June Omollo empowers families to improve their health.
June Omollo helps families, including her own child, confront critical health issues
June knew something was wrong the day her best friend didn’t come to school. After classes ended, 12-year-old June rushed to Jane’s home in their Kenyan community and found her friend lying on the couch, soiled and ill.
June helped her clean up and offered the girl water, but Jane refused. Helpless, June went home. Late that night, she heard loud cries from Jane’s house, confirming her worst fear: cholera infection had claimed Jane’s life.
It’s been years since she lost her best friend, but June Omollo still wonders: was there something else she could have done?
Promoting healthy behaviors
In 1999, she decided there was—maybe not for Jane, but for girls just like her. Determined to give other children and families the resources to prevent and manage illness, June has focused her career on promoting healthy behaviors and helping communities positively transform their futures. Before joining PATH in 2007, she worked with the YWCA, German Foundation for World Population (DSW), and African Medical and Research Foundation. At PATH, she continues to empower children and their families to control and improve their health.
As a key member of our team in Kenya, June helps parents and children break away from traditional gender roles and talk candidly about a range of health issues, from preventing common illnesses like cholera to addressing sexuality and HIV.
A daughter’s fight
June’s own experience with HIV is a difficult reminder of the virus’s prevalence in her country. A few years ago, while volunteering with a group that provides support to children who have lost their parents to HIV, she met a young girl with AIDS. Poline, then 14, had already overcome many hurdles in her short life. Her mother committed suicide when she found out she had AIDS, and Poline’s father died of the disease several months later after repeatedly raping his daughter. When she came into June’s life, Poline was so weak with illness that she could not even carry her school bag.
Touched by the girl’s situation, June adopted Poline into her already-large family of four children and became the girl’s caregiver. June helped Poline obtain medical care and antiretroviral drugs for treatment. Once Poline was strong enough to return to school, June met her for lunch each day to be sure she took her medication. As the girl grew into a young woman, she sought advice from June—about relationships, whether she could have a boyfriend, how she could have HIV and still be a normal teenager. She excelled at school and began teaching Sunday school.
But in 2006, Poline contracted multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, a dangerous and all-too-common co-infection with HIV. In October 2009, as the girl was preparing for her final school exams, she was hospitalized. Two weeks later, at age 18, Poline passed away. Her death was devastating, June says.
Dream for the future
June has seen the darkness that sets in when a community can’t obtain the health care it needs, but she maintains a positive outlook on where her country is going.
“My work has seen men and women die because doctors have nothing to offer due to inadequate resources,” she explains. “I have seen young girls like Poline infected with HIV due to lack of information, vulnerability, and nobody to turn to. I have seen women battered and mistreated because they have no knowledge about legal support systems and do not want to lose their image in the community. I have seen mothers give birth with traditional birth attendants and using crude tools to induce delivery.”
“But behind every dark cloud is a silver lining,” she continues. June says PATH’s approach of combining health education and innovation helps to address these serious challenges that Kenya faces.
June dreams of a future for her family, her friends, and her country in which they—not the threat of disease—control their destinies. With her work for PATH, that dream is coming into focus. “There is hope,” June says.
Photo: Wendy Stone.