BATTLE FOR NORTHERN KENYA LIES IN THE CLASSROOM

Frederick Douglass was an African American abolitionist leader who was known for his anti slavery stand as well as for his great oratory and writing skills. Separated from his mother at the age of one so that she could go back to working in the plantation as a slave and forced to work as a slave himself at the age of 10,he rose to become one of the leading lights of the civil rights movement in America long before it became popular to do so.

Former  slaves who had escaped like Douglas and were well read,joined  a minority white population who decrying the evils of slavery.To Douglas literacy as he was so often quoted was the path to freedom

This great man came to mind because i realized that in Kenya today though we lack the chains of slavery ,poverty,ethnic bigotry  have  taken up where slavery left off.With a population of 40,862,900 as of August 2010 the world Bank report on Kenya shows that our national poverty levels were at  45.9% in 2010,this was a marked  improvement from 1997 when it  stood at 52.3%.The literacy levels in our country are also very high with the report showing that of our population above the age of 15 years,at least 87% are literate.This of course can be nothing but good news.

But  why our high literacy levels are not translating into change in our political sphere is another matter altogether

Am sure we cannot forget the clips we have seen of hungry children in Turkana,a region that has been largely marginalized since independence and that is only in the news for the wrong reasons-hunger and drought.

I often find myself wondering what the residents of Turkana would do if they knew the power to change their circumstances lay in their hands.That they do not have to wait for the government and non governmental institutions to provide relief food when drought strikes.

With one of the lowest literacy levels in all of the 47 counties and a poverty level that is said to be at 95%,i  the solution to Turkana lies in its people.With the right government support this county which is home to the largest fresh water lake in a desert,can be a case study of the proverbial phoenix and rise from the ashes of poverty,disease and illiteracy.

Much of Northern Kenya is faced with the same problems Turkana is battling with and the issues the counties in this region face will be waged in the classroom.

A correlation and a causal effect has been shown between illiteracy and poverty levels,disease and high infant mortality rates.Much of the cause for disease especially among infants  can be attributed to lack of rudimentary knowledge on good hygiene .

Other factors such as lack of safe drinking water,good sanitation,poor nutritional knowledge and lack of economic power all contribute to under development in the region.Government however does not escape blame for forgetting the region exits when it does its planning and allocation of  resources.

With the mapping out and setting out of boundaries soon commencing let us hope that the funds these counties in the region receive will be prioritized especially towards fighting illiteracy,because that’s where change for Northern Kenya will begin.

To paraphrase a quote by the former Secretary General of the UN,Kofi Annan,literacy lies at the heart of development of any region and it is only this that can guarantee and active democratic participation of the members of any society, country in active development.

Sex education will save our randy teenagers from self destructing.

Jenny(not her real name)comes from a family of seven,her parents separated and she lives with her mother and five other siblings in a two roomed house in Western Kenya.She will be sitting her form four examinations starting this October,i met her mother in February of this year struggling to get 500 Kenya shillings to clear the 12,500 shilling fee balance that she had at school before she could get registered for the national examinations.Luckily she got the money and Jenny happily went back to school with the sure knowledge that her name would be among the thousands of candidates sitting the national exam.

Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education examinations are a national event in Kenya and the grades attained in this final exam which runs from mid October to end of November every year determines if one will get a slot in the highly competitive slots in both the public and private universities.So for a lot of parents and candidates being in the last year of high school is the final hurdle before university.

Every year as young Kenyan girls and boys sit their exams there are media reports of girls giving birth in hospital and with some even doing their examinations in the labor wards.Sadly Jenny is going to join hundreds of girls whose futures have been shattered because they rushed into sexual relationships too soon.

Some years back there was hue and cry when the government wanted to introduce sex education in school and parents protested over this.The plan was withdrawn as a result of protest by religious groups and parents yet going by the recent media reports and what i have heard and seen in my interactions with the young crowd,young girls and boys are engaging in sex and unprotected sex at that.

