Community Approach to Youth Development and Reproductive Health

Kenya 2012

By Chido Onumah

July 25, 2012

Also published at Chido Onumah's blog

Visit to Kibera, Africa’s Largest Slum

On our first day in Kenya, IRP's group of eleven international bloggers drove five kilometres from the city-centre of Nairobi to Kibera. The purpose: tour the slum, meet with community outreach groups working on sanitation and youth empowerment, visit families struggling with poverty, look at their access to family planning and contraceptives and the impact of HIV/AIDS.

Photo: Chido Onumah

Samuel Siringi, the local coordinator for the IRP trip and assignment editor at the Nation Media Group, had given the group a brief history of Kenya’s sociopolitical evolution. Siringi noted that the country had not been able to manage its health and population problems largely because of corruption. The competition for resources and the politics of resource allocation was a major source of tension in the country, he said.

The majority of Kibera's residents live on less than a dollar a day. With the equivalent of US $10-15 a month, one can rent a 10x10' shack, which is often home to five or more occupants.

Even though the government sets aside 2.5 percent of its budget in the Constituency Development Fund for slums like Kibera, not much is available in Kibera in terms of infrastructure. One of the major problems in Kibera is sanitation. There are no drainages. Piped water is in short supply, available only twice a week.

Kibera’s origin dates back to early 1900s, when Nubian soldiers returning from service with the King's African Rifles (KAR) were allocated plots there in return for their services to the British colonial government. With a population of more than 1 million, Kibera is reputedly Africa’s largest slum and has become a rallying point for poor workers and other Kenyans who daily eke out a living in appalling conditions. While many men in Kibera work at the industries close by, the women work as house helps and engage in petty trade.

Photo: Chido Onumah

Kibera Lindi Youth Organisation (KLYO)

The first place we visited in Kibera was the Kibera Lindi Youth Organisation (KLYO). A one-story building with public toilets and bathrooms, a computer room and a commercial hair dressing room, it is a platform for Kibera youth to volunteer and find self-expression. It provides succor for members of the community who travel long distances to access conveniences. To use the toilet, residents pay 5 Ksh, and 10 Ksh (about 8 cents US) to use the bathroom.

Najat Mohammed, the well-spoken 23-year old co-chair of the organisation, talked about KLYO. The organisation is open to all young people in Kibera and is the outcome of two youth groups that came together at the instance of the Japanese Embassy. The centre donated by the Japanese Embassy in Kenya not only provides an opportunity for Kibera youth to volunteer, it generates money to sustain the different activities of the KLYO.

Photo: Chido Onumah

The building has a bio centre with a dump where waste material is converted to gas for cooking and energy. The bio centre has ten bathrooms and ten toilets, and it engages in environmentally friendly sewage disposal. Some of the waste from the bio centre is used as fertilizer. There is a small farm to raise crops like cabbages and other vegetables.

Money generated from the centre is used to enhance the lives of the members by giving them loans to start businesses and in some instances providing tickets and living expenses for those travelling abroad for further studies. The centre also offers computer training and entrepreneurship skills for members.

Community approach to reproductive health

Geoffrey Bakaya, a health promotion officer, works in partnership with the ministry of health. He is engaged in health promotion and sexual reproductive health activities in four centres in Kibera that are supported by the ministry of health. He explained the role of the centres in enhancing the health of Kibera residents.

Photo: Chido Onumah

The centres make available contraceptives for family planning for short and long-term needs of Kibera residents. However, they don’t offer long-term services like tubal ligation or vasectomy. The centres also provide treatment for sexually transmitted infections or diseases and offer information on adolescent reproductive health.

There are treatment and literacy classes for youth who are HIV positive to help them manage their conditions and reduce the socioeconomic impact of the disease. There is a 24-hour-service for victims of sexual violence like rape and incest. Bakaya engages in home visits for youth to give them information about how to negotiate their sexual and reproductive rights.

While Bakaya and his team provide family planning services to help mothers space their children, they also engage in peer counselling session (with support groups) for youth.

Photo: Chido Onumah

According to Bakaya, condoms are the most commonly used form of family planning for men, while the pill, which is bought over the counter, is the most commonly used amongst women. Before residents access family planning services they are provided with information. “After talking to them, they have to make informed decisions,” Bakaya noted.

Many people, because of religious concerns, access contraceptives privately. Another challenge is that young people fear to access family planning services because of their parents and the stigma attached. To deal with situation, Bakaya is planning to start a youth-friendly corner to attend to the needs of affected youth.

Bakaya said the involvement of men in family planning was low because they have limited options--either condom or vasectomy--so they leave it to women. “Men want to be noticed to be men,” he added. “It is not easy to get them to come to antenatal clinic with their wives. They think, if I get my wife on pills or go for family planning, I start raising questions about my manhood”.

Photo: Chido Onumah

In Bakaya's view, the low involvement of men in family planning is a challenge for health workers and the community. Men who want to support their wives are stigmatized by the community. They are looked at as not being “real men”. In some case, they are derided as having been bewitched. He said he and his team were working to deal with this issue in a holistic manner.

Bakaya engages young people using music and drama to pass information about family planning. He believes such informal approach has an impact. Some of the activities planned in the future include a road show with caravans going around the community; games like soccer, basketball, netball; and use of social media to raise awareness about family planning.