Step Into My World
Gatwekera is a tough place to grow up and a tough place to live. It may be only a few kilometres from the high-rise blocks of central Nairobi, but this village in Kibera, the largest urban slum in Africa, is home to about 70,000 people and is a world away in terms of development and opportunity.
50% of the population is unemployed and, for those who can find a job, most must travel long distances to earn a very low wage. For those that stay behind, without work, the days are long and hopelessness can set in. Glue sniffing, smoking and alcohol abuse are widespread. Alcohol is usually the cheap, high strength home-made Changaa, which carries its own dangers. Violence, crime and rape are endemic, and some estimate that half of Kibera’s 16 to 25 year old girls are pregnant at any one time1.
In this environment, it’s easy to see the immediate and direct health risks for young people, let alone the longer-term risks that these behaviours can lead to, such as cancers, diabetes and heart and respiratory diseases.
Which is why it is so inspiring to meet Peter.
Peter has lived in Gatwekera for all of his 26 years and knows its problems first hand. His mother brought him up on her own whilst holding down a range of jobs, some several kilometres away. When he was eight, a traffic accident made his right arm useless.
In these circumstances it would be easy to give up. But that isn’t Peter; he is made of tougher stuff. He ignored the people who taunted him about his disability; taught himself to write with his left hand; studied hard and won a scholarship to read Theology at University – and then went straight back to Gatwekera as a volunteer to teach other children growing up in similar conditions.
This is when he learned about the Young Health Programme (YHP), and how we discovered one of our star peer-educators. The YHP’s focus on helping young people to make informed decisions about their health and behaviour immediately resonated with Peter and his experience. Peter’s father had died before he was born and as he says ‘I lost a Dad through cancer and an Auntie from risky sexual behaviour’ so tackling these issues is very personal to him. Working with the YHP has given Peter a chance to make a difference to other people’s lives, and this inspires him: ‘I am changing the lives of young people…I can feel it’, he says.
Working as one of the YHP Kenya’s forty peer-educators has transformed Peter in other ways. The peer-educator training is split into two parts, the first is on life skills, such as confidence building, facilitation and presentation. The second is technical training on the risk behaviours that can lead to contracting NCDs in later life (smoking, alcohol misuse, poor diet, lack of exercise and poor sexual and reproductive health).
The life skills course has transformed his self-confidence and has helped propel him on his ‘great journey’. Where once he was isolated at school he now knows ‘how to gather a group of people and know how to speak with them about the risk behaviours’.
Peer-educators in the Kenya YHP are paid a monthly stipend of $40 a month for their work. Peter gives half of this to his mother, and it makes a big difference to their lives – a home can be rented for about $7/month.
The future for Peter is bright. His ambition is to find a full-time job helping people in Gatwekera and other parts of Kibera. With his determination and new confidence and skills he looks to be well on his way to achieving this ambition.