As we celebrate World Humanitarian Day on August 19, get to know Margaret Nguhi, Humanity & Inclusion’s country manager in Kenya.
Q: Could you tell us briefly about your background?
I’m Kenyan, from Nairobi. I initially worked as a healthcare manager and then moved into the humanitarian sector. I worked for the different INGOs in South Sudan and Kenya before joining HI. I’m now Country Manager of HI in Kenya.
Q: How did you come to work for an NGO?
Having grown up in a place where I was constantly confronted with suffering, I decided to become a nurse. I wanted to work with communities. I couldn’t get over the huge gap between the medical staff and the patients who needed care. They’re given very little medical information, so they know nothing: what they have, what they should do, how to protect themselves from illnesses, or what medication to take. They see doctors as saviors—the ones who know everything. They say, "please help me.” They never ask questions. That's how we grew up: we didn’t ask questions. I was really touched by this vulnerability. I felt a strong desire to provide people with information and to empower them to be actors in their own lives. I wanted them to know how to protect themselves from certain diseases, how to care for themselves, and how to identify certain symptoms. So, I decided to do public health in South Sudan—with Samaritans Purse organization at the time—I visited people in villages and talked with them. It was my vocation, my drive, my motivation.
Q: Then you joined Humanity & Inclusion?
Yes, I returned to Kenya and worked in the Kakuma refugee camp in the north of the country where there were some 200,000 refugees, first with IRC, then with HI, where I occupied various positions, and finally as Country Manager of HI.
Q: What really motivates you?
Being able to change someone's life. Our projects —rehabilitation, maternal health, etc.—have a big impact on people’s lives. My motivation has always been the people we assist. I am not an 'office person'. I'm someone who needs to get out there and who wants to see and experience life. HI's approach, which is centered on individuals, on their personal needs, suits me down to the ground.
Q: Which memory stands out for you?
I remember this woman with disabilities I met when I was managing a maternal health project in Nairobi. In Kenya, women with disabilities suffer a lot of stigma. Some medical teams even think they’re asexual. People think they don’t and can’t have a sex life and bear children. So, when they get pregnant, they don’t go to the clinic because they don’t want to be judged or criticized.
I remember talking with one woman. We talked for a long time, and she finally agreed to go to the health center for pregnancy care, she was assisted and she had a hospital delivery. After that I asked her to give her testimony to health staff during disability awareness sessions. They realized this woman was like all women, and so they changed their attitude toward women with disabilities. It was a small victory—for me, for her, for all of us. It helped her gain confidence, and now she’s an advocate for the rights of people with disabilities with HI. She’s become an activist.
Q: You’re a woman, a Kenyan citizen and a Country Manager, don’t you face a lot of challenges?
Of course, it’s difficult to be a woman and a Country Manager in a patriarchal country like Kenya. It would be easier if I were a man. You need to “build the attitude.” And there’s also size. In Kenya, size matters. I’m small. And there’s also the security situation in the country. We work in the Dadaab refugee camp, for example, where the security situation is highly volatile and unstable, and it’s difficult to recruit staff to work there.
Q: What’s your ambition as head of HI in Kenya?
I am proud to be Kenyan and to be able to give it my best shot, with the whole team, on the projects run by HI. I like the idea of a Kenyan woman representing HI, an international organization, and coordinating the humanitarian response in my own country.