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Barefoot Initiative - Lexi Keneally

28 Jun 2017

We first met Lexi Keneally and family back in the March/Autumn 2013 Magazine. Here she catches us up on the amazing work being done by the Barefoot Initiative on the International stage.

I have found there is a com­mon link through­out most health care pro­fes­sion­als, espe­cial­ly those who feel drawn to work­ing in the rur­al and remote con­text. There is a pas­sion for work­ing with and sup­port­ing mar­gin­alised com­mu­ni­ties whilst advo­cat­ing for change. I always envis­aged my nurs­ing career to be both in the remote Aus­tralian con­text and inter­na­tion­al­ly with­in the com­mu­ni­ty devel­op­ment con­text. That is why I became involved with Bare­foot Ini­tia­tive.

Bare­foot Initiative 

Bare­foot Ini­tia­tive was found­ed in 2004 and has been work­ing in the remote Afar region of Ethiopia assist­ing with com­mu­ni­ty lead devel­op­ment projects. The founders them­selves were three, opti­mistic, Ade­laide hills based young peo­ple who were pas­sion­ate about human­i­tar­i­an issues and had a desire to give back to their glob­al community. 

After com­plet­ing year 12, Co – Founder, Kyra Mar­wa­ha, trav­elled for a year through Ethiopia, the Mid­dle East and Asia. Her time was spent work­ing as a vol­un­teer in a vari­ety of set­tings, which includ­ed liv­ing and work­ing in a remote Afar vil­lage in Ethiopia. Kyra was deeply moved by the dif­fi­cul­ties the Afar peo­ple faced dai­ly, she was deter­mined to return to Aus­tralia and study nurs­ing, with the ambi­tion to assist peo­ple in devel­op­ing countries. 

It was then that Kyra, her broth­er Aidan Glas­by, and her Hus­band Sunil Mar­wa­ha, col­lab­o­rat­ed to cre­ate Bare­foot Ini­tia­tive. Both Aidan and Sunil also con­tin­ued on to pur­sue nurs­ing careers work­ing along­side mar­gin­alised and remote communities. 

Since 2004, Bare­foot Ini­tia­tive has con­tin­ued to work with the Afar peo­ple on com­mu­ni­ty lead devel­op­ment projects. The approach is to lis­ten and sup­port the com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers to become their own change mak­ers. To do this Bare­foot Ini­tia­tive pro­vide the com­mu­ni­ty with skills, net­work­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties, train­ing, infra­struc­ture, and finances, which enables them to put their devel­op­ment ideas into action. 

The Afar

The Afar region lies in North East­ern Ethiopia and it is the hottest inhab­it­ed place in the world. The Afar peo­ple of Ethiopia are nomadic pas­torlists. Their liveli­hood is pri­mar­i­ly herd­ing camels, cows and goats. They live a harsh exis­tence faced by con­stant drought, vio­lent trib­al rival­ry, and extreme weath­er conditions. 

The Afar has few­er hos­pi­tals, schools or social ser­vices than almost any oth­er region in Ethiopia. Although under-five mor­tal­i­ty rates are declin­ing in gen­er­al in Ethiopia, in the Afar they are increas­ing (EDHS 2011). 

Afar women are faced with addi­tion­al dif­fi­cul­ties, includ­ing female gen­i­tal cut­ting (FGC), increased mater­nal and infant mor­tal­i­ty, ear­ly mar­riage, and a sig­nif­i­cant work­load burden. 

Bare­foot Ini­tia­tive Projects:
  • A med­ical cen­tre in the com­mu­ni­ty to pro­vide health ser­vices, which is now entire­ly run and sup­port­ed by the region­al government. 
  • Agri­cul­ture farm of approx­i­mate­ly 15 hectares (38 acres), pro­vid­ing food and income for the 97 mem­bers of the agri­cul­ture co-oper­a­tive and their fam­i­lies and sup­port­ing the wider com­mu­ni­ty. Indi­vid­ual gar­den plot per mem­ber equals 1500 square meters (pro­duc­ers 750kg of corn per year in 3x crops)
  • 47 water carts to light­en the bur­den of car­ry­ing water on the 2km jour­ney from the riv­er to the home.
  • 6 stu­dents are cur­rent­ly liv­ing in Addis Aba­ba com­plet­ing their Ter­tiary edu­ca­tion with­in the health and med­ical fields. 1 stu­dent grad­u­at­ed with a degree in Clin­i­cal Nurs­ing in Sep­tem­ber 2015. 1 Stu­dent recent­ly grad­u­at­ing also with a degree in Clin­i­cal Nurs­ing in Octo­ber 2016.
  • A wom­en’s co-oper­a­tive in the com­mu­ni­ty, pro­vid­ing work and income to 9 women and their families. 
Edu­ca­tion schol­ar­ship pro­gram 2010-current:

In 2010, com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers in Yooren request­ed that Bare­foot Ini­tia­tive sup­port Afar stu­dents who had com­plet­ed high school to study at a ter­tiary level. 

Mem­bers of the com­mu­ni­ty expressed an inter­est in fur­ther edu­ca­tion. In par­tic­u­lar, they expressed inter­est in edu­ca­tion in the health sec­tor, where skills gained could be used to improve their vil­lage and sur­round­ing communities.’

Bare­foot Ini­tia­tive now pro­vides Afar stu­dents with the oppor­tu­ni­ty to pur­sue Ter­tiary edu­ca­tion through their estab­lished schol­ar­ship pro­gram. Females are strong­ly encour­aged to join the pro­gram. Due to cul­tur­al bar­ri­ers, it is very dif­fi­cult to find Afar females who have com­plet­ed high school, whilst also receiv­ing per­mis­sion from their fam­i­lies and vil­lage lead­ers to move to the city for study. This is a chal­lenge that Bare­foot Ini­tia­tive are com­mit­ted to work­ing with. 

The total num­ber of stu­dents spon­sored by the project to date is 8, two of whom have grad­u­at­ed suc­cess­ful­ly. The remain­ing 6 stu­dents are study­ing Nurs­ing and Pub­lic Health.

Bare­foot Initiative’s only female stu­dent, Fatu­ma Mohammed grad­u­at­ed with a degree in Clin­i­cal Nurs­ing in Sep­tem­ber 2015.

Edu­ca­tion is the most pow­er­ful weapon which you can use to change the world’ – Nel­son Mandela


For me, sup­port­ing the jour­ney of Fati­ma from begin­ning of her stud­ies, to her grad­u­a­tion has been mon­u­men­tal. I knew that Fati­ma was swim­ming against the cur­rent of her cul­ture. She is a female, whose fam­i­ly sup­port­ed her choice not to mar­ry and com­plete her ter­tiary stud­ies. Despite the odds that she was born into, she made a change for her future and that of her com­mu­ni­ty. Fati­ma is now employed by Rooci Wade, a local Afar run NGO that works to improve the mater­nal child health in the Afar region. 

Vis­it www​.bare​foo​tini​tia​tive​.org for more information.