It was a time I will never forget, walking through the Mathare Valley slums and hearing the terrible stories. Scavenging every day, just to find scraps to feed their families, mothers would succumb in desperation to selling their girls.
Jane Otai is a national who grew up in this slum. She has a deep commitment to help these people. Understanding the perspective of slum dwellers so well, she was offered the amazing opportunity to work with Compassion International, which is how I met her.
We were discussing the difficult situations that pre-pubescent girls face. Young girls are naïve targets for sexual predators and they have to deal with many health issues from unhygienic menstruation practices, pregnancies, STD’s and AIDS.
It was clear to me that we needed to educate these girls on some basic health topics. Eventually, Jane and I developed a program to provide girls with feminine hygiene products, underwear and pain medication, as well as information about nutrition, health, sex and cultural issues. The “African Girls Empowerment Program” included an educational video that could be mass produced to share this knowledge throughout African communities, with a priority to girls living in the slums.
Our pilot project in July 2006 was a huge success. The morale of the girls participating in the program grew and as they gained confidence, they began to attend school again. Here are some of the highlights from the program:
- 95% attendance by both the participants and the facilitators.
- The girls gained knowledge related to themselves, their sexuality, and understood the need to appreciate themselves. Majority of the girls gained self-confidence.
- Literature regarding pertinent issues affecting their lives was made available to the girls.
- Behavior change documentary was shown to the girls where the theme included drug abuse, peer influence and HIV/AIDS. Some of the responses the girls had after watching the ‘The Dose” included:
- pledging to avoid bad peer groups that are capable of influencing them into drugs,
- agreeing that drug use and abuse is a bad habit and therefore should be avoided.
- Facilitation of the trainings was made enjoyable through the acquisition of more reference materials for both the girls and facilitators.
- Providing sanitary pads to the girls also boosted the girls’ self-confidence significantly.
- It was felt that the girls participating learned to understand that they are of great value and can make decisions for their lives.
From this program we learned how other communities could benefit from crucial health education to improve the lives of people living in extreme poverty.