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“Engaging young people is not always easy”

Get Up, Speak Out (GUSO) is one of Rutgers' key programmes on improving young people’s sexual health and rights. Read Johnstone Kuya story as a Programme Coordinator.

Johnstone Kuya talks about his experience and challenges working as a National Programme Coordinator in Kenya for the programme Get Up, Speak Out (GUSO), one of Rutgers’ key programmes. In this programme, six alliance partners are collaborating in seven countries to improve young people’s sexual health and rights.

Young people respond very positively and feel involved in the programme, not just in design, but also in implementation.
Johnstone Kuya | National Programme Coordinator Kenya for the Get Up, Speak Out programme


“I have a passion for SRHR. In Kenya, the country where I live, young people below the age of 25 constitute 66% of the total population. Unfortunately, in most parts of the country they experience poor sexual and reproductive health outcomes. There is a high rate of teenage pregnancies (a national average of 18%), high rates of HIV infection, unsafe abortions and STIs among young people and adolescents. On top of this, only 12% of the current SRHR services are labelled as youth-friendly. The situation is even worse in rural areas where the majority of young people live. This situation demands a change. I want to contribute to an enabling environment where young people are empowered and able to voice their rights. To me this is crucial.”

“As a National Programme Coordinator (NC) for the GUSO programme, I have the responsibility of bringing the Kenya SRHR alliance partners together to leverage their resources and expertise and to take care of quality and sustainable SRHR programming.

We have to strengthen the alliance and move away from an ad-hoc institution to a more institutionalised entity, so that eventually we have systems in place to establish and manage programmes beyond the GUSO programme.”

Young people
“I sit in the same office as the Youth Country Coordinator (YCC) and she tells me that the young people we work with in the alliance and communities are well-recognised and well-valued in their decision-making. That information is valuable because engaging young people is a key strategy for the GUSO programme. It is great to see that young people feel involved and they are really part of the work we do. This is also reflected in the results of the focus group discussions and the online surveys that we did.  Young people respond very positively and feel involved in the programme, not just in design, but also in implementation.”

“However, engaging young people is not always easy. The most challenging part is that most civil society organisations, such as the GUSO implementing partners and especially those providing CSE education and information, are not allowed to work in schools. Seeking approval from the Ministry of Education is still a long process. So, to engage young people who go to school we must wait for them to come out of school first. Trying to mobilise them and engage them outside their home can also be difficult and  access to some services requires parental approval. However, some parents do not talk about SRHR issues openly, so requesting parental approval becomes an issue in itself.”

“Parental involvement is crucial. I believe we need to reach out to and empower parents so that they can also confidently address SRHR issues with their children. This is also crucial when it comes to breaking taboos and social constrictions. To engage young people, you need their parents, since they play a critical role in their children’s lives. This is one of the strategies we want to focus on during the rest of the GUSO programme, which is ending in 2020.”

Dealing with opposition
“SRHR opposition is very real in Kenya. We have been organising sessions with conservative religious leaders to be able to explain the importance and meaning of sexuality education. We also work closely with multiple ministries to integrate our work on a national level, such as the Ministry of Health, which is one of the most supportive and more progressive ministries of our government. We work closely with them to engage the Ministry of Education in implementing sexuality education from a health perspective instead of an educational perspective. As an alliance, we are now engaging the Director of Policy and Partnerships who we have requested a consultative meeting with, which we hope to hear about very soon.’’

“To deal with opposition, we are also working with other like-minded organisations outside the alliance. We partially do this through the sexuality education CSOs caucus group as the co-conveners.  In addition, we provide advocacy training courses to our partners and to young people who are active in SRHR work. We teach them how to engage religious institutions from the lower level to be involved in communities. As a result, the religious leaders started to openly champion youth SRHR and have taken the opportunity to talk about youth SRHR in various churches and youth gatherings. We are also actively trying to discuss SRHR topics with parents and others in the communities. These are all opportunities for change.”

Biggest accomplishment
“It has been my personal biggest accomplishment to successfully implement the GUSO programme. I am extremely happy with the midterm results. We must be able to ensure that all these organisations  continue to support and complement each other, share strategies, align their objectives and resources to achieve more together than they would have been able to achieve individually. We aim to continue our work in the coming years, also when the GUSO programme has ended.”

Want to learn more about the GUSO programme? Check out our programme site here, and our animation film and 2017 annual report summary here.

Eva Verbeek | Communications Advisor International



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