Imagine that you’re 14 years old again. You are in class eight again. You live in a one-room mud-walled house in a slum with your mother and several other siblings. Your mother labors all day just to feed your expectant hungry mouths. You deputize for her most of the time when she’s away to take care of the other siblings since you are always home due to lack of tuition fees. You are not sure whether you’ll get a high school education. But you have even more pressing matters right now. Something has been happening to you recently. And it scares the hell out of you. You have noticed a bloody discharge over the past few days. You don’t know how to bring up the issue with your mother. She’s always so tired when she gets home and besides she has more important things to worry about like getting you back to school. You’ve heard about sanitary pads but you really don’t know what they are. Even if you did, you wouldn’t be able to afford it. And so you decide to use a piece of rag to contain the blood flow until you figure out what you are going to do next.
This is the story of most girls living in the slums in this country. Statistics show that three out of every five girls miss school every day due to their menstrual cycles. For the few who make it to school, their confidence and self-esteem is at an all-time low during this time. And for a monthly phenomenon, it takes a miracle to get it back up in time. This means that they are always playing catch up in school. As a consequence, talents and gifts remain unearthed, potentials end up untapped; the result is shattered dreams. The vicious cycle of poverty comes right back to haunt subsequent generations.
At Wing It Up – Kenya, we take a three-pronged approach to solve this problem.
- The Feeding Program
- The Dignity Program
- The Empowerment Program
1. The Feeding Program
As an organization, we believe in addressing the immediate physical needs of the girls in the program as a first step towards providing solutions. We recognize the fact that our girls come from very poor families where three meals on the table is virtually unheard of. The lucky ones are able to have two meals a day. We have cases where the girls only get have one meal a day or none at all on some days. The net effect is cases of chronic malnourishment which cumulatively affects their performances in school and eventually stunts their progress.
The organization’s feeding program is therefore put in place to take care of this very glaring need. As an organization, we strongly believe that no child in the 21st century should lack food as a basic need. We want to provide a safe space; an escape route where these girls are guaranteed that this need will be addressed.
This program has therefore been designed so that the girls can look forward to having proper balanced meals every Saturday. Considering the kind of setting that our host community is based on, we recognize that hunger is a major problem in the slums and we’ll therefore be unable to restrict the food to just the ninety six in the program.
For now though, the limited resources at our disposal means that we can only do these programs every so often. Our deepest desire is to restore smiles to these children’s faces.
2. The Dignity Program
This program entails the following:
- Menstrual Health Hygiene (MHM) Advocacy & Outreach
- Sexual Reproductive Health Management and Puberty
Description of the Program
According to formative statistics, every 2 girls in 3 cannot afford sanitary products in Kenya. This accounts for about 65% of the women population. Further studies done by the FSG (2018) shows that 2 out of 3 girls receive sanitary towels from sexual partners in rural Kenya while 1 out of 4 girls do not associate menstruation with pregnancy. These statistics shows the clearly evident need to increase education on how MHM programs can impact life outcomes. It can be inferred that the ability of girls in Kenya to manage their menstruation is heavily influenced by broader gender inequities across the country and can be hindered by the presence of discriminatory social norms. Wing It Up Kenya therefore seeks to leverage MHM as an entry point to sensitive topics such as sexual and reproductive health, transactional sex and teenage pregnancy prevention.
Inequitable gender dynamics become more pronounced during puberty and consequently leave young women and girls unable to access vital health care services and products. Research suggests that it is common for girls in Kenya to engage in transactional sex to obtain goods that meet their basic needs and this includes sanitary products. In such instances, adolescent girls are unable to negotiate safe sex practices thereby increasing their risk of contracting STIs including HIV/AIDS or experiencing unwanted teenage pregnancy. To protect girls from sexual vulnerability upon maturation, family and community members especially in rural Kenya and the low-income section of the population encourage girls to get married at an early age. These practices increases girls’ risk of school dropout, social isolation and negative health outcomes. These gendered discriminatory social norms outlined above take root upon menarche, a life event which is viewed as a signal of girls emerging sexuality.
This program utilizes the following methods to reach to the girls:
- My Time – This is a group therapy session which is designed to be a safe space where girls can explore and talk about issues affecting them pertaining MHM. This session encourages the girls to continuously open up, ask questions and get answers from among themselves. These sessions are led and moderated by Teen Connectors who are trained to handle their concerns and questions.
- MHM Hub – These are class-room sessions where issues on Menstrual Health Management and Sexual Reproductive Health are explored and taught using a specially designed curriculum. The objective of MHM Hub is to demystify some of the myths and misconceptions around MHM and SRHM.
The MHM Hub is also where the girls are trained on how to make re-usable sanitary towels.
- Outreach Program – This comprises of distribution of sanitary products to girls not enrolled into the program. These are often in local schools and special needs schools. The program has established a Dial-A-Pad Line to access sanitary towel.
3. Empowerment Program
By John Richard Okoth – Team Lead
This is the program that seeks to empower the children holistically and achieve measurable outcomes. This program is implemented through a specially designed curriculum that covers all the 5 Areas of Transformation.
Weekly devotions and Bible Teachings are included into the program to ensure that the children develop a relationship with Jesus Christ. The children that become Christians are taken through a customized Discipleship Program.
The team does monthly health screenings to the children to assess their health. The feeding program and the special nutritional support package given to the children who require Home Based Care ensures that they are healthy.
This involves School Visits and academic assessments to ensure that the children are performing optimally at school. The curriculum has a section on Cognitive Transformation that covers topics like emotional intelligence, planning and goal-setting and financial literacy skills like saving and budgeting.
One on One Counselling sessions with the social workers and teen connectors ensures the presence of a support system.
Group discussions and interactions creates a safe space for the children to have normal development and growth as well as develop healthy relationships with one another. O