For two months I worked with a mobile health clinic that served Northern Kenyan residents with tuberculosis screening, HIV/AIDS testing and counseling and family planning. The organization – Community Health Africa Trust – traveled to communities that had poor roads and where expensive transportation makes it difficult for people to get to the public hospitals that are several kilometers away. Most of these people are also very illiterate.
One day I accompanied the nurses to the slums not far from Nanyuki town. When we were nearly there, we parked the yellow Land Rover, gathered our supplies and walked the rest of the way into town. We knew if we drove into the village the sex workers would recognize our vehicle that announced “Family Planning and HIV/AIDs Testing” printed on the side and fear being tested. They do not want to be recognized as sex workers or convinced to use family planning because being recognized these are shameful things here. By bad luck, someone must have recognized one of the nurses as a CHAT worker and word got around fast. We entered the first house and found only children. This was same for every place we visited. The women were hiding women from us. Sadly, we had no other choice but to go back to our base.
The following day we went to place called Solio, which is one of the resettled IDP camps (IDPs are the people who were displaced because of the 2007 post-election violence and were eventually given a land by the government). As we approached the village, we saw many anxious faces. We found a space near the Area Chief’s office and raised the tents that would serve as a pop-up medical center for the day. The curious residents rushed to our sides and surrounded the yellow Land Rover. What were we doing there?, they wanted to know. What was family planning? The nurse asked the men to excuse themselves and requested the women to remain. As we introduced them to the idea of family planning, we heard murmuring: “It’s one way of being disrespectful to God. Our husbands will kill us. It causes infertility.” Others shed tears when they reflected on the number of kids that they had, though their husbands still wanted more. To make matters worse, most of their living standards were very low since both of the parents were jobless and the women were very young.
We weren’t getting far with the women so we held a meeting for the men in the village. We tried convincing them on the importance of using family planning. A huge man shouted at me, “You young girl, do you mean you have started using family planning at that little age?” Another man said, “It is a taboo in our tribe.” “Yeah, Yeah!!,” the other men shouted. We tried to get them to remember the families they had come from: the poverty, the suffering, the insecurity. Eventually a few recognized that they were unable to provide basic needs for their current children – food, clothing, school fees – and that to introduce more children to the family would bring increased hardship. We made small inroads with the men and that led to larger inroads with the women, who were actually anxious to learn family planning methods.
Kenyan women are still dominated by men. They have no freedom to choose what they want; they have to consult their husbands before making decisions and many even still believe traditional myths. I learned that even if one has no wealth, he or she prefers to give birth to many kids since children are seen as wealth. Families especially want girls because when they get married the parents will be given a dowry. Dowry brings a lot of wealth to the family since it can be a pool of cows depending with the tribe but am lucky since my family are now change they believe that they will gain more wealth when they see me successful in life.
Getting the exposure through CHAT changed my opinion about family planning. I use to think it was unhealthy, effective in making people grow plump. I thought it was something against God’s commands and much more. But right now, I know that one is supposed to choose the best method that has no effect on her body in order to avoid growing big.
Women and girls should be empowered so that they are able to fight for their rights. Also, men should be taught about family planning so that they can see the positive side of waiting to have kids in order to provide them with all the needs they require.
According to CHAT family planning is reducing poverty in our country. I know that I will use it to make sure that I can have the life I want and a family I can care for properly.