Adolescent Research Reaches Kenyan Youth and Their Advocates at National Symposium

December 13, 2017

Adolescent health and education comprise an important cross-section of APHRC’s research and policy work, particularly in Kenya. Researchers and policy professionals from across the organization took leadership roles in the 2nd Kenya Adolescent Health Symposium which was held November 23 to 24 in Nairobi. Maisha Youth hosted a youth-driven pre-conference on November 22. The theme of the symposium was “Fast-tracking adolescent health for the demographic dividend: adolescent health now for a health future.” Kenya’s Ministry of Health convened the event in partnership with APHRC and other sponsors. Danielle Doughman and Joyce Mumah led the design of APHRC’s various research uptake activities over the course of the three days.

For young adolescents aged 10-14 years, researcher Beatrice Maina and Caroline Kabiru (formerly of APHRC) worked hand-in-hand with small group leaders from Gertrude’s Children’s Hospital to learn more about young people’s experiences of adolescence. They led an activity developed as a part of their work with the Global Early Adolescent Study. Maina and Kabiru led research at the  Nairobi study site, one 15 countries worldwide participating in the study conducted in partnership with the World Health Organization, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the United Nations Population Fund. The activity asked small groups of young people to show – through drawing a timeline of a girl’s or boy’s transition from childhood to adolescence – what it’s like to grow up as a boy or girl, and what the major events are over the course of that transition. After designing the timelines, Maina asked groups to share their work and then led a discussion comparing boy timelines with the girl timeline to see similarities and differences. Finally, she shared a youth-friendly briefing on what researchers are learning about gender norms and the factors in early adolescence that predispose young people to subsequent sexual health risks and promote sexual and reproductive well-being from other study sites around the world.

Young adolescents develop a timeline of milestones during the transition from child to adolescent

Carol Gatura led the parallel session for some 200 older adolescents aged 15-19 to share and discuss the findings from the April 2017 study From Paper to Practice: Sexuality Education Policies and their Implementation in Kenya. The study surveyed more than 1,000 students and teachers at 78 secondary schools in Nairobi, Homa Bay and Mombasa on the state of comprehensive sexuality education in Kenya’s schools. One telling finding is that although three out of four surveyed teachers say they are teaching all the topics that constitute a comprehensive sexuality education curriculum, only 2% of sampled students say they learned this material.

Gatura was supported by a dozen small group discussion leaders, including Evans Kasena, a project coordinator with Kwacha Afrika in Mombasa, and Robert Gonzi, a youth advocate working in Homa Bay, where 12 groups of about 15 young people discussed to what extent the findings resonated with their experiences of learning sexuality education content in school. In response to findings that show that nearly half (45%) of teachers are unprepared or uncomfortable teaching these topics, one group reported that “sexuality education should be taught by well-informed people [such as healthcare professionals]; we don’t want to learn about this from our teachers, and they don’t want to teach it to us.”

“We were thrilled to engage a wide youth audience, which presented a unique opportunity to engage their thinking on issues affecting them directly,” Gatura said.  APHRC shared resources throughout the symposium, including fact sheets produced in three languages (Kiswahili, Luo, and English) designed especially for young people to communicate the main study findings.

On the final day of the Symposium, APHRC post-doctoral fellow Yohannes Wado moderated an expert panel on Youth and Demographic Dividend plenary session that included a presentation by  Richmond Tiemoko, Population Dynamics Policy Advisor, Evidence, Knowledge and Innovation Unit, United Nations Population Fund, East and Southern Africa Regional Office. Additional Expert Panelists included Joseph Wasikhongo from the National Gender and Equality Commission, Benson Muthendi of the Youth Enterprise Development Fund, and Bernard Onyango of AFIDEP.

Expert panelists from the Youth and Realizing a Demographic Dividend in Kenya

Following the plenary, Shukri Mohamed, Research Officer, led a panel on the implications of non-communicable diseases for Kenya’s youth, and there were three more scientific sessions for policymakers and practioners featuring the work of GEAS, CSE, and the Adolescent Girls’ Initiative, which is a study comparing a number of different proven interventions to assess which deliver the best long-term outcomes compared to the investment required to implement them.

“The Symposium is an ideal place to weave together APHRC’s work around adolescents in Kenya for government officials and community organizations in a position to take action on the findings,” Mohamed said.

The first-ever Kenya Adolescent Health Symposium took place in October 2015. The next event is tentatively planned for late 2019.