Becoming an agent of change
Growing up a girl in Kibera, Nairobi, is far from easy.
Estimated to be the largest informal settlement in Kenya, Kibera’s population recently peaked at one million – and it’s still growing.
Families typically live together in one room. Basic services, like clean water, sewers and toilets, do not exist. When their parents are out at work, girls have no-one to protect them, and sexual violence is a very real threat.
In this environment, many young people fall into behaviours that seriously impact their health.
14 is the average age to start smoking in Kibera. 97% of young people who live in the settlement don’t meet the World Health Organisation’s recommended amount of physical activity, and 43% are having unprotected sex.
Alcohol, cannabis and Khat, a flowering plant used as a stimulant, are also easily available.
Empowering young people to look after their health
In the face of so many challenges, empowering young people to make informed decisions about their health and wellbeing is critical – and it’s this approach that’s at the heart of the Young Health Programme.
Co-founded by Plan International UK and biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca in 2010, the programme has enabled us to reach over 328,000 young people – including Sharon, now 20, who grew up in Kibera.
Sharon was still at school when she was diagnosed with hypertension. As her blood pressure rose, she was admitted to hospital.
“I felt very depressed. It changed everything,” she remembers.
Today, Sharon has transformed her lifestyle and trained as a peer educator for the Young Health Programme. This means that, as well as making positive choices for her own health, she can empower other young people, her family and her community to do the same.
“I knew about diabetes and hypertension already, but through the training I learnt about sexual and reproductive health and the dangers of smoking tobacco,” Sharon explains.
“Nowadays I don’t feel depressed. I take responsibility for my actions, eating vegetables and fruits to help my hypertension. Before, I didn’t know about exercise, but now I walk. It has changed my life.”
Sharon also gets to see the impact of her work on other young people in her community.
‘‘I feel courageous when I am doing the [peer education] sessions, like I am making a difference,” she says.
“I love it when I hear from the kids ‘hey Sharon, I’m not eating this now’. It feels really nice!"
"Talking to young people raises their self-esteem. As a peer educator, I am an agent of change.”
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