“What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of SEX?"
This is how my first sex-ed class of term began. It’s also how my second and third sex-ed class began, as I spread the program across all year levels.
This answer didn’t shock me, it saddened me profoundly. The root of this answer is HIV and I knew that more than half of the class had lost a parent or close relative due, in essence, to unprotected sex.
In this village, and in much of -not just Kenya- but Africa, sex leads to sickness, to poverty, to pain, conflict, desperation, to dejection. Sex also apparently leads to hell.
I’d specifically chosen this word association mind-map activity to begin each class to uncover the culture of sex here. I can teach the technical ins and outs (no pun intended) and health facts all day long, but at the end of it all it will mean nothing if culture isn’t acknowledged.
Some cultural beliefs and other questions we discussed in class that first day:
“Sex leads to death because there is so much sweat and the man is so heavy, you will drown or suffocate”
“Why is it that when a girl loses her virginity you find her weeping hysterically in bed, in severe pain and bleeding?”
“If a woman demands to use a condom she has no trust in her husband”
“Is it true that if you have sex while standing you can’t get pregnant, or get an STI?”
“They tell us to pee after sex so all the bad stuff comes out”
“Is it ok that teenagers want to have a couple of relationships now, for shorter times, so we don’t just have to be with one woman all of our life?”
"How do we stop ourselves getting aroused?"
“Why will I go to jail for getting a girl pregnant but she will never go to jail?”
“Why will we fail our school subjects if we have sex?”
“Why doesn’t she like me? How do we deal with rejection?”
“Women can control themselves but men cannot. It’s impossible. Why don't we have control?”
“Sex is safe if we wear two condoms at once”
“If you have HIV you will die very quickly”
I’m telling you this to set the scene. This is where the Freedom Write Inc. Health and Sexual education (HASE) program begins. The questions, beliefs and fears of the students cannot be taken as depressing, but as motivational. As confirmation that we do have purpose, that this program, is vital in this village- and then some!
Riding on that momentum, we held our first major HASE programs at the school over the weekend, with the help of Orongo Widows and Orphans Project (OWIDOP) staff. For the male students we held a “Men’s Zone Health Forum” and for the female students “Reusable Sanitary Towel Construction and Sexual Reproductive Health Education” (REST-SHE).
Every student participated and we had boys at one end of the school, girls at the other. The year 12 girls had done this program with me before, when they were in year 9. They’d loved it but struggled to access the materials they’d needed after I’d left. This time around, we were aiming for sustainability.
Saying the programs were successful would be a massive understatement!! The girls were openly talking about issues of feminine hygiene, sex, menstruation and puberty, body image, relationships and being a woman in general! So many of them were passionate about continuing the program through a Women’s Health Club to be started in school, and to train other women in the village.
These girls even have the potential to sell these products as an Income Generating Activity- as sanitary pads are something that nobody has but everybody needs!
This program is so crucial. Girls are missing one week of school per month as they have nothing to use during their periods. Many of them are using leaves, old blankets or dry cow manure for absorption and are suffering infections due to this, let alone the discomfort!
The reusable sanitary towels can easily be hand washed, are made from cotton, polythin, some cotton padding and a touch of Velcro, and can last over 6 months. This program was facilitated by OWIDOP.
Over the way, the boys discussed everything from stress, anger management, respect, to HIV/AIDS, STIs, sex and condom use, masturbation, relationships and marriage, consensual sex vs. pressure and challenging cultural beliefs. This program was ran by a Kenyan community health
worker who is coming on board as a HASE coordinator for Freedom Write Inc. International. The boys in this program to me afterwards to thank Freedom Write Inc. for finally acknowledging the fact that men need support too, as they are so used to programs only targeting young women.
Everything we are trying to achieve in this village has sustainability at its core- hence education. The rest of the journey now involves those who have been trained spreading that knowledge, coming together to promote it, and by setting good examples. Education allows one the power to make a choice.
I am so eager to watch this story unfold.
I will be posting more pictures, and some video as soon as I can.
Please do leave comments, or questions- I value them greatly and will answer!
If you would like to donate to our HASE program, or any other, go to http://www.gofundme.com/6bdies
(specify program in your donation message).
Xox Jade Louise Atieno
On every street, around each corner, peeking through bushes and sneaking across fields, children everywhere scream “Muzungu!! How are you?” with identical expression, excitement and desperation for acknowledgement.
This expression roughly translates to “OH MY GOSH, A WHITE PERSON!!” and attaches an expectation of reply in the form of vigorous waving and an “I’m fine”.
Then comes their smiles, laughter, their energy and excitement… Then come their friends and we play again.
I went with a friend from Nairobi to some local markets on Sunday and she witnessed the “Muzungu, how are you?” phenomenon in full swing, from all ages, with the added addition of toddlers rubbing my legs as if enquiring whether what I am covered in is actually skin!
My friend was astonished. She, as I have many times, questioned why.
