kids in his village to follow in his footsteps.

As the first person in his village to go to college, he hopes his story will also lead to more of them attending university. “It became my dream to give that hope to other people,” he says.

Despite growing up in challenging conditions, living in a slum and losing his parents at a young age, he exceeded expectations at school, received a full ride fellowship to Watson University and has represented Kenya through the Young African Leaders Initiative. Needless to say, he’s a prime example of what hard work and dedication can lead to.

Sometimes the best motivation is overcoming the most difficult of experiences. If anyone is a testament to that, it’s Jack.

“If you have dreams and are willing to pursue them, there is a way out of poverty.”

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Category: Health    Maternal and Child Health
Tagged with: Child health    Inspiration    Kenya    Malaria    Upworthy

María Rendo

@marurendo

María is a graduate student in the International Relations program at New York University. She grew up in Buenos Aires, Argentina and now lives in Brooklyn. Her research area is on the implementation of a gender perspective in development programs and gender equality, with a focus on Latin America.

See more posts from María Rendo