Solomon Okoth and Khadija Abdi are bubbling in joy as they leave the Youth Reform Project training room at Darajani, Kibera. The expression of happiness they say is because they feel “socially reborn”. Solomon, once shy to talk to his two children above nine years and Abdi, restricted by her Islamic traditions not to be open on sexual matters to children, assert their unequivocal confidence of knowledge by saying “we have to call a spade a spade and not a big spoon. We have to use names like sex and condoms unashamedly and desist from using coined terms”.
The two have just ended their training on Families Matter, a program by Uzima Foundation whose main aim is to reduce sexual risk behavior among adolescents. This training seeks to raise awareness about the sexual risks teenagers face today, encourage positive relationship and reinforcement as parenting practices and improve parents’ ability to communicate to their children about sexuality. Moreover it endeavors to improve on communication barriers that hinder parents from being open with their children.
Jeff Muga, is a master trainer and Programme Officer with Uzima Foundation specializes in behavior and communication change. He says “parents get knowledge, skills and confidence to talk sexual issues with their children to guarantee that the life goals of children are secure.” For Muga, children are the main focus of the program and this helps bring families together.
Families Matter is the overriding theme because it is families that make a community. Indeed, Solomon says he heard of the program through friends who had gone through it. He adds that there are many good lessons he has taken from the training and would consider continuing with it if he is allowed to. The program runs for five weeks and trainees attend three hour sessions once a week.
“I really like learning and children are an important part of my life. In fact, Islam encourages learning as a devout Muslim, I have taken up this challenge”, avers Khadija. The single mother of two boys and a daughter says while Islam proffers that fathers talk to their sons while mothers to their daughters, this cannot apply to her. The learning is important as it will help demystify some religious cultural practices that are not in tandem with modernity.
In the beginning, it was not easy to talk freely to the children. The children did not understand how and why their parents are bringing such a sensitive topic to discuss. Solomon says he decided to incentivize the first day. “I bought sodas and biscuits for my children. We then sat down and started charting as we enjoyed the refreshments, he affirms. Today, he talks to his children every Sunday and when he fails, the children would ask him why he is silent.
For Khadija, she says her daughter would not understand why she has let her watch soap opera in her presence. “She was astonished”, she adds. She let her watch then afterwards opened a discussion on the issues that were in the soap opera. The change does not only assist the children, it helps parents to be better responsive to family needs hence change life in total.
Solomon shares that when a mother is giving birth, they are hardly reluctant to let men assist them in delivery, In fact, Jane Mbole, a new trainee says women prefer men to assist them deliver than fellow women. They therefore opine that this introduction to life should continue throughout whereby fathers should talk openly to their daughters about monthly period and the need to remain clean. Mothers on the other hand should openly talk to their sons about use of condoms and wet dreams.
Muga reiterates that parents should talk to all their children and not just those of their sexual orientation. The training is also vital in assisting children know life skills of avoiding peer pressure. Here, Hussein, a current trainee challenges people not only to focus on the girl child. He says “there is so much demand for the girl child to remain a virgin. How about the boys who break their virginity and impregnate them?”
Parents are at a unique position to guide their children especially the adolescent on negative health outcomes associated with sexual risk behaviors and practices. Through positive communication, children can learn delayed sexual encounter, sexual abstinence and safer sex practices to those that are sexually active. This is primarily because parents are at every stage of a child’s development hence best places to instill behavioral change in them.