I struggle consistently with the “fame” and subsequent expectations that come with being a white person in rural Kenya; yet, when I’m announcing to my school here that we, Freedom Write Inc., are going to replace their stolen computers, train them in art and music, provide tailored health education and programs which will result in them having their school fees paid- I stop wondering why the “white man” brings so much joy.
I’m not saying we deserve the title, especially not the response, but I know it is due to Muzungu “charity” that white skin has earned the association of wealth, generosity and success.
Freedom Write Inc. is now officially on the path to becoming Freedom Write Inc. International, with our registration claim sent for processing today. We are establishing an Action Team which will partner board members and program coordinators in Australia with our new, brilliant, passionate Kenyan team. We are not here to hand-out some Muzungu charity, we are here to promote friendship, respect, education and empowerment...
The locals who know me don’t believe I’m a Muzungu. I have a local name, eat local food, walk barefoot covered in mud, use a hole for a toilet, but more than anything embrace the local culture and language. Freedom Write Inc. is a community, for a community, and with grassroots consultation every step of the way, we will be as Kenyan as Lake Victoria!
We believe in what Ghandi said: Be the change you wish to see in the world. So all of our programs are entirely voluntary. This isn’t charity, it’s opportunity… where one has CHOICE whether to embrace, whether to become the change, or whether to wait for a handout.
Jade Louise Atieno
It really is something, to watch, to feel, cogs in motion. Increasingly, with every person I meet, every class I teach, every meeting I’m in, cogs are turning faster and faster, momentum is gaining
and excitement is rife.
I, Jade Louise, the Director and Founder of Freedom Write Inc. have been back in Kenya for just over a week. The generosity I was shown from the second I arrived- including my friends making me my favourite meal when I arrived from the airport- was beyond exceptional.
I spent two days in Nairobi, the Kenyan Capital, where the hustle and bustle is more than enough to knock you off your feet, and where in amongst the riches and tall buildings were 2 of the world’s
On Thursday I was finally home- as I visited my school in Orongo for the first time in 2 years. I had taught English to years 9 and 10, ran health programs and it was here that Freedom Write Inc.
The road to the school had been smoothed out, and despite being the dry season, everything was green with goats , cows, children playing, women carrying buckets on their heads and the village being a symbol of peace and belonging, to me, rather than impoverished, as others saw.
I have always, and believe will always, believe that Africa has some of the richest continents on earth- Kenya is abundantly rich; in culture, in resource, in spirit, love and generosity – and they were all beginning to envelop me.
I was so happy to be greeted by many of the teachers I used to work with, and to meet some new faces. I eagerly embraced the year 12 students, who were not only in my year 9 class, but had also been writing to Aussies in our letter exchange program since 2011!! I was so proud of them for lasting in school this long. The odds of completing through to year 12- especially in 4 consecutive years- are really stacked against village students, yet here they were!
The school had received a fresh coat of paint, is now connected to electricity, has had its “science lab” completed, has a new classroom and had been given 8 second hand computers!! I really couldn’t believe it.
Orongo had been awarded for being the “most improved” school in the district and it seems to have gained the school some attention! Brilliant!
Devastatingly, however, 6 of these computers were stolen just a few days before I arrived, despite the room being given extra security. VISIT http://www.gofundme.com/6bdies IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO DONATE TO REPLACE THEM :)
During this visit, I was overjoyed to reunite with our Kenyan Program Coordinator, Moses. We had our first Freedom Write Inc. meeting to discuss our excitement, possibilities and realities of the
coming months, while reflecting on the progress of the past two years.
I have moved into a room in Orongo village which is located within the Orongo Widows and Orphans Program (OWIDOP) compound.
This wonderful organisation partnered with Freedom Write Inc. in the past and we are eagerly motivated by the potential of our future work together. OWIDOP has
orphanages and nursery schools, plus monitors health and hygiene in village homes and trains widows and vulnerable people with skills and crafts.
Our potential to develop together is remarkable.
I have a solid three months in Orongo village. It will be incredibly hectic in order to not only achieve our goals, but to ensure everything we’ve implemented is sustainable, is meeting our
objectives and is being embraced by the community.
On Monday I held a meeting with key stake holders and our Kenyan Coordinator and board member, Moses. We set some early goals, including:
· Achieve registration as international NGO within 2 weeks
· Undertake research and surveying to ensure that our intended programs will be effective
and reach the target populations.
· Begin Life Skills class with each year level to increase awareness of risk taking behaviour, health and sexual health, from this week.
· All students to be given the opportunity to commence writing letters in Freedom Write Letter Exchange Program, where they connect with individuals around the world.
We already have new volunteers, who will bring great depth to the programs, we’ve presented resources to the school from Australia and we’ve set the date for registration as Tuesday 18th…
There is a lot of energy and encouragement for things to move along quickly here (a rarity in Africa!!) and we are taking that momentum and riding it!
Jade Louise "Atieno" xox
Orongo Mixed Secondary School today! 12/3/14
My Kenyan sunrise, as I step outside to walk to work! 12/3/14
Some lovely students I met visiting a Private Girls' Boarding school visit. 8/3/14