Education, Health, Leadership, Violence Against Women
In preparation for my trip I saved my personal earnings and also reached out to my community for donations.
I went to Kenya to work with adolescent girls in four different rural schools. My project was to travel to the schools and give the girls an opportunity to share their life experiences, give voice and acknowledgment to their strengths and challenges, and provide any answers to questions about health that the girls had.
One of the first activities I did with every group was to give each girl a piece of paper to ask any anonymous questions they’ve ever wanted the answer to. I was shocked to open each piece of paper and have over seventy-five percent of the girls asked the same question—“What is AIDS?” In a country with over 1,300,000 people living with HIV/AIDS, 62% of that being women and girls, these young women had no idea of what the disease was, only that it was slowly but surely destroying their communities.
HIV/AIDS and healthy life choices was the apex for my conversations with the girls we worked with. It was an amazing opportunity for these young women to open up and share their fears, concerns and questions about their own bodies and relationships. Not only was the experience eye-opening and powerful for me but I ended up working in eight different schools with over 400 young women. Each group came up with a creative way to express their own stories. One group wrote essays about their "experience as a girl", others acted out a play about local shero Wangari Maathai.
There wasn't a single moment about this experience that wasn't rewarding for me. I not only felt blessed to be able to travel to a foreign land, but it was an immense privilege to be able to be present and bear witness to the beauty, strength and resilience that these young women possessed. I entered into this project conscious of not inflicting my own "western values" on these girls, but in the end we got to come together and share our bond as female global ambassadors and celebrate the differences that make our cultures unique.
I returned to the states discouraged by the overwhelming status of the AIDS pandemic in Kenya and on the continent of Africa, feeling as though I had underserved those girls with the short explanations of HIV/AIDS. The deep passion for the most knowledge of their own health and protection of their bodies inspired me to create a project that could help educate and empower people on HIV/AIDS prevention and living healthy, hopeful lives after being diagnosed HIV positive.
With the help of Village Volunteers we launched a project called Youth Outreach Mentors. The goal of YOM is to deconstruct myths surrounding HIV/AIDS, enable the youth of Kenya to make educated choices about their health, and guide them in informing their communities in developing safe and knowledgeable lifestyle choices. YOM does this by sending international volunteers to organize and train groups of secondary school students in HIV/AIDS and health education, so that they may become Youth Outreach Mentors in their own communities, and pass this information forward.
Within two years since we began YOM over 1000 people have been trained on HIV/AIDS prevention practices and several youth are health educators in their own communities.