West Pokot County is located along Kenya’s Western boundary with Uganda and covers an area of approximately 9,169.4 km2. It is mainly inhabited by the Pokot community with the majority ascribing to Christianity as a religion.
According to a Kenya Ministry of Health fact sheet on ASRH in West Pokot, …”50% of West Pokot County women (20-49 years old) and men (20-54 years old) first had sex by the age of 17 and 16, respectively. 50% of West Pokot County women (25-49 years old) first got married by the age 19. 29% of girls aged 15-19 years have begun childbearing…About one in four (24%) girls aged 15-19 years reported that they had been circumcised and only about one in five (19%) children in the official secondary school-age were enrolled in secondary school”.
In light of the above, Faith to Action Network in partnership with World Vision (WV) and Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevölkerung (DSW) are implementing a project which aims at increasing access to youth friendly ASRH services and information in West Pokot. This is being done by creating a supportive school, community and faith environment through activities targeting children and adolescents in schools and religious leaders at the community level in West Pokot.
Faith to Action Network is enhancing faith leaders’ understanding of ASRHR through the Interfaith Dialogue method. Recently, the network held a dialogue to hear the views of the youth and draw commitments from the faith leaders regarding their role in promoting ASRHR.
During the dialogue, the adolescents shared many SRHR-related difficulties that they have. FGM (female genital mutilation), unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortions, peer pressure to engage in risky sexual behaviours, SGBV (sexual gender-based violence), and defilement, especially by family members and men living alone, are some of these issues picked. In addition, they noted that they lacked knowledge on SRH because in the Pokot community, sex is viewed as a taboo subject that is best avoided when talking to young children and in the religious circles, that holds the belief that having sex among the unmarried is a sin. Additionally, they stated that many parents and faith leaders either undervalue the significance of ASRHR information and services or lack the skills necessary to support adolescents.
The dialogue session gave faith leaders the chance to hear the voices of teenagers and engage in reflective learning. Reverend Geoffrey Njihia, a theologian and ordained pastor with the Africa Inland Church (AIC), who facilitated the session added that;
“Faith leaders are trusted more by communities, and this makes you key in solving issues within your communities.” He quoted the bible verse Mathew 5:13: “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”
Rev. Njihia facilitated discussions amongst the faith leaders on how to “ensure that God’s children had a bright future”. Faith leaders concluded the dialogue by making commitments to: Share the new knowledge and skills on supporting ASRHR through faith-based approaches to other religious leaders; create a conducive environment for adolescents to seek information, support or report any challenges to them; mobilize and sensitize other church members and religious leaders in creating awareness on ASRHR in the communities and to continuously seek new knowledge on emerging issues and find practical solutions to current adolescent challenges.
Since the start of the project’s initiatives, the West Pokot adolescents have experienced a number of benefits. As faith-based platforms are being used to sensitize community members, there is improved communication between adolescents and their guardians, improved awareness of ASRHR among adolescents and community members, and increased positive peer-to-peer support among the adolescents, leading to positive social and behavioural change among the adolescents. Families’ relationships have also been restored as a result of adolescents who had been rejected—for instance, young girls who had been pregnant—being welcomed back into their families and into their schools.
In conclusion, Faith to Action Network believes that creating supportive environments including the faith environment is a highly effective way of advancing ASRHR and consequently promoting family health and wellbeing.
This project is supported by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH on behalf of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).