240212 The Birds and the Bees in Amboseli

What is sex? What is child marriage? What are STDs? What is teen pregnancy? What is rape?

These are just some of the many questions submitted by students at the Child Rights Clubs organized by Big Life’s community health program. The clubs take place twice a term and are often the only opportunity for young people in this area to seek answers on subjects considered taboo in their community. Questions are submitted anonymously and answered by a school health patron who holds wider discussions about sexual reproductive health and rights.

The closure of schools during COVID precipitated an unfortunate spike in teenage pregnancies across our area of operation: 216 girls dropped out of school in 2021. The clubs were started to combat this, and last year 55 schools hosted these clubs. About 1,500 kids participated.

Rural Maasai communities remain heavily patriarchal. Myths and misconceptions about family planning often prevent women and young girls from making their own decisions about when and how many children they want. A survey conducted by Big Life in 2021 showed that 84% of male spouses disapprove of any family planning, with 86% believing that family planning has long-term negative side effects, including 51% believing that it causes a loss of libido. This is compared with 38% of women who reported that they did not want their last pregnancy, and only 43% used modern contraception against a national average of 60%, the data clearly indicates a need for improved understanding.

Big Life’s community health program was started in 2018. Our goal is to improve rural Maasai communities’ understanding of sex and sexual reproductive health, as well as to improve access to basic health services. This is achieved by holding dialogues with men, women, and young people, staging household visits by community health volunteers, improving access to family planning services, as well as outreach by 14 backpack nurses who provide free antenatal check-ups, HIV tests, counselling, and general healthcare services.

We’re grateful to our partners for their life-saving support of these programs, including Chase Africa and Royal African Safaris.

Photo: Josh Clay