By: Lindsey Taylor Wood, Communications Associate
Found just five kilometers southwest of Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi, Kibera is one of the most densely populated urban settlements in the world. Of the nearly one million impoverished people inhabiting this rural area, it is estimated that 50% are under the age of fifteen, and 10-25% are infected with HIV/AIDS. To address the district’s economic instability and promote participatory development, the not-for-profit Carolina for Kibera (CFK) provides youth leadership and ethnic and gender cooperation through sports, young women's empowerment, and community development.
Established by Rye Barcott, Salim Mohamed, and the late Tabitha Atieno Festo in 2001, the CFK has support services based at the Center for Global Initiatives (CGI) at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in addition to the headquarter office and youth center located in Kibera. With a strong belief system that local leaders and subsequently, local solutions, are the key to addressing the community’s obstacles, CFK only employees Kenyans, with the exception of a singular full-time support staff in the United States. In order to sustain its health, social and economic-centered programming, CFK partners local leaders with individuals and civil society groups inside and outside the Kibera community.
Given the high prevalence of both youth and HIV/AIDS in Kibera, initiatives surrounding sex, HIV/AIDS, and reproductive health are paramount. To address the issues that emerge as a result, CFK uses fifty-two Peer Youth Educators to disseminate related education to the community through theater, debates, school clubs and door-to-door campaigns, a methodology also known as “edutainment.” In addition to utilizing artistic and innovative programming to inform and engage the population, they provide condoms, counseling and make referrals to those in need of family planning and testing services, as well as provide HIV testing and private, on-site counseling at public events.
In addition to the mechanisms folded into their holistic outreach strategies, CFK supports The Binti Pamoja (Daughters United) Center. A reproductive health and women’s rights center for teenage girls, it was founded by Karen Austrian and Emily Verellen, two undergraduates and former CFK volunteers. The third program to be launched under the organization’s umbrella, it provides a safe space for young girls to address issues unique to them - specifically, those related to women's rights and reproductive health. Each year, a new group of girls is vetted, and upon completing the two year program, graduates. Alumni of Binti Pamoja then take on leadership roles in the Center and initiate new groups in the community. Given that only 1% of girls in Kibera have access to an all-girl, development program, and that those aged 15-24 are contracting HIV five times more frequently than males of the same age, the program has proven invaluable in fostering engagement and promoting HIV/AIDS prevention.
Themed photography, reflective writing assignments, peer-led discussions and drama help the 13 to 18 year olds involved in the program to address subjects that may be considered culturally taboo: HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections, lack of reproductive health care and information, unintended early pregnancy, violence against women, prostitution, female circumcision, sexual abuse, unequal access to education and stifling domestic responsibilities. Other efforts include monthly speakers and field trips, a newsletter with participant-created content, community service projects, family events and a HIV/AIDS peer education program.
Says Program Officer, Sarah Waithera, “We’ve had this kind of training, annually, since the program believes in empowering and mentoring the girl-child. We foster them to make them leaders through an intense three-year training on leadership, reproductive health, life skills and financial literacy. Our hope as a program is to make them role models for the young girls whom they are going to mentor from the community.”
In the nine years since its inception, the program’s success has been exceptional. The twelve girls who began the program have now become 1000 young, knowledgeable leaders advocating for the end of violence against women, access to education, and the ability to make decisions about their own reproductive health.
To learn more about Carolina for Kibera, please click here.