When I am not studying, engaged in the Swedish Network for International Health or the Global Health Mentorships program I am also involved in the international group in the UN-district of Gothenburg-and Bohus. For some time now we have been planning to go to Kenya, and after receiving funding from Forum Syd/SIDA, the Swedish Development Agency, we could finally realize our ideas. Luckily enough for me, we managed to plan the trip in between two courses to travel to Mbita, Kenya.
Mbita, bordering Lake Victoria in Kenya provides a beautiful scenery. Although looking beautiful, communities located around Lake Victoria are burdened with a high prevalence of intestinal schistosomiasis, causing morbidity, with malaria being the leading cause of morbidity and mortality among children. The region has one of the highest HIV prevalence rates and some of the poorest health indicators in Kenya. The population lives on farming, fishing, keeping domestic animals and small-scale business. 75% of the population lives on less than 1 US dollar a day. Youths school drop outs are common and identified as a problem by our local partner organization. As found in the baseline study report, only about 10% completed secondary education. The school dropouts have severe negative consequences both for the individuals and the society. The youths might turn to alcohol and drug abuse and prostitution. Women were seen to be more inclined to drop out of school due to early pregnancy and marriage. One of the major hinders for youths to finish school seems to be that the parents are not able to pay the school fees. Together with our partner organization we wanted to find an alternative approach to support the youths who are dropping out of school. One aim was to enable the youths to discover their potentials to participate in activities leading to socio-economic development for themselves and their community. Also, to educate in sexual and reproductive health and rights as the HIV/AIDS rates are high.
The baseline study was conducted by our local partner organization, consisting of a group of ambitious people committed to improving their local community. Our purpose for travelling to Mbita was to evaluate the baseline study, get to know the organization better and to plan a potential future project together. After several meetings, a visit to a vocational school in a neighbouring town and discussions we came up with a project plan aiming to educate youths that dropped out of school. Additionally, the youths will receive education in sexual and reproductive health and rights.
One of the members of the organization, Catherine, a primary school teacher, asked us to come to her school and talk to the youths, which of course, we did. There were about 350 students and we were told many of them were infected with HIV/AIDS and some were orphans. This we were being told a few minutes before we were going to talk to them. “Encourage them and give them some hope,” Catherine said to us. I doubt that we managed to accomplish such a big task, though, I think it was an exciting event for both the students and us.
We are now in the process of writing a new project application to apply for further funding to proceed with the project. As guests in Mbita and Kenya, we were welcomed with open arms. We experienced an overwhelming hospitality. We ate dinner every night at Gabriel and Jane´s house, a couple from the organization, and they really made us feel like we belonged to the family. Most of the people we came across were curious at us and wanted to greet and talk to us, though this was not always the case. We unintentionally scared a few small children (as explained by the mother, they had never seen white people before). What I take with me home from this experience is the incredible hospitality and kindness of the people I met in Kenya. Also, that there is a big difference in reading and studying about vulnerable populations than it is to personally listen to someone telling you about their everyday life. I felt humble before the complexity and struggles that poverty brings. I think this experience will come useful in the future as an aspiring global health professional. I will remember the hospitality, the kindness and the open arms that greeted us during our time in Kenya.