The campaign to bring together Kenyan teenagers and policy makers to identify and solve sexual problems affecting young adolescents was on Tuesday praised here in Nusa Dua, during the International Family Planning conference.
The Dear Mama Campaign, initiated in 50 schools from seven counties in Western and Rift Valley regions, involved 3,307 pupils between 10-15 years – who expressed their fears, opening up about their main challenges and obstacles to their studies.
The campaign was initiated by 35-year old Ms Leah Ogada, then a senior advisor with Ipas Africa Alliance, an organisation which advances women's reproductive health rights across Africa.
This, she did, following reports of large numbers of girls dropping out of schools especially in Trans Nzoia and Bungoma counties. The minors addressed their heart rending letters to Kenya's First Lady Margaret Kenyatta - coinciding with her Beyond Zero campaign.
HIGHEST DROP-OUT CASES
The schools involved in the campaign were identified as those with the highest drop-out cases from pregnancy and other disciplinary issues from Busia, Bungoma, Vihiga, Kakamega, Siaya, Trans Nzoia and Uasin Gishu counties.
"Our main objective was to empower the young adolescents to advocate for their reproductive health and rights,'' Ms Ogada told delegates at the International Family Planning conference at Nusa Dua, in Bali.
"We were happy that the boys and girls were bold enough to share with us their experiences which, as a result, will see gaps that still exist in creation of adolescence's policies are sealed," she said in her presentation during a session on empowering youth and improving family planning services.
In one letter, a 15-year girl gives a graphic description of how she was defiled by a man known to her and her appeal for help was unsuccessful. She has had to live with the trauma of “that evil process.''
Another girl spoke of how she has to miss school for five days a month during menstruation because her family is too poor to afford sanitary towels.
"I am in class seven and I find it hard to catch up with other pupils in the class because in a year, I am out of class for 60 days because of lack of sanitary pads,'' the girl wrote.
Another pupil narrated how six girls had dropped out of school last year after they got pregnant. "Some of my classmates got pregnant because of boy/girl relationship,' wrote the pupil.
On Tuesday, Ms Ogada said most of the pupils singled out defilement as their biggest fear and obstacle to their studies.
The children also spoke of the need for sexual education, indicating they had never had it. Peer pressure, sodomy and love relationships with teachers were also singled out as major issues, respectively.
"Witnesses or the rape victims were often threatened to drop the cases,'' she said of the research adding that night dances were some of the events that put the adolescents at risk of sexual violence.
It was observed that the minors do not trust the system based on their experiences as they seek reproductive health services.
"They have incorrect information on pregnancy, HIV and other reproductive health issues,” she added.
Contents of the letters were discussed by Ministry of Education and county officials as well as non-governmental organisations in a bid to seek solutions.
Some three teachers who were found to have abused pupils in Busia and Trans Nzoia initially went into hiding even as the Director of Public Prosecutions moved in to prosecute some culprits.
The findings also led to community fora where issues affecting the children were raised even as the cases were handed over to relevant institutions for action.