I met this strong lady last year while on an AIESEC internship in Ethiopia. First impressions were, who is this? She just stood out, from her accent, the way she dressed, her opinions and thoughts on matters and basically in every way she carried herself. At first you’re sure to be intimidated by her boldness, but once you get to know her you see her heart, and that is when you begin to just fall in love. She is not afraid to speak her mind and say the truth which is a rare quality. When I heard that she is the co-director of Kiala Foundation, an NGO that works with the underprivileged children, women and youth of our society, I simply had to have a sit down and hear her story and hopefully inspire anyone interested in empowering the youth of Kenya. And here the story goes…
When did your journey as a mentor to young girls begin?
I would say that my passion began when I was the chair person for the Women’s Students Welfare Association in the University Of Nairobi. The opportunity was an eye opener for me, it helped me to understand and have a clearer perspective of what women truly go through especially in campus and even those who are younger than me. Also been selected to attend the 3rd International Conference For Family Planning in Ethiopia in 2013, allowed me to meet other young people with the same passion and drive as me and I made a pledged to implement all that I had learnt.
At the conference we were equipped with tool kits on how to start organizations and movements and we were also given training on feminism and human rights. The trainings and workshops that I have attended have allowed me to network, and they have groomed me for what I do and have enhanced my interest for what I do. And I would say meeting the girls and listening to their stories makes me even more passionate to do what I do.
How long have you been working with Kiala Foundation? I have been co-director at Kiala foundation since 2012 and that is when we began addressing issues directed towards girl empowerment and also when I began actively participating in empowering young girls in the community.
What does Kiala Foundation do with regards to mentoring girls? We host an annual camp for young girls aged from 12 to 18 teaching them about sexuality, self-esteem, self- awareness, HIV and drug. We mainly target young girls who have just completed primary school and high school, to prepare them for life after. We have worked with schools such as; Machakos Girls High school, Statehouse Girls, Precious girls, Iyani Secondary in Masinga, Kibaa Secondary School to mention a few. We work with volunteers, mostly campus girls however we also call influential and inspirational women such as Tabitha Karanja, Yvonne Wamalwa, Ida Odinga, Caroline Mutoko and other women who want to mentor.
Do you get resistance from the schools that you work with? Yes we do, one of our challenges is talking about contraceptive to girls in high-school, teachers tend to be sensitive to this topic. But I believe that sexuality is a responsibility, it is everybody’s responsibility to understand their sexuality and it is the responsibility of the whole community to teach girls especially once they reach puberty, because the truth is young girls are having sex.
How then do you deal with this resistance? One of the things we have done is instead of groing through schools only, we also approach the girls directly instead of going through the schools, because they need this knowledge. We do this by mainly targeting their mothers in church and chamas through the chama leaders. Once the mothers are ok with it, then they will be able to also convince other moms. We also invite the mothers to the sessions we have so that they can also know what we are teaching their girls. This helps us create a safe space where there is no shame in talking about sex, and where girls and mothers can freely talk about sexual issues, and reproductive issues that affect them.
Do you think that teaching young girls about contraception is like encouraging them towards being sexually active? No. We asked a group of people,’ would teaching young people about contraception lead them to be more prone to becoming sexually active?’, and most of them said yes. Then we asked them ‘do you think teaching you about contraceptives would make you prone to becoming sexually active?’ most were saying no. So you find that for most people, when it becomes personal it is different. Statistics show that Kenya is one of the leading countries in teenage pregnancy; I believe It is better to give someone the knowledge which allows them discretion of making a decision rather than denying them the knowledge completely. If the Millennium Development Goals, the Post 2015 Development Goals are all about eradicating teenage pregnancy and maternal health how do we then achieve this? We need to start with the young people.
What other projects are you part of? I have been involved with the post 2015 Millennium Goals, because in the millennium goals the youth were forgotten, yet the youth make up more than half the population in the sub-Saharan region. One of the things that I have been advocating for is youth friendly reproductive health services. This will allow young people to be able to go and ask genuine questions and get help in a friendly and safe environment. You realize that when a young person goes to a hospital to ask about contraception, especially in rural areas, the first thing they would be asked is, are you married? This basically makes young people shy away and yet some of these young people have genuine questions like, I am on my period what should I expect or questions on childbearing.
I have also been advocating for the Eastern and Southern African Commitment through the East African Youth Alliance for Sexual and Reproductive Rights, when our leaders went to the African union, incorporating comprehensive sexuality education into our curriculum, this will give young people a chance to ask all those questions, demystify myths, to learn about sexuality 101, and also to train teachers to focus more on what evils can be associated with sex rather than saying sex is evil.
Where do you want to go with Kiala Foundation? My long term goal is to have a safe haven for women-a school of training where young girls can come for mentorship and training, were we offer help to welfare groups for women and for women who have undergone traumatic experiences such as domestic violence, rape, gender based violence etc. I would love to see the young girls be so empowered that they will be able to also give back.
What would you advice someone, a young woman who feels she would like to make a change but does not know where to start? Adopt a mentee, pick one girl, guide her through, motivate her, mentor her, and teach her things she may not know. It is none monetary and yet has a lifetime impact.
After a Mentorship session in Masinga Primary School.
Nzilani at a book signing at the Crea institute with Srilatha Batliwala- Scholar Associate with Association for Women’s rights in development (AWID)
@Mukusu Village having a candid discussion about sex with adolescent girls.
From the actual interview to every moment I was editing the text, I was more and more inspired to also go out and start giving back, she is a true inspiration to the youth of our country and I am more than honored to have the opportunity to share her wonderful story with all of you. My challenge; Adopt a mentee it is none monetary and yet has a lifetime impact.