A local daily even carried a report of how a long distance company bus had been turned into a love nest by some randy teenagers in a part of Eastern province.With all the advertisements on sex,condom use,risks of promiscuity doing the rounds on tv ,radio and print media,why are young girls and boys still engaging in random sex?

Kenyan teenagers have taken a casual approach to sex and parents are not helping much if they keep quiet on the bees and the birds and hope their children will learn from the media or even worse their peers.I will tell a short story to illustrate the easy going manner in which sexual matters in the country have been viewed.

In a certain forum i was asked to give a short presentation on HIV/AIDS and nutrition to a group of corporate staff.Among the people in attendance were medics and a young lady not more than 25 who had been living with HIV for two years at least.I gave a short presentation on the need to maintain a healthy diet,effects of the anti retrovirals on nutrition and ended with a short summary of my previous work at Kibera and the challenges i faced there.

Now when the young lady’s turn came to do her short presentation on how she was living with the condition she rubbished the nutritional advice i had given.Her reasons for doing so were the fact that the crowd i had been presenting to did not have to be told about how to eat well,they had the money.She was very proud of the fact that she could go to any club and dance the night away with any guy she wanted and if she fancied him a pack of condoms would suffice for some time in the sack. After all she was taking her medicines and she was eating well and most of all she was being careful.Granted i did not hold any moral authority to tell her how she could live her life but i remembered how sad i felt for her that day.

Young Kenyans need to be told by their parents and no one else about how to approach their sexuality.For far too long we have been burying our heads in the sand and things are coming to a head if the increasing number of sexual escapades in the news are anything to go buy.

We are also living in a time where sexual orientation can no longer be classified as being strictly heterosexual and it is now accepted that in Kenya we have same sex relationships.There are even bars and entertainment spots that serve as meeting places for interested individuals.

It is time we started talking about the consequences we are facing as a nation when we have it on good authority reports of the sexual escapades of young Kenyans at musical concerts. There is existence of an underground pornography industry in the country and with even university students engaging in extra curricular activities whether for fame or fortune we need to admit we are being faced with a crisis.

The only safeguard we can give our youth is comprehensive sexual education so that they are well informed before they make the big leap into sexual relations.The church for the longest time has taken the abstinence approach but we still find some youth who despite all the pontificating from the pulpit they are engaging in sex and are either getting pregnant or acquiring a venereal disease.

Some Kenyan musicians are famous for glorifying partying,booze and women,and videos of their songs are streamed into our living rooms every day at five o’clock.I cringed when one evening i heard a young girl sing a popular song by some two Kenyan female artistes.The song lyrics are about the pairs escapades in clubs with an intention of just flirting and the young girl repeated the words word for word.

With such an environment it is no wonder that our younger generation has picked the cue from their icons -sex sells and the more you have it the more popular you become,it is worrying.

Engaging in early sexual relations especially for girls not only exposes them to risks of pregnancy and disease but it has also been linked to an increased risk of getting cervical cancer.This is because girls who have their first sexual encounter in their early teens are more likely to have more partners than those who wait longer for their first sexual encounter.The Human Papillomavirus which is a factor in the development of this disease goes largely undetected and if contracted early it causes more damage.

Parents,government and school bodies need to address this crisis that is happening right before our eyes before it explodes.Years since the debate first started,the world has changed,children have grown,the internet is in our homes and more parents work outside the home.School holidays have been reduced to cramming sessions in the name of holiday tuition and young people have no one to guide them as they transition from children to young adults,their parents are too busy looking for money and the domestic help at home have no responsibility to be teaching our children about sex.

Only by giving teenagers accurate information on their sexual and reproductive rights and how to have respect for them selves and others can this crisis be nipped in the bud.It does not do good to be preaching to the parents about “mpango wa kando’ and ignore the teenagers in our midst.Children are maturing faster,are becoming more sexually aware earlier and we need to equip them with information on how they can handle their sexuality before things get out of hand.The recent reports of videos,photos and sex blogs that are free for all on the internet are just a tip of the ice berg,lets act now before things get out of hand.