After three days of travel, we were finally approaching our destination. Over 20 hours was spent getting on and off planes, followed by staying the night with kind strangers just so the next day they can take me back to the airport for yet another flight. I left my house early Friday and the following Monday I found myself driving through western Kenya. Nestled up on the hillside, a system of buildings with red roofs can be seen from the main road. We turn off and start going up through the hills. There is no pavement and at one point Teresa, the director of the school, has to get out of the vehicle to move a large stone so Andrew, her husband who is driving us, can pass safely. Upon arrival to The Jane Adeny Memorial School (JAMS), the students come out to greet us. The 80 girls stand in a group, one stepping up at a time, as Teresa calls them by name and hugs them.
The school is a private, not-for-profit, all-girls high school that relies on donation. It was started by Teresa Wasonga and Andrew Otieno to help impoverished girls whose families can’t afford to send them to school. I was invited to stay at the school for 5 weeks to teach sexuality education. It was, hands down, the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done and I’m excited to say I get to go back again next year.
Teaching sex ed. isn’t an easy task in most cultures. Sexuality is filled with stigma, judgement, worry… all outside pressure. Because I’m from the U.S. it is thought that I have little shame about the topic so I was easier to trust than a local would have been. That as well as my extensive studies on sexuality means that not only am I honest and open, but also knowledgeable. I didn’t realize how much information I had floating around my brain until the first time I stood in front of the Form IV (senior) class. The girls wanted to know everything and were rarely too afraid to ask.
I tried to make sure my lessons included as much as possible. We covered everything we could including what sexuality encompasses, anatomy, mindset, STIs, relationship dynamics and more. It’s not uncommon for girls to drop-out of high school due to pregnancy. HIV rates in Kenya are between 5-10% (here in the US the HIV rate is less than 1%), with the highest rates being in the Western area not far from where the school is. The end goal of my class wasn’t to stop the girls from having sex, to not get pregnant, or to not contract HIV because teaching people what NOT to do doesn’t work. Instead, I focused on empowerment. They needed understand all aspects of sexuality and how it can impact their health, opportunity, and future.
Now that I know what I’m doing, next year is going to be great.