Shattering sex talk taboo in Meru: Straight Talk’s peer educators engage students, teachers and parents

Parents were uncomfortable discussing reproductive health issues with their children. They offered that if they started talking to their children about sex, they might mistake it to mean that their parents had considered them adults to indulge in sexual activities…

By Robert Mutwiri, Straight Talk’s Facilitator – Mt Kenya region

Straight talk visited schools in Karimba location in Maara Distrcict, Tharaka Nithi County to give pads to the girls and have a talk with the adoescents on Sexual and reproductive health while bursting myths about puberty, abortion and HIV

We arrived at the venue at 12 noon and met Mr Murithi, the headmaster Ndumbini primary and secondary school, waiting for us.

Over 300 students from nine schools, Karimba primary, Kagongo Gacheke primary, Kagongo Gacheke polytechnic, Kathangawe primary, Ndumbini primary, Muragara Primary, Kaganjo primary and Igangara Secondary school attended and were divided into groups for age appropriateness. To make the children open about their issues, parents were led into another group where Straight Talk facilitators gave basic tips in introducing sex topic to their teenage children.

Mrs Mutegi a guidance and Counselling teacher from  Kagongo Gacheke Primary School started off with the prayers and skits, chorals and verses by the attending schools kicked off the event.

Madonnah Syombua a Straight Talk facilitator took to the stage, getting to the depth of what the students knew, and how much they were facilitated, either personally or by any organization, on matters reproductive health, drugs, sanitary use and girl boy relationships.

A Number of issues were noted

Abortion was still a stigma in this part of Meru and girls who had procured one went by the name ‘Muragani’ which loosely translates into a murderer. She becomes an outcast among male peers and it becomes hard to get into relationships

Most teachers were feared, and their lessons on Human reproduction was hushed. Students expressed fear in seeking clarification on some of their biological changes they were experiencing. The facilitators opened up the discussion about sex, asking students to call the reproductive organs by their English names, before asking them to call them in mother tongue. This helped to make the students feel comfortble with the sex topic.

Parents were uncomfortable discussing reproductive health issues with their children. They offered that if they started talking to their children about sex, they might mistake it to mean that their parents had considered them adults to indulge in sexual activities.

Cultural issue arose: It was not ‘culturally acceptable’ to talk about sex to uncircumcised boys and girls whom the community consider adults.

  • Mrs Tabitha Gitonga, a teacher at Kathangawe then took to the stage assisted by the facilitators had an interactive session on Puberty education. She explained that sanitary towels were a fairly to some of the girls and at times teachers we forced to use their meager salary to aid out some of the students who could not even afford food, let alone pads.Speaker after speaker, mostly female teachers told of the woes the girls undergo, and that parents had left the job of counseling to teachers.Then the straight talk facilitators got back on stage and took the students through several topics like: Sex
  • Hygiene
  • Drug abuse (tobacco and alcohol which are prevalent in the area)-
  • Peer influence.
  •  HIV/Aids and stigma

The students were then grouped again under peer counselors who answered their private, anonymous questions.  Most asked questions were about sex, perhaps because of the openness of the fellow peer counselors whom students seemed much comfortable with.

Pads were later distributed to the students, with teachers asking the Straight Talk crew to visit often, as it arose that let alone pads, some girls could not afford decent underwears.

Sustainability:

Straight Talk team helped to form 9 Straight Talk Clubs in the 9 schools in attendance. The clubs were expected to continue with  these discussions under the Guidance and Counseling teachers and send reports.

Straight talk, teachers and students then planted a tree to commemorate the event and tasked one girl and one boy from Ndumbini Primary to ensure its growth by watering it.

Mrs Mary Miriti, a teacher at Karimba then led in the closing prayer.

RECOMMENDATIONS:

1.Guidance and counseling departments are great partners in the dissemination of correct information about sexual and reproductive health to students and they need training workshops to impart more knowledge.

2. Involving parents can be effective if they are trained on how to have Sexual and reproductive health discussions with their adolescent children.

3. Straight Talk clubs need to be supplied with IED materials to assist them in discussions. The patrons will ensure they get a youth friendly health practitioners to guide the club

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