Northumberland mum takes stoma supplies to Kenya for women making do with towels and crisp packets
A Northumberland woman who has spent the last two years raising awareness of living with a stoma has returned from a stigma-busting trip to Kenya.
Gill Castle travelled to the town of Eldoret to support women and girls who, like her, have been left with a stoma following a traumatic childbirth or other conditions.
Mrs Castle, from Alnwick, was left with a permanent stoma, which is an incision in the stomach where the bowel is emptied, following the birth of her son Sam 11 years ago.
In Kenya there is a shortage of stoma supplies and some women have been ostracised from their communities as having a stoma can be seen as dirty and unhygienic.
For those with no stoma bags they have to make do with towels, tissues and even crisp packets to stop fluids leaking.
"It was very emotional for all of us," said Mrs Castle, who suffered PTSD and had to leave her job as a police officer following her experience with a stoma.
"For them in particular it was mind blowing a white person had travelled out to see them and had a stoma as well.
"What kept coming up time and time again was it happens to other people, we didn't realise this we thought it only happened to us."
She added: "I'm not ashamed of my stoma and they shouldn't be either."
While in Kenya, Mrs Castle ran workshops on how to care for a stoma and took over surplus supplies from the UK.
She also worked with nurses from a hospital where women have their stoma surgery.
She said: "We were there to explain how to use your bag properly, to maximise your life living with a stoma because they don't have that education.
"It's about empowering the Kenyans to do it for themselves."
Mrs Castle was joined on the trip by Nicola Napier, from County Durham, who helped run the workshops.
Ms Napier said: "The economic differences, and the differences in the lives of women and children was mind blowing.
"I was a little guilty throughout the trip knowing how privileged we are in the UK with our fantastic NHS, and opportunities for work and for home.
"I thought when we got home I would feel really guilty but I've returned feeling really proud of the work Gill and I have done."
Mrs Castle's connection to Kenya started in 2020 when she began raising awareness of her stoma by swimming in the North Sea in a bikini with her stoma bag proudly on show.
Not only did she raise thousands of pounds for the Birth Trauma Association but she caught the eye of Beyond Fistula, a charity working in Kenya supporting women with stoma's.
They asked Mrs Castle if she would speak to the women and girls over zoom and several meetings took place.
In June, Mrs Castle spent 10 days in Kenya meeting the charity staff and those helping there.
Mrs Castle has now registered her own charity, called Chameleon Buddies, which will run peer support groups in the North East and will support women and girls in Kenya.
She and Ms Napier plan on going back to Kenya next year.
The mum from Alnwick is also in training for her next challenge and aims to become the first person with a stoma to swim the English Channel next August.
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