, NAKURU, Kenya, Aug 29 – On a pool table, one would expect balls and cue sticks.
However, this was not the scenario one morning at a hangout for off-duty tea pickers at Mlango, a small shopping centre in Kuresoi South, Nakuru County.
A group of health outreach workers had converted the leisure room into a lecture hall, with the pool table becoming a demonstration table for family planning methods.
Unlike the norm in this society where sex is rarely talked about in the open, the table was dotted with both male and female organ dummies, male and female condoms and the participants, mostly young men, discussed issues of sexuality with ease.
Leading the discussions were the outreach workers from Afya Uzazi, a program supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and community volunteers they have trained to catalyse community conversations such as child and maternal health, family planning and environment health in six sub-counties in Baringo and Nakuru, including Kuresoi North and South.
Afya Uzazi noted that men were not involved in addressing issues affecting women, yet they play a key role in ensuring women access health services such as antenatal care and delivery in hospital.
The pool table rooms and pubs are important spaces where health promoters reach men. Besides providing information and encouraging discussions on family planning and safe sex, Afya Uzazi has installed condom dispensers and the stocks run out fast.
Here, a group of young men, most of them married but still in their youth listened keenly as the outreach workers taught them the importance of having manageable families.
They were educated on the different methods of family planning, the need to be involved in their wives’ family planning clinics and the relation between population, health and environment.
Against the backdrop of increased school dropouts due to early pregnancies, Lillian Esemere, a Technical Officer at Afya Uzazi, urged the youth to avoid engaging young girls in sex.
“Let us not encourage Female Genital Mutilation because it does not make a child a woman as is largely believed and engaging these girls in sex can land you in jail,” said Esemere.
The participants all agreed that teenage pregnancy is prevalent in the area. One of the latest cases is that of a 12-year-old who was then said to be eight months pregnant.
Teenage pregnancies are a major problem in Kuresoi.
Interactions with the youth during the one-day even that was to end with a pool game tournament unearth deep-rooted cultural beliefs that are a hindrance to family planning and encourage retrogressive traditional practices like Female Genital Mutilation, teenage pregnancies and early marriages.
One of the participants, Geoffrey Cheruiyot said FGM was good because it makes the girls mature while at the same time controlling promiscuity by inhibiting the girls’ sex urge.
Cheruiyot was however corrected by elders who attended the meeting and the visitors.
The project has brought together officials from the ministries of health, agriculture and interior to address health and environment issues.
The area Deputy County Commissioner, Felix Wafula has issued a warning following increased cases of school dropout, early marriages and teenage pregnancies.
He noted the cases were being fanned by culture and out of court settlement whereby village elders collude with the suspects and parents of the affected girls to exchange livestock or cash.
“I have issued a stern warning to chiefs and village elders who have been colluding with suspects and parents to defeat prosecution of sexual offenses against children,” said Wafula.
He reiterated the government’s commitment to ensure free education to all children.