Florence, far right, and I went to Luanda to meet with the four sex ed team members there. (This was my seven-matatu day - a personal record!) I trained them exactly a year ago - August 2010.
Here we are in front of Priscilla's house (mother of Sarah, an early childhood development specialist and once the homeschool teacher for some of Rose's youngest orphans). From left, Dorcas, Priscilla, Lydia, Eddah, and Florence.
It's actually hard for me to do justice to how moved I was by the work these women are doing. We had to suspend payment to them in March, but, like the Kabras Vumilia team, they are still actively teaching sex ed in the community. For no pay. Not even covering their transport costs. The only venues they no longer teach in are schools, but that's because we have to renew our permission letter from the federal Education Ministry. But when they're invited by churches, chief's barazas, women's groups, etc., they go (in teams of two) if they can.
And they are constantly stopped on the path or in the market by principals and teachers begging them to get back into the schools, evidently. They are also asked for counseling and advice. People come to them in their homes, or pull them aside while they're shopping, and describe domestic abuse issues, weird smells and discharges, pregnant daughters, teens who won't listen, straying spouses. . .
When I asked about accomplishments, Eddah led off. She said she had a personal accomplishment - she never knew that she could actually talk in front of a group. (Florence, who was their on-the-ground supervisor, told me privately that she's an excellent teacher.) Lydia jumped in to say that "once a teacher always a teacher" - even though they don't go in to schools at the moment, and only did for about five months, now everyone greets her as "Madam", the term most used (in English) for female teachers here. Before this she was "just a farmer". I really love doing the teacher-training part of the workshops I run, and it's a great feeling to hear the pride in people's voices when they talk about the respect they now get from their community!
So, some of the information reported:
1. They're always invited back, and have never encountered any resistance to the teaching, though at the upper primary (6th, 7th, 8th grades) they don't introduce condoms but do answer all questions about them, including how to use them. They fear parent reaction if they bring it up themselves (though this has never been a problem in Kabras/Kakamega. Maybe a more conservative culture, maybe they are being overly cautious?)
2. Lydia and Dorcas both report that the schools in their area have already shown lower drop-out rates, which are mostly due to early pregnancy and "bad company", and increased performance, and the principals tell them that they attribute it directly to their sex ed lessons.
3. Lydia said that at one particularly poor school (which is really saying something around here!) it's hard to teach abstinence because of the pressures of poverty - some girls will have sex in order to buy panties, books, pens. . .She talked with a teacher and they came up with a suggestion that they took to the head teacher, who approved. They would begin a charitable club, and every child at the school is a member if they choose. The parents are asked to send one shilling (a bit more than a penny) to school with their child every Wednesday that they can afford it. That money goes into a pot, and teachers identify vulnerable children who desperately need some essential items. She said that most of the teachers are from the area and understand the families - they'll know which homes have really nothing, and which kids are vulnerable to the economic pressures. They haven't gone forward with it only because they've stopped going to schools while the permission letter is pending. She doesn't know whether the school has gone ahead and tried it.
4. In this area, the federal government has already started distributing the promised santary pads to upper primary girls every month. (This hasn't come to Kakamega yet.) There is finally recognition of the devasting effect missing school for want of sanitary products has had on girls' attendance and performance. She said even teachers sometimes complain that the girls smell bad! (I'm not convinced this is the right way to solve the problem, but at least while the politicians dick around for the next decade, trying to figure out how to enrich themselves personally through the project, the girls will benefit in the short term.)
5. At one school they taught at, the principal "commanded all the teachers to also attend the lesson." He said, "The owners of the information that you want are here." And he and they sat appreciatively though the entire lesson.
6. They report an increase in correct condom use, according to reports they get. Adults come back to them after the condom lesson and confess that they'd tried them before, but incorrectly.
7. Priscilla reported that there's a big increase in HIV+ people going to the hospital or clinic to be treated for opportunistic infections, and being compliant with their ARVs. She is positive herself, and says she knows every HIV positive person in the area. She says that the lessons on destigmatization, and living positively with HIV, have had a big impact on the understanding that it you are drug compliant, use protection, treat opportunistic infections immediately, and get the best nutrition you can, HIV is not the death sentence of the past.
8. Everyone agrees that stigma in the community is down, and many more people are going in for testing.
9. Despite that, people still prefer to go to a further away hospital where people are less likely to know them for their testing and treatment.
10. The chief of the Southwest Bunyore district invited Lydia to come to a baraza and speak to his "people". He told them that "somebody who values your children is sending us to school." He gave her a microphone, and she spoke to the crowd. Because she and Dorcas had already been in the local schools, one of the audience members called out: "Our children are already bringing it to the table at home." (meant in a good way)
11. They are also doing their best to get into as many churches as possible, because "the religion is all about abstinence".
12. They need more brochures, an STD chart and new reproductive anatomy flip chart, as theirs is in tatters, plus they live far from each other and incur transport costs just to pick up the teaching materials.
13. They're planning to keep on keeping on with the teaching for no money until the day that we can afford to compensate them again.
14. They want me to come back and run another training so that they have more teachers in their area, which is big.
We worked hard, it was emotional, and luckily Priscilla is a wonderful host. In fact, when I asked Florence if we shouldn't meet at a cafe so we could eat, given that we anticipated a long day, she told me not to worry - those Bunyore women can organize themselves! (Bunyore is both the location at Luanda, and also the tribe. I think.) From left, sukuma wiki, white ugali, and chicken. Later in the afternoon we had tea and boiled groundnuts, which I had never eaten before. Actually delicious, though I had a terrible time with the shells and Florence made fun of me while she shelled for me.
Priscilla in her living room.
Florence was definitely right that there was no cafe anywhere around. - this is the path to Priscilla's.
Raining when we left, so Priscilla escorted us to the road for our matatu (number four of the day) with an umbrella for Florence.
This is actually Priscilla's bottom hanging out of the matatu, next to the tout (collector). We drove for at least several kilometers with her hanging on for dear life, just to say goodbye to us at the Luanda station.
Luanda matatu stage in the rain.
A little roadside food stand along the way home. People make their livings from these little stalls. And locals rely on them, so they don't have to walk far or pay transport. This stall probably sells some fruit, maybe some onions or tomatoes or eggs, sugar, white bread, toilet paper, soap. Maybe paraffin for the lanterns. Matches. Seven-eleven!
A rewarding day for me.