Yesterday I ate my last Kenyan fish fry with ugali and sukuma wiki, which nearly left me crying over my plate. I am already telling myself I’ll come back and bring my husband and hopefully family so that they can also appreciate this beautiful place. I am so grateful for the opportunity to work and live here for a bit, and I have such deep respect for colleagues that continue to advocate for a world where no woman or girl ever dies from unsafe abortion- a world where women can decide if and when to have children, and access the resources needed to raise them in a healthy and supportive environment. We can’t know whether this might be a reality in our lifetime, but the deep transformations of the community members, providers, and decision-makers that the Ipas Africa Alliance works with fills me with optimism.
Last week I had the chance to present to Ipas staff on some of the work I’ve been privileged to do while here. Though I primarily sought to collect and organize feedback from community health volunteers, providers, youth champions and leaders of community-based organizations on how Ipas can improve its’ work to refer young women for contraception, I quickly realized the positive impact that these efforts are having on the people implementing the program themselves.- people like Silvester, from community organization Mitume Mantix, and Nerrie, a Youth Champion at Maseno University. They are the
“If I am a man, when my girlfriend tells me she wants to go for contraceptives, it’s high time for me to stop thinking she’s being unfaithful, or that she’s being promiscuous. Let us support them. I tell them (young men), ‘If you are in form one and your girlfriend is in form two, and if by bad luck you impregnate this girl, you won’t be at peace, because maybe you’ll be arrested, maybe you’ll be taken to court for these things, or rather maybe you will run away from your place, your home, so you’ll also be affecting your education… If you feel you are in an in-love relationship, support her! Go for the contraceptives, and see her through her education, so that if you meet somewhere in the future, you can enjoy your relationship.’ “ – Silvester, of CBO Mitume Mantix, an Ipas community partner
“The project has changed me in lots and lots of ways. It has provided me with a platform to develop my leadership skills and to also empower others on issues dealing with their sexual and reproductive health. Implementing Ipas’ Choice for Change project and working with the Youth Champions across Maseno University has been very fulfilling and a good learning experience regarding challenges faced by the youth on matters regarding their reproductive health. Ipas has taken me places I would have never dreamed of and provided me with invaluable experience that I wouldn’t have stumbled across on a normal day.” – Nerrie, Youth Champion with Ipas’ Choice for Change program, which seeks to increase young women’s access to contraceptives.
These and many more agents of change are the hopeful vision for a more just world that we must all invest in. For every person who has told me that Kenya has a long way to go regarding sexual and reproductive rights, I fully believe that Kenya is already well into that journey, with Ipas staff and those they work with leading the way.
As I think about arriving back home, I am filled with excitement to see family and friends, but a part of me will always remain in Kenya. It’s been one of the honors of my life to be here. Thank you, Ipas and thank you to the Ipas Liz Maguire Fellowship for Young Leaders for this incredible opportunity.