FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida — Located in Eastern Africa, Kenya is recognized for its beautiful nature and wildlife. Home to more than 40 ethnic groups, these people live across coasts, savannas and highlands taking care of unique Kenyan physiography. Among these diverse groups, a large amount of the population is children. Many of which who face the disparities of child poverty and the magnitude of it.
To further understand the causes and solutions Caroline Gitau, a program manager for Kenya Works, spoke with The Borgen Project more in-depth. Founded in 2014, Kenya Works is an organization that focuses on serving the communities in Kenya in a variety of ways. Its most successful initiative was the Makini Pad Initiative, a way of providing resources for women’s hygiene as well as employing women in the process. For the past 13 years, this nonprofit has continued to find ways to reduce poverty and work across all areas to improve the quality of life for Kenyans.
Large inequities of child poverty in Kenya vary depending on the region the children live in. However, Kenya has more than 87% of children living in poverty, not having access to more than one basic need or service.
Geographically, people living in the Arid and Semi-Arid Lands were struggling with food insecurity, especially during poor seasonal rainfalls. UNICEF reported that around 3.5 million people were “severely food insecure,” and this is especially common in children.
According to UNICEF, child poverty in Kenya has many determinants such as “poor child diets, inadequate infant/child feeding practices, low access to health and nutrition services and especially lack of responsive care for children.” To learn more about this, Caroline shared more information on this issue. Referring to the lack of responsive care, she stated, “Most of the children who we have in the shelter have been neglected due to parenting issues. You realize that most parents do not have the skills on how to bring up their children in the right way.”
Neglect and Abuse
In Kenya, 70% of adults reported experiencing physical violence during childhood and 59% reported neglect. What this shows is how generational this child neglect goes, as many of these adults who end up having children of their own lack the skills to be caregivers.
With this misunderstanding of child development as well as the necessary caregiver resources, the rates of child poverty in Kenya continue to climb. Unfortunately, Kenya lacks evidence-based practices (EBPs) to support parents in this journey, so organizations such as Kenya Works are vital in helping. In the discussion on the issue, Caroline goes into detail on one of the four main pillars regarding child neglect. Shelter Works, one of its program initiatives, focuses on rescuing children from the streets who have been neglected. Through this program, they get access to resources such as food, counseling, protection and most importantly love.
Young Women’s Health
Kenya has a multitude of differing issues that the organization contributes to, but Caroline went on to proudly discuss one issue: its Pad Initiative. There is a lack of education surrounding women’s health, specifically menstruation. Issues as a country that concern lack of income and gender inequality, are all reasons why basic feminine hygiene is not as accessible as other countries. Buckner reported that 1 million girls on average miss four school days each month due to their menstrual cycle and the lack of hygiene products. In addition to this, 42% of these girls have resorted to using rags, blankets, pieces of mattress and even cotton wool in place of sanitary pads.
“One of the things the organization is doing is making the hygienic products accessible to women and girls while trying to ensure their self-esteem is in place so that they do not feel like period is a shaming process.” As Caroline describes, the Makini Pad Initiative covers two points: accessibility and education. When distributing these products, the organization also gives other resources to expand the knowledge and create a shame-free environment of the naturality of a menstrual cycle. This includes providing teachers with books about the basics of menstrual cycles which they can later share with the students in their classes.
Ending period poverty is uber-important as the traditional mindset behind menstruation holds a negative attitude that contributes to the bigger issue of gender inequality. In many counties, most girls do not even have a private place to change, with only 32% of rural schools in Kenya offering a private space.
The organization constantly works on raising its distribution target goal each year, working with more than 200 schools, in 33 counties. In this year alone, Kenya Works distributed 29,500 pads, Caroline shared.
Combatting Child Poverty
Child poverty in Kenya is a serious concern and the multidimensional factors of poverty overlap with the financial factors, making it a complex issue to solve.
Organizations such as Kenya Works are making a difference for children around Kenya. Caroline concluded her interview with The Borgen Project excitedly sharing their new plans. She shared the organization’s seed program idea which hopes to create capital for parents who have business ideas. Kenya Works is offering parents training in how to start up their business, borrowing them money to begin which they can later return, while keeping the rest of the profit they earned for themselves.
From offering shelter