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Breaking down barriers in Kenya

7 December 2018
For International House resident Keshni Haria, empowering young girls with knowledge is her key to a more peaceful world.

Keshni's Project for Peace

Keshni's project, Breaking Down Barriers, was funded by a $10,000 International House Davis Projects for Peace and aimed to establish a platform for conversation and awareness on the consequences of teenage pregnancy and the prevailing taboo of menstruation, and to increase access to sanitary supplies for Kenyan girls.

Why did you choose to conduct your project in Kenya?

Growing up in Kenya has exposed me to the harsh realities of the developing world. I am aware of the challenges that need to be addressed and solutions that would be appropriate to the region. As I have done other community outreach projects in my area before, I was confident of the demographics and the national language (Swahili) and could relate well to the locals.

Has your project changed the way you think about the world? How has it changed you?

Implementing this project has changed the way I perceive myself and the world. It has made me realise that resolving conflict within a community is a complex process that takes time and continuous reinforcement. It takes shifting the mindset of an individual to manifest change within a larger group.

Challenging stigmas requires the use of various approaches, tools, and outreach to different age groups. I now understand that the magnitude of our plan of action does not matter as much as making a start and planting the seed of change. Transforming ideologies that have prevailed for generations is a task that cannot be achieved overnight. But if sufficient awareness and mutual understanding is established, we can move towards a better society.

Discovering the challenges faced by the girls has made me feel more conscious about my own actions and thoughts. Before this project, I took a lot of things for granted, which would be perceived as privileges by the girls I worked with.

How does your project contribute to peace?

While I set out to educate girls on sexual and reproductive health, menstrual hygiene management, and the consequences of teenage pregnancy, in the long-term I hope my project can empower girls to make independent choices about their health and safety, and to ultimately remain in school for longer. Through the formation of a student club, I intended to create a platform for mentorship, the sharing of knowledge, and healthy self-management.

How do you define peace?

Peace could be portrayed as unity, understanding, and harmony between members of a community. However, peace also entails a more deep-seated and multidimensional definition. It translates to equal opportunities for both genders, empowerment, community support, and acceptance. I hope to restore peace in the community by decreasing the number of school dropouts resulting from teenage pregnancy and a lack of sanitary pads, and improving attendance and academic performance in the school.

Every girl deserves to achieve her goals, ambitions, and independence, not just for the betterment of herself, but for the development of her community.

“I now understand that the magnitude of our plan of action does not matter as much as making a start and planting the seed of change.”
Keshni Haria

Tell us about your project: what did you set out to do?

The goal of my project was to educate girls on sexual and reproductive health, menstrual hygiene management, and the consequences of teenage pregnancy, through interactive workshops facilitated in partnership with Femme International. The project also aimed to empower girls to make independent choices about their wellbeing, to establish a student club as a platform for support and sharing of knowledge, and to guide the girls in setting achievable goals that might propel them towards a career path.

How did you come up with the idea for your project?

I consider myself fortunate to be part of the minority of Kenyan girls who have been able to finish high school, enroll in a university abroad, and have access to all basic needs. Sadly, this remains merely a dream for the majority. The plight of girls in rural parts of the country was brought to my attention when I completed an internship with the organisation Education for Marginalised Children in Kenya (EMACK). While conducting focus group discussions with groups of primary and secondary school girls, I discovered the daily challenges they faced that affected their school attendance and performance. Amongst several others, a major obstacle was the lack of access to sanitary pads. On average, a girl would have to miss at least 5-7 days of school every month because of not being able to afford them. There also seemed to be a stigma around the topic of menstruation, as many girls said they could not talk openly about it at home or school. In recent years, a rise in teenage pregnancies has resulted in school dropouts and compromised opportunities for girls to get an education and become independent.

Coinciding with the Sustainable Development Goals, I strongly believe that every girl has the right to quality education, and good health and wellbeing. There are still some communities in Kenya that are far from achieving these goals, and girls still face barriers to education for reasons that are difficult to address. I realised that conservative ideologies are the root cause of conflict in communities with high numbers of teenage pregnancies and school dropouts. Therefore, to spread local awareness of this and to reach out to girls directly, I chose to implement an educational program consisting of a series of interactive workshops.