I had worked in the area of sexual health as an NGO employee for 5 years, it was time for me to actualise my vision and impact my local community who are affected by many challenges, in particular teenage pregnancy, HIV and sexual violence. I grew up in a village where many young girls did not finish school due to teenage pregnancy and early marriages, it dawned on me that young girls in my own area Limuru were suffering and could benefit from my work.

 

This lead me to found Youth Changers Kenya (YCK), a community-based organisation in Kenya that seeks to promote sexual and reproductive health and Rights (SRHR) through advocacy, mentorship and leadership training and offering psychosocial support to victims of sexual abuse especially girls from tea plantation areas. YCK envisions a society where young people are sexually healthy and free from violence. Sexual violence is prevalent among young girls who come from the tea plantation areas. Our project seeks to provide education, prevention and recovery for young girls and women by using the following strategies; increase knowledge levels of sexual violence, (do’s & don’t s when girls are raped, understanding power struggle and patriarchy, different forms of sexual violence, effects of rape and where to get support from.  It also provides young girls with practical self defence skills, individual and group therapy sessions to victims of sexual violence.

 

Culturally, there is a lot of shaming among young girls who have experienced sexual abuse. Many families would want to hide the incident and resort to out-of-court settlements, as there is little understanding of the legal framework around sexual abuse in Kenya. Accordingly, the locals perceive the justice system as cumbersome and costly. Mental health – and the ramifications of such abuse – is also an issue that is not talked about due to stigma and discrimination. People have little information about mental health.

                                                                                                                           

In Kenya, girls who have experienced trauma are more common than they should be. Joan* is one such girl: an 18 year old under institutional care due to an intellectual disability and deceased parents. An employee at the institution raped her; she was threatened with harm if she disclosed the incident. After some time, she noticed that she had missed her periods and decided to talk to the matron. The matron recommended a pregnancy test and it was confirmed that Joan was pregnant. It was at this point that Joan explained her horrific ordeal. The perpetrator was arrested and is currently in custody, and Joan was taken to a safe house away from where the incident took place. Despite wanting the baby and carrying the pregnancy to term, the baby tragically died two months after delivery. Efforts were made to re-integrate Joan with her extended family. We hope that she gets justice.

 

I founded YCK to bring justice, education and empowerment to girls like Joan. We have trained 4500 young people by offering sexual health training, offered psychological support to victims of sexual abuse, rescued girls from abusive environments and taken them to safe houses, and supported them to receive both justice and continue with education. Our ‘Adolescent Girls and Young Women’ project works with 200 girls who are from the tea plantations areas. We work with 15 schools to train students on sexual health and leadership development. In circumstances in which sexual assault has taken place, we support the survivors to see their perpetrators arrested and fundraise for the girls to complete their education.

 

Establishing YCK was not easy, but its mission generated a lot of support from the beginning. I looked for people who are like-minded and passionate about youth work. A friend who has an organisation in Uganda offered technical support. Many others liked the vision and invested their financial resources into the initiative, or directed me to relevant grants. I also approached local organisations and requested them to support our activities.

 

Starting an NGO with no money and becoming a successful advocate is all about self-motivation, strong values and a supportive network. I am a go-getter who is motivated by the fact that many young women and young people look up to me to support and empower them. I also have a very strong support system, especially with support from my mum and great mentors who are lawyers, scholars and human rights defenders. I envision YCK becoming a global brand, which has enabled me to identify my niche and stick to the fight. I explore opportunities that will help both YCK and myself grow, and am not scared of trying new interventions if it seems they will benefit humanity. I have had the opportunity to work with an International human rights organisation as a board member and advocate from Kenya. This work has changed my life and inspires me to dedicate all that I can to making life happier and safer for girls across Kenya, Africa and the world.

 

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