TRAVEL NOTES: WOTE AND NAIVASHA
Have you ever wished for something since you were little and it finally came to happen? Well that is me now. I have always dreamt of getting a job that will allow me to travel and will get me to hear stories of people different from me. Guess what, I now have this job! As an intern at Well Told Story, the producer of Shujaaz media, I travel to different new places in Kenya to learn about young people’s views on different issues that affect them. This month, I visited Wote, in Makueni County, Eastern Kenya, where WTS research team was conducting a pilot study on boys’ views on the use of contraceptives. I also travelled to Naivasha, 90 minutes west of Nairobi for a media field test, which aimed to explore youths’ first reaction to the latest editions of the Shujaaz comic and radio show before they are released to the public. As a part of the Knowledge and Learning team, I was most interested on getting deeper insights on some key research themes, with the focus of reproductive health, smoking and drugs, and youth’s civic engagement with local government.
Before the trip I assumed that the boys in Wote would be clueless! I based my judgment on their village living lifestyle. I was wrong – turned out they knew a lot. Two things stood out for me: boys do not see abstaining as normal behavior yet contraceptives are something they would consider using only when they want to settle down. Hence most rely on two “pregnancy prevention” methods; girl’s safe days and withdrawal – neither of which is dependable. What about condoms, you might ask? Condoms came out as the contraceptive that most Wote boys know of, yet few use them, blaming an “urban legend” that the lubricant causes infertility and cancer. Sigh! The more urban legends we hear, the more they sound like convenient excuses for young people to justify their resistance to contraception.
Now, what if a girl carries a condom? There was a shared opinion among Wote boys that a girl carrying condom is ‘loose’ and ‘promiscuous’. The way they refer to such girls is very telling ‘she’s a public toilet’, ‘a cheater’, ‘a prostitute’ — there is no mercy! And Wote boys are not alone in their opinion. In Naivasha, boys brought up the same stereotype about girls who carry condoms – they are ‘loose’. However there was an exception. The only time a girl would be allowed to carry a condom is when her and her boyfriend went to the pharmacy together and bought a box, just before they had sex.
Now smoking. Surprisingly, smoking did not appear to be an issue, but drug abuse did. Most youth in both areas use ‘bhang’ (marijuana) and ‘miraa’ (khat) – boys in particular and to the point of addiction. Bhang has become the norm among young Kenyans; because it’s cheap and “unlike cigarettes, has no harmful health effects” or at least that is what they believe because nobody told them otherwise. In fact, when I think of all media campaigns I can remember, there are many discussing health hazards of cigarette smoking but none addressing the issue of drug abuse. Hence for many young people, bhang is a routine life companion – when hanging out or going for parties, bhang is the first thing they look for and there are usually well-known supplies in both areas.
Finally, there is a wide gap between the youth and government, which young people felt needed to be addressed. Young people are confused about the new government structure and the roles since Devolution in 2011; they believe the government does not care about them. In return, they don’t bother looking for information about the government, youth opportunities or rights, or even the youth development programs they can supposedly access through the government. They are uninformed and disillusioned, which is a dead-end combination. In addition young people in Naivasha are neither aggressive nor pro-active when it comes to their relationship with government and instead expect to be motivated by adults, who need to bring “good things” to them if they want them to take action.
Young people may appear overconfident and cocky, but in reality they need information and mentorship. They need guidance from those they can relate to – their peers who face the same challenges but still manage to succeed, ‘positive deviants’ and same-age role models. Which is why Shujaaz is so powerful and popular amongst youth – because it provides topical and relevant information, delivered in exactly the ways young people want most. My time in the field was a learning experience for me and it helped me understand Shujaaz better, now from the audience perspective.
By Monica Achieng