“Sex is Worth the Wait” was our key message as we set out on our mission to Isiolo to reach out to the youth with the message of abstinence, having a positive self-esteem and how to apply boundaries in the different types of relationships. As the team from Youth For Christ Kenya we feel that this message is really needed by young people in our country today, given that there are reports with startling figures of 50% of risky sexual behaviour prevalent in young people below 25 years old which captures the school going bracket.
Isiolo is one of the major towns in the Upper Eastern region of the country and is a melting point of varied communities. We found out that it isn’t quite known who the foundation community in Isiolo is, as it is dominated by Samburus, Turkanas, Boranas and Merus. Somalis and Kikuyus, communities that are the country’s business gurus are also present in Isiolo. The communities in Isiolo are majorly pastoralist and the dominant religion is Islam. This however did not deter us, the determined team of volunteers(Cliveson, Derick, Chebet, Phiona and myself – Shiko) as we set out to touch the lives of young people in this county.
Isiolo unfortunately has had a history of ethnic clashes over the years, with many peace-making initiatives being undertaken. The town is seen as the gateway to the North with grand plans for a Tourist City in the making. During the mapping process, we had mapped out 10 schools to visit and had received confirmations. But just the weekend before the mission began, there was conflict between two communities and 10 people lost their lives. This unfortunate incident led to the closure of some of the schools we were to minister at. We chose to continue with our mission because we feel that any single life touched is worth the effort and the time. We managed to be visit four schools, St Paul’s Kiwanjani, Millimani Day, Isiolo Girls and Barracks secondary school and the reception in those schools was great.
Communication about Sex and Sexuality is really important and quite a big gap currently exists. At all the schools we visited, the students were very shocked when we would mention issues to do with sexuality. Some would even hold their mouths and look at us in disbelief. Some teachers, who came to sit in as we facilitated the sessions, had to leave the class. When that happened, the students would give a sigh of relief and would then sit upright. We also discovered sadly that some of the teachers were taking advantage of the students sexually as was revealed to us during question and answer sessions where the students gave their contributions.
We endeavoured to make the engagement very interactive and after few exercises, the students began to open up. They asked many questions and answered the questions we had for them. It was evident that the topic on sexuality is a major problem. The issue is not discussed openly due to their culture and yet most of them are sexually active. Those involved the most in sexual activity shared the reasons contributing to them being sexually active and explained what affects them.
Pornography featured quite largely as most of the students told us that they have access to porn at the cyber cafés and also on their phones exposing them to its effects. As it is quite the taboo subject and not spoken about openly, many of them thought there was nothing wrong with it until we mentioned the consequences. They told us that as the subject on sex isnot mentioned in mosques or in their communities, they sourced this either from the media or their peers. Our assessment was that many of them were quite misled and that lack of access to the right information was really contributing to their sexual activity.
They also thought that poverty was one of the major causes of their engagement in premarital sex. Most of them shared that they come from polygamous families and sometimes it was difficult for them to get even the basic needs. As a result some of them find themselves engaging in sexual relationships in order to get money to cater for their needs. This was especially expressed by the girls. We listened to them empathetically even as they continued to describe their identity crisis due to their poor background and pastoralist culture. Most of these poor girls have low self-esteem and especially as they are constantly made to believe that their role in the family is to only to produce children.
They also told us about drugs and how most of them have access to the same. The drugs they said, give them a high and when in this state, they have the capacity to do stuff they had never planned. Some boys revealed to us that they have sex with older women in order to sustain their need for and ability to access the drugs.
After listening to all these reasons for their indulging in sex before marriage, we took the time to share the consequences with them. And although some of the things we shared were quite scary to them, we felt that it was important to be as candid and as realistic as possible as they needed to learn these lessons.
We encouraged the teachers to also ask the students what they had learnt from us, and they were very happy with the feedback they received. They said they would like the programme to continue and be spread throughout Isiolo. We were really encouraged and had our hopes renewed when one head teacher said “Our students need to hear this advice often. This will help them to pass their exams and be good people in the future. When they know who they are, they will not be recruited to join Alshabab.” After the class session, he actually called me to his office and asked me to pray for him and the school. Amazing isn’t it?
Young people really need to hear the message of abstinence and of positive self-esteem. This is what we need to change the direction of this country. We are thankful that our mission in Isiolo was very successful and that we had an impact in the schools we visited. We continue to plan for visits to other schools and look forward to your support and prayers.