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close this bookYouth in Kenya (UNAIDS - Best Practice Digest, 2000, 3 p.)
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Youth in Kenya

Summarised from Youth-To-Youth: HIV prevention and young people in Kenya. By Glen Williams, Lucy Ng’ang’a and John Ngugi. Strategies for Hope Series No. 13. Published by ACTIONAID, Kenya AIDS NGOs Consortium and UNAIDS. First edition, December 1997.

For further information, contact: ACTIONAID, Hamlyn House, Macdonald Road, London N19 5PG, UK or Kenya AIDS NGOs Consortium, PO Box 69866, Nairobi, Kenya

Kenya is in the forefront of the HIV epidemic in Africa. By the end of 1995 an estimated 1.1 million Kenyans - including 70,000 children under five - were infected with HIV. Most young people in Kenya are potentially at risk of contracting HIV through unprotected sexual intercourse. Most of them become sexually active before marriage, many while still in their teens. STDs are widespread among young Kenyans.

Yet the issue of how to help young people avoid high risk sexual behaviour has provoked serious conflicts within Kenyan society. A common attitude among policy makers and opinion leaders in the country, as in other countries, is to blame young people themselves. But if millions of young Kenyans are having unprotected sex in their mid-teens, this is not because they have made a conscious decision to place their own health and survival at risk. It is because society has failed to provide them with the information and support they need. Most young Kenyans lack basic information about sexual and reproductive health.

It’s among Kenyan youth that some of the most promising HIV prevention initiatives have emerged. This book documents four youth-to-youth initiatives.

1. Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA)

Mathare is the largest of Nairobi’s slum areas, a byword for crime, drugs, poverty, prostitution and AIDS. But since 1987, young people have been organising themselves effectively; in the beginning, to carry out environmental clean-ups and to organise sporting activities. By 1997 MYSA had grown into Africa’s largest youth football club. The ethos of the club is to promote social responsibility and leadership, on and off the field. When a member died of AIDS in 1994, MYSA started an action programme on HIV prevention. All 25 members of the senior squad (largely 18 - 20 year olds) were trained as AIDS peer educators. By the end of 1997, 51 boys and 25 girls had completed the advanced course to be peer educators and another 25 boys and 25 girls had finished the introductory course. A small AIDS reference library was started in the MYSA office. The peer educators work mainly on an informal basis, through the teams they coach, their own team-mates, friends and family members. Their local hero status as successful players means they have enormous influence on other young men and women.

The MYSA programme is estimated to have reached about 20,000 young people between 1994 and 1997. The main emphasis is on abstinence from sex until young people are physically and emotionally mature. MYSA is helping young men and women to develop self-esteem as well as informing them about HIV/AIDS.

2. The Fish Group

The Fish Group is a Catholic youth organisation, started in 1985 to promote Christian values and community service, and to organise activities for young people. In 1995, the group started the ‘Youth for Behaviour Change’ project, which focuses on HIV prevention. It has a distinctive, youth-led approach to HIV/AIDS education. It recognises that changing sexual behaviour is not easy, and does not happen simply by giving out information or employing scare tactics. People are encouraged to go through three stages:

· Know and accept the reality of your present risky behaviour
· Choose and commit yourself to a new behaviour which is possible for you
· Act on your choice of new behaviour

The approach uses workshops and several sessions spread over several weeks. Men and women in their late teens and early twenties are trained as peer educators; virtually all are already sexually active. The approach emphasises that behaviour change is each individual’s responsibility, not to be imposed by a facilitator. The Fish Group’s project has demonstrated its potential for empowering young people to take greater control of their sexual health and the leaders would like to expand to meet the many requests it receives from community groups, schools and churches. But it depends on the voluntary work and financial contributions of its members and supporters. It could train many thousands of young people.

3. The Kenya Society for people with AIDS (KESPA)

KESPA was launched in 1992. In western Kenya, it was a one-man organisation run by Edwin Odera, who was HIV positive. He developed a number of Anti-AIDS clubs in secondary schools, to create AIDS awareness among students and teachers and at home, to visit the sick and to offer spiritual support for the affected and infected. By early 1997, there were 25 such clubs active in Siaya District. Each club has a teacher as Patron but the day-to-day affairs are in the hands of the students themselves, who levy a small membership fee and draw up their own workplans.

About 5,000 girls and boys are members of these clubs, and another 3,000 have left school after being members.

KESPA exemplifies the inspirational role a young person living with HIV can play in HIV/AIDS awareness work among other young people. Edwin Odera died of AIDS in June 1997. The board decided to continue his work with KESPA and ACTIONAID-Kenya is continuing its financial assistance.

4. The Teenage Mothers and Girls Association of Kenya (TEMAK)

TEMAK was founded in 1994 by a couple in their mid-twenties, Philomena and Joab Othatcher. Originally aimed at supporting and empowering young mothers, TEMAK’s work has developed into other areas, including HIV/AIDS prevention. Information is provided to members through workshops with small groups and individual counselling. Staff members visit schools to help establish anti-AIDS clubs. Working with child prostitutes in the area is also a high priority of the project. An evaluation of the work has not been carried out but staff and volunteers believe that the self-esteem of many girls and young women involved in TEMAK has improved, partly because they are now knowledgeable about sexuality, pregnancy, and HIV/AIDS. Many have been helped financially to set up and run their own businesses. Behaviour change is reported; more members use condoms and/or have reduced their sexual partners to one.

In just a few years, TEMAK has helped several hundred young women to become more knowledgeable about their sexual and reproductive health, more self-reliant and more assertive in their dealings with men.