Finding youth-friendly sexual health services in Kenya is difficult. Meet the youth advocate in Mombasa’s sprawling slums making the challenge achievable.
My name is Alfred Sigo and I am 26. I am a youth advocate and director at Pwani Youth Network.
I was born and raised in the largest informal settlement called “Bangladesh” in Mombasa, Kenya. Growing up in the slums with people living on less than a dollar a day wasn’t easy.
There are many issues that face young people. I feel that it is my responsibility to speak about the challenges I faced. I have always wanted to educate young people in my community so that they can empower changes around them.
Many young people growing up facing several challenges. From drugs and substance abuse and unwanted pregnancies, to high HIV infection and STI rates and stigma towards people living with HIV in the area, many young people see their potential blighted.
Many in the “Bangladesh” slums are unemployed. In Kenya today young make up more than 54% of the national population. This is the largest number of the young people the country has ever had since independence, but many feel that they have little say or little influence in their lives and are ignored by politicians.
Politicians ignore them making accessing youth-friendly sexual health services very difficult.
Many young people – like those living in slums like “Bangladesh” – live with high levels of poverty and with low levels of government support.
There was no local health facility where I grew up; health education wasn’t a priority for us. I saw several girls get complications during birth and during unwanted pregnancies because they were unable to access health services. We grew up without adequate sexual health education. There were no youth-friendly sexual health services available in our community.
When I was 15 a young girl in my class died after she had gone through attempted abortion Her death was an eye-opener to me and my community It was at this exact moment I began to realise the importance of pushing for better, youth-friendly sexual health services and available education.
“Bangladesh” needed to force change through young people and we felt the politicians weren’t going to do it.
Through Pwani Youth Network and the Youth2Youth Network, we decided to make it our mission to drive grassroots action. We built a youth-friendly centre and – together with other sexual health champions – we lobbied the local county government and also development partners to improve youth-friendly sexual health services in our area.
The youth centre we’ve built reaches around 10,000 people annually. It is helping to reduce new infections and support young people living with HIV. It has also supported more young people in providing them with information and help increase uptake of health services.
Last year we produced a film called ‘Watamati’ and the film scooped several awards at the Coast Film Festival. We are also launching a film that will come out next year. The film is targets adolescents, explaining why young people are still getting infected with HIV while providing them with information on how to access services.
Since Pwani Network started we have seen an increase in the number of young people visiting health clinics and accessing sexual health services. There has been an increase in demand and an uptick from young people using condoms in “Bangladesh.”
Our outreach has grown and grown and the number of young people participating in public policy workshops has increased. This is helping young people to influence key decision-makers and has help to lobby in increase in health financing to help provide these services.
It has taken us two long painstaking years of engaging the government and activists to get to where we are today but we are glad to have provided a platform for young people to speak up and make a difference in their community.
The journey was not an easy one but we stand proud with where we are today and the difference that we’ve made.
Interested in Alfred’s story? Read more of our blogs on sexual health here.