Religious Communities in Kericho County, Kenya, Help Increase Access to Quality AYSRH Services
Contributor: Assumpta Matekwa
Kericho County, Kenya, has a large population of young adults below the age of 35 years. According to the Adolescent Youth Qualitative Survey in 2015, drug and substance abuse, teenage pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV/AIDS, abortions, malnutrition, poor sanitation, sexual gender-based violence (SGBV), mental health problems and malaria are the main health issues affecting Kericho’s young people.
With support from The Challenge Initiative (TCI), the county Department of Health is collaborating with religious communities to address some of these issues affecting the young people within their communities. This collaboration to reach youth is mainly because of the trust and respect accorded to religious leaders. Essentially, religious leaders play an active role in the dissemination of accurate information about sexual and reproductive health and rights.
TCI supported training of the Kericho health team and youth champions in adolescent and youth sexual and reproductive health (AYSRH) through a cascaded Sisi-kwa-sisi approach. Ruth Cheruiyoit, County AYSRH Focal Person-Kericho, explained:
TCI came in handy as a partner. Initially, I was working alone as there are few staff trained on AYSRH. TCI gave us support to train champions who are our eyes on the ground. I have a champion on the ground in every Sub County. They have enabled us to train and mentor one person who can mentor another as opposed to when I was an individual. TCI has given us a holistic approach when handling the youth. I approached the church to task me to provide the youth with information on AYSRH, they were very happy. Now I have an office at Emmanuel Africa Gospel Church. This church handles youth from a Christian perspective and the spiritual issues and in the course they realize the need to link with the AYSRH needs e.g. counselling…
We have forums organized by the church to address young boys and girls and the attendance is so big, and, yes, parents are concerned about the information we give to their children so we have a package of activities – cookery, hygiene, sewing and later introduce the sexuality issues. Youths are free, can call for consultation, taking it up so positively and even if I have to announce in the church that we are going to have a youth seminar – the turnout is overwhelming.”
Emmanuel Africa Gospel Church acknowledged the contributions of the Kericho County health team in empowering youth in the community. Pastor Nathan Kemoi, Emmanuel Africa Gospel Church of Kericho, shared:
As a church, we’re unapologetic about saying that abstinence is what we promote. However, when we engage our members who are from the medical field they obviously have to go past that … they talk about condom use and family planning. The main thing that we stress though is abstinence but also, when it comes to family planning, we have young couples who got married in their very early 20s, we have to talk to them about family planning in full without hiding anything. When it comes to married couples, we have to talk about family planning, when we talk about adolescents and the youth we stress abstinence but still have to talk about condom use and how to protect against all these STIs.”
TCI’s intervention has been appreciated by Kericho community as many changes have happened in the lives of the young people. Cheruiyoit said:
TCI opened our eyes at the right time, gender issues are beyond our culture. With TCI partnership, other people – more partners are willing to come on board because there is capacity to handle the youth. They have helped us jump hurdles that were assumed to be so high. Although people are very slow to embrace change but have quickly switched to accept when they realize other people are implementing and doing so well.”
Pastor Nathan shares how this partnership is unique:
When TCI came in to train health workers and community, it was to prepare the county to run AY without high dependency on partners. We are still feeling TCI on the ground. We are now better placed to handle the situation on our own. We have the resources, knowledge and skills. … You cannot work alone, other programs that have been tried and tested enough, we just come and modify it to fit our locality.”