Promoting health education among youth in Nairobi’s Kibera informal settlement

Linda was born and raised in Nairobi’s Kibera informal settlement, one of the largest and most densely populated areas in Kenya.*

“Life is so challenging here,” she says. Like many youth in her surrounding, this young woman did not get a chance to finish her secondary education due of her unintended pregnancy. “I can say I was a bright student. I think it was just teenage peer pressure that got to me. I met this guy and we were so in love. In the process, I got pregnant and had to drop out of school to take care of the child.” The Health Literacy for Behavior Change is a pilot project implemented from September 2014 to December 2016 by UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa, in partnership with the Kenya Ministry of Education and with the financial support from the Government of Azerbaijan. It aims to promote health education of students and youth between the ages of 10-19 in Nairobi’s Kibera informal settlement through effective delivery of health information at the classroom level.

High rate of urbanization in Kenya has seen a tremendous increase in the number of people living in informal settlements, especially in Nairobi. The city’s slums officially referred to as informal settlements, houses nearly 70% of its residents. Kibera, with over a million residents most of whom live on less than a dollar per day, is reputed to be the largest slum in Africa.

“From a very tender age, if a child is not prepared, nourished and given access to health facilities, it will impair learning,” says Ms. Ann Therese Ndong Jatta, Regional Director at UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa, based in Nairobi, Kenya. . “It’s a project targeting adolescent girls. Because of the social issues in Kibera, most girls tend to be exposed to child sexual exploitation and teenage pregnancy.”

The Health Literacy for Behaviour Change project revealed a range of various sexual risk indicators for girls such as lack of guidance and counselling at school and home, poverty, peer pressure, orphan-hood, insecurity, poor sanitation at school, poor housing and overcrowding, lack of sexual and reproductive health (SRH) information and services among others. These indicators reportedly predispose and exacerbate girls’ vulnerability to child labour, rape, unintended pregnancy, Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs). It is on these premises that the health literacy project in Kibera aimed at enhancing access to health literacy information among adolescent girls to so that they could make informed decisions and boost their opportunities in achieving their educational potential.

“The project is creating awareness in the region, where you have a lot of other actors in place, focusing especially on the health of the child,” says Ms Ndong Jatta. It is also developing health education learning materials for use in schools and providing training to educators.

Through a consultative process, the project developed 12 sets of health literacy materials that were approved by Kenya Institute Curriculum Development, the mandated body to vet all teaching and learning materials at basic level. The project also trained 30 masters trainers and 195 teachers (90 more teachers were trained recently) to strengthen the teaching of health literacy in schools.

Although Kenya has put in place national policies by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health that outline strategies to improve girls’ education, girls in Kibera are significantly less likely to be attending school than boys. A study conducted by Population Council (2007) shows that 43% of girls in the sample were out of school, compared to 29% of boys.

“I stayed out of school for four years,” says Linda. “But fortunately, my family helped me to go back to school and register. And hopefully, I’ll pass.”

*name has been changed.