Today, I am visiting with an organization called Miss Koch to learn about what is happening to young women in the slum of Kariobangi. Miss Koch is a leader in sexual reproductive health rights for girls/women in this community. As I sit talking with the founder Emmie Erondanga, I hear young female voices singing from outside the window (listen above). Their mesmerizing sound hovers above and around our conversation.
In Kariobangi, girls as young as 12 are becoming pregnant and contracting sexually transmitted diseases. They often enter into relationships with men because they believe that sex equals love. Sometimes, they receive 50 cents for a sexual act. Because financial resource is scarce in the slum, the girls see the money as an opportunity to take care of themselves and their families. It’s worth noting that their sexual partners can be anywhere between the ages of 18 and 45.
Along with pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases (aids, gonorrhea, chlamydia) run rampant throughout the slum. When a young women becomes pregnant or develops a STD she has nowhere to turn. The girls are told that they are ‘bad’ and that it is their ‘fault’ that they have become pregnant or have a STD. There are numerous health clinics they could attend in Nairobi, but because of the social implications they avoid obtaining conventional medical care and instead they seek out unsafe methods of treatment.
This is where Miss Koch comes in. Their goal is to educate groups of young girls about the risk of STDs and dangers of a young pregnancy. For one of their recent projects, they have identified 80 girls that are talented ‘football’ players. Relying on the power of sport and structure of team, Miss Koch leads group discussions with the girls empowering them to avoid sex and develop their talents as athletes and minds as academics. They focus on improving self-esteem, establishing positive role identity and developing confidence. The young women have responded positively. Miss Koch gives them a safe place to learn more about who they are and what they can become.
Learnings: Miss Koch is nuzzled in the middle of the slum. The Miss Koch staff members live in the community. They viscerally understand what is going on in Kariobangi a way that no outside person could. Money cannot fix what is happening in the slum. The social norms are rooted deeply into the culture. Shifting the minds and hearts of the young women in Kariobangi has to happen from the ground up, one heart at a time. I hope that Miss Koch achieves their objective so that the girls that wander the slums today are the women that change their own communities in the future.