People of AMPATH: Justus E. Ikemer, Project Manager
Justus E. Ikemer has a degree in medical microbiology, but he found his passion in listening to mothers tell stories about their children and the challenges they face.
Justus is the project manager of Chama cha Mamatoto (mother-child groups). He joined AMPATH in 2012 as a research assistant and now oversees a staff of 17 people who work on the Chamas program. This growing initiative within AMPATH’s maternal and child health work now includes more than 1,800 women and their infants in nearly 100 groups in six sub-counties in Busia and Uasin Gishu counties. Training to begin groups in five additional sub-counties is in the works.
“My journey to maternal and child health has been interesting,” said Justus. Part of his motivation came from his own experience as a newborn who survived a life-threatening encounter with army ants shortly after being born at home. He now shares his story to help encourage mothers to deliver in a facility.
Justus loves working with mothers and seeing them benefit from various aspects of the Chamas program. “I love interacting and sitting with women when they start and then they will tell you a story four or five years later about where they have come from. It gives you satisfaction in what you do,” he said. “If you are making a difference, then you will always feel proud of what you are doing,” he continued.
Each Chamas meeting includes 30 minutes for health education, 30 minutes for social education and 30 or more minutes for group microfinance activities. Each group consists of approximately 20-25 women who meet twice per month. The groups provide long-term peer support and friendship to the members who all have children of similar ages. During the first year, the topics include prenatal care, facility delivery, family planning and exclusive breastfeeding. In the second year the groups discuss topics such as immunization, family planning and complimentary feeding. In the third year, the topics turn to parenting challenges. Social topics are selected with input from the members and could include relationships with their mother-in-law, relationships with husbands or kitchen gardening.
“We try as much as possible to make this a discussion,” said Justus. He recalled the recent implementation of a new parenting curriculum that advocates for time-out in lieu of corporal punishment. He admits to not being confident that the change would be successful, but then heard from group members that the new form of discipline really worked. “I’m so surprised,” Justus said. He said another change advocated by the curriculum was spending special time just talking with your children in order to build a stronger relationship, especially for fathers. “It will definitely change the way I parent,” he added.
Justus also counts the relationships within his team as one of the most rewarding parts of his job. “We have developed a network that is very nice. We are very respectful of everyone’s ideas. People feel that they are part of a team. We do things together and our retention rate is very high,” he said. “I have a very good relationship with everyone in the office. That is one of the most important things. I like the fact that I have the trust of my bosses. If I have to make a decision, I know they will back it up. They appreciate the kind of work that I do,” he continued.
Justus’ primary responsibility is making sure every program runs well and serves the needs of the women and communities. Tasks include administration, human resources, implementation and everything in between. Building relationships with volunteer community health workers is one area in which Justus feels he excels. He is honest with them and emphasizes the way in which they are each helping their community.
“I get satisfaction from the women I am trying to deliver services to and the stories they talk about. I’m making a difference. At the end of the day all of us would want to make a difference,” he concluded.