“I want to be doctor when I grow up and an early pregnancy will not stop me,” says Jeremiah Ikaru*, 19, a Form 2 student at St James Kaikor High School.
“Before the school-based outreaches were brought to our school, we believed that having sex with girls during their period would not get them pregnant. The school-based integrated outreaches have helped me get information about safe sexual reproductive health practices. This has also redefined how I engage with girls especially on matters sex.”
During the school-based integrated outreaches, students in both primary and secondary schools are sensitised on safe sex practices to demystify myths surrounding sex, eliminate teen pregnancies and keep them in school. It also helps them make healthy reproductive health choices through drama, life skills training and interactive discussions about peer pressure, drug abuse, healthy living, hygiene and sanitation, and gender-based violence.
Addressing the link
At the International Conference for Family Planning (2018), global leaders acknowledged that engaging adolescent boys and young men as contraceptive users, partners and advocates is a critical component to addressing Adolescent and Youth Sexual and Reproductive Health (AYSRH) gaps.
To address this, USAID|Afya Timiza is supporting the Turkana County Department of Health to sensitise in-school and out-of-school adolescents and youth to end teen pregnancies and promote adolescent and youth sexual reproductive health.
Meaningful youth and adolescent engagement
“Youth and adolescents are comfortable discussing culturally sensitive matters like sex with their peers,” says Turkana County Health Promotion Officer Kwaba Omwenga.
“That is why the county is committed to engaging young people as a solution to some of the issues that have an implication on the health indicators and development of the county in general,” he explains.
The school-based integrated outreaches encourage debate, raise awareness and help shape the mind sets of boys and girls as relates to sexual reproductive health.
“The outreaches are helping to address some of the challenges including school absenteeism as a result of drug abuse and sneaking out of school to visit girls,” said Mr Eree Charles, the school’s deputy head teacher.
“They provide a platform that enables the students to openly discuss issues they would not discuss with their teachers including social problems encountered both at home and at school,” he explains.
Fourteen year old Hendrix Nanyiet* just joined secondary school and he says that most of his peers are curious about sex. They say it is easy to experiment with ‘raia’ (girls who have not gone to school) because they admire boys who are in school and easily give in to any sexual advances hoping they will marry them. He is glad that most of the beliefs that they held have been addressed and emphasis made on the impact of risky behaviour.
Rael Akuro, the County School Health Coordinator opines that school-based integrated outreaches are a holistic approach to empowering young people to become better citizens. She agrees that girls in rural communities especially the ‘raia’ are more disadvantaged by low literacy levels and empowering their counterparts who are in school is a way of protecting them.
Jeremiah’s elder brother had to drop out of school to marry a girl he had impregnated, putting on hold his dream of becoming a teacher.
“I will sign up for the next training for AYSRH champions to empower my peers during the holidays,” says Jeremiah.
The project which is working towards improving sexual reproductive health for adolescents and youth in hard to reach communities has so far reached 4,148 adolescent girls (10-19 years) at health facility level and 3,220 adolescents and youth through advocacy in schools.
AFYA TIMIZA is a USAID-funded project aimed at sustainably improving health outcomes for mothers, children and adolescents in the hard to reach areas of Samburu and Turkana Counties through access to quality and affordable county-led family planning, reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health (FP/RMNCAH) services; nutrition, water hygiene and sanitation (WASH).
**Names of the students have been changed to protect their identity.