Mrs Mary Auma Munga, a 50year-old primary school teacher from the Siaya district in Kenya, is a herbalist with a difference. For 24 years she has been practising herbal medicine, but since she became a born-again Christian, she now does it for the glory of God. And she treats her patients free.
Mary Munga also has a special gift. She says she can tell her patients' problems before they tell her what is wrong. She says that the moment a patient comes to her, no matter what the ailment, she begins to suffer the patient's pains. They are amazed at her total understanding of their illnesses. She says it comes to her in a vision, which also gives her an insight into the cure and what type of herbs to prescribe.
Munga inherited her trade from her ancestors. For two decades she practised traditional medicine like other native herbalists, making sacrifices to dead ancestors.
But one day when her son was very sick, suffering from a strange skin disease, she says God came to her in a vision and told her of the right kind of herb to use to cure her son.
She picked the leaves of the guarva herb, boiled them and gave them to her son to drink. The boy's skin rash disappeared and has never recurred since.
"One day I was asleep when God came to me in a vision. He told me that treating people with herbs was not sinful," Mary told Palaver, "what was sinful was to do the treatment in the name of dead ancestors."
So Mary became a born-again Christian and now carries out all her treatments in the name of God. She says that before her conversion she was a traditional herbalist charging people for their cure. Now she makes the same treatments but charges no fee.
"God gave me the talent free of charge, so I now help God's children free of charge," said Mary. She says it is God who now guides her in all her cases giving her an understanding of the illness and telling her the right herbs to use for a cure.
The Kisumu based Gender Centre has recently sponsored her to conduct more research into various plants in the Siaya district. Working under Mrs Asenath Bole Odaga, the head of the Gender Centre, she is compiling a list of all the herbs she uses and what illnesses they treat.
She has also begun farming on a single acre plot to grow various herbs plus cocoa, milo, soya beans, carrots, yams, groundnuts, and traditional greens such as mito and osuga. Much of her crops are used to make special health giving beverages from milo, cocoa and soya beans prepared in novel ways. These drinks are much appreciated in local schools and her beverages are giving her a profitable business. This has given her some capital so that she can afford to care for 14 orphan children, whose parents have died of AIDS-related diseases.
Mary has no cure for AIDS but she thinks much can be done through education and creating awareness of its dangers to the public at large.