Switching gears

According to this year’s (January 25th - 3rd April) research by Trends and Insights for Africa (TIFA), over half of the secondary school students have watched pornography. TIFA notes that teenagers resort to the media for information on sex; internet films and videos ranking first in this. TIFA findings also highlighted that this is as a result of lack of sex education in schools and taboos surrounding such conversations in households. Thus, these children are left to navigate the internet for information that they probably cannot deconstruct.

Now, this is Linda’s plight. Linda has very strict and religious parents who do not condone any conversation surrounding sexual and reproductive health. The first time she got her period it was her aunt (house help) who gave her pads and later informed her mother of the developments. From then on, Linda always finds a pack of pads in her bed monthly, but no conversation attached to it. No guidance from the mother on menstrual cycle but only a “don’t play around with boys from now on!” What does that even mean to a 13-year-old, my dear readers? Linda is left to relying on her science class knowledge of the menstrual cycle which is also very brief because her phone cannot access the internet either.

At age 14, Linda’s aunt (her mum’s sister) visits and takes her to a sexual health centre because now she is a ‘big girl’. Now, mind you Linda has no understanding of what this place is or why they are there. Later, they see a doctor who silently talks to her aunt and ‘something’ is inserted in her arm. Fast track to 3 years later, at a session with the guidance counselling panel at Linda’s high school, she gets an understanding of what was inserted in her arm; an implant. However, at this point she has been facing side effects that she has no explanation of. Linda is very sceptical of talking to her parents or teachers about this issue because they will fail to believe her. They might refuse to understand that she was very oblivious when this was done and that it was not consensual.

Dear readers, this is a scenario that is not foreign to girls in Kisumu and other parts of Kenya. They live their lives with so much uncertainty and curiosity that is never quenched. Let me rephrase, it can be quenched but the avenues to do so are either limited or very hostile to them. This is why Linda-Project came up with a solution that is safe, private and relevant for girls like Linda to have their questions answered. A platform where they can transfer the conversations that they have in their heads to a trained professional that will offer guidance, insight and medical referrals if need be. This platform is called the Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD). An affordable platform that can reach girls despite their economic background.

Luckily, she can find an ear listening twin in our organisation, Linda which means “protect” in Swahili. Our mobile health counseling service aims to spark conversations on such turbulence situations that young people experience. We have noticed that many young people, especially girls, do not have a private and secure platform to ask questions on myths, misinformation, and ignorance regarding sexual reproductive health issues.

Author: Prudence Hainga