Janet* a mother of three resides in the informal settlement of Kibra slums. She has an adolescent daughter, in grade Eight who she describes as a silent child and this scares her. Though she has a good relationship with her and engages in conversation from time to time she’s not sure if her daughter discloses everything and this worries her. The uneasiness isn’t only for Janet but countless of parents or guardians with daughters who are in that stage.
This is where Polycom Development Project comes in through their project which focuses on empowering women and girls in the informal settlements of Kibra. The project covers a number of initiatives including the Saturday forum, G-pende program, the mentorship assemblies and the talking box a project which they started schools with the help of United Nations Population Fund, and is currently being implemented within 50 schools they do mentorship session in Kibra.
“Our project focuses on empowering the women and girls in addressing issues affecting them. We deal with adolescent girls because we do understand the dangers and problems they face in the setting they are which they mostly don’t disclose. The problems range from misinformation on sexual reproductive health, teenage pregnancies, maternal and new born health issues. Gender based violence is also rifer here,” Lavender Akinyi, facilitator, Sexual Reproductive Health Rights Advocate and one of the mentors explains.
The organization adopted the use of Talking boxes to allow women and girls anonymously communicate issues affecting them either in school or home.
How the boxes work
The boxes are mounted in each of the schools in the girls’ toilets or any other place chosen by the pupils themselves. The essence of that is to ensure the boxes don’t get tampered with and the girls too feel safe in the process.
One pupil gets selected as the talking box ambassador and tasked with the responsibility of encouraging the other girls to use the Talking Boxes to air any issues they might have. The mentors then go to the school on specific days to collect and analyze and address the contents of the box accordingly.
“Through the mentorship sessions we have with them anonymity is always encouraged. Only the mentors got the key to access the content of the box so we read through what’s been written and key in the data. This involves grouping the content into different categories depending on the context and the school where the issue was recorded,” says phenny Ogembo, Social worker, mentor and a She Leads representative for all girls and women in Kenya and the Panafric region.
According to her, the common issues raised through this platform are financial needs, feeding issues, GBV, sanitary towels supplies and health related problems.
They offer different solutions to different problems. Whioe some require a one-on-one session, others are tackled through mentorship, referrals and other means.
Through the mentorship sessions, Polycom employees and the mentors teach the girls how to identify symptoms of Urinary Tract Infections and other health related problems and how they come about.
The organization has partnered with Carolina for Kibera for referrals in such cases whereby the girls undergo checkups get treatment when need be. “We are proud to say at least right now the girls are aware on how well they can look after their health,” says Lavender.
The information acquired from the talking boxes has enabled Polycom set milestones in advocating for and protecting the rights of the girls.The contents of the box vary and thus shine a light on most extreme cases far beyond just the school environment.
“The project has had a very positive impact on what we as polycom Development strive to achieve. We are proud to have set up the Sexual Harassment Policy from the contents the girls have been writing. We’ve had our girls take part in making changes to the policies that affect them .We also have managed to save 10 girls last year deep within Kibra from undergoing Fale Genital Mutilation.We are also part of several focus discussions concerning ,” remarks Ogembo.