The STaRS (Starting Right at Schools) program was a research intervention designed to foster positive gender norms and improve sexual and reproductive health (SRH) outcomes of very young adolescents living in urban poor settlements. The target population was in-school very young adolescents in Grades 5 and 6 and their parents. The study was designed to have a baseline survey, an intervention co-created with school communities, and an endline survey to evaluate the intervention as detailed in the baseline report. Informed by results from the baseline survey, the program was initially designed as a school-based intervention to be implemented in public day primary schools in Viwandani informal settlement, Nairobi. However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic that led to the protracted closure of schools and the banning of mass gatherings it was not feasible to have the intervention delivered face to face. To continue with the implementation we had to rethink an alternative way to deliver the interventions that would conform to the Covid-19 regulations then and still get to reach our target population. Upon wide consultation with a range of stakeholders including community leaders, radio would turn out to be a potential medium of delivery. This necessitated a revision to community-based interventions aired through a local radio station.
The implementation process was community-centered leveraging available community resources to redesign and implement the program. This involved working with a community radio station, Ruben FM, where the program was aired; a local community-based organization (CBO), U-tena that supported the redesigning and implementation of the intervention, and the community leaders and teachers who mobilized the target participants to listen to the program. Given that the program had already been designed albeit for a face-to-face audience we had to repackage it in order to fit a radio program. Each week, the APHRC study team, together with the radio presenter and session facilitators from U-Tena held 2-day meetings to develop content for the radio session to be aired in the week. The content review meetings were important to ensure: i) the radio presenter and the facilitators were conversant with the discussion topics, ii) a well-structured session; iii) that content aired was suitable for adolescents, parents, and the general population. We also developed a rigorous community mobilization strategy which was led by the community leaders and consisted of door-to-door sensitization about the radio program in the study community and consistent reminders to listen to the radio program. In addition, the teachers contacted parents of the initial target school via SMS informing them about the program and subsequently reminding them and the young adolescents to listen to the program.
Seven one-hour sessions covering a range of gender and SRH issues in the community were aired over a period of two months. The structure of each session was a brief introduction (background) on the topic of the day by the session facilitator; a running question around which session discussions were centered; and a skit that featured experiences of young people as they navigated the adolescence stage as well as relationships with their parents during the adolescent period. The session facilitators were mentors drawn from the community and their role was to articulate adolescent gender and SRH issues in a contextually relevant manner that the community was able to relate with. Participants had a chance to call in and participate in live discussions by using a toll-free number. The radio sessions were fun and engaging with adolescents’ and parents’ input obtained through calls and interactions with facilitators during the live radio shows.
The STaRS radio program offered an opportunity to reach a wider audience- beyond the target population- with gender and SRH messaging, and get the community extensively involved in the design of a program that spoke to their needs as a means of ensuring acceptability and sustainability. One of the major challenges the program faced was limited participants’ access to the radio program due to power outages and/or lack of a radio within the household despite most of them being aware of the existence of the program and timings. Also, the timing of the radio sessions did not favor all participants as some were at work when the radio program was aired. Despite these challenges, the radio program listenership was not restricted and thus was able to reach a wider audience than expected.
Though it was difficult to evaluate the program as there were no mechanisms for monitoring whether the potential (adolescents and their parents in the initial study schools) participants listened to the program or not, given that they were required to tune in remotely, findings from our qualitative assessment showed that the program was well received and accepted by the community as a means of reaching parents and adolescents with gender and SRH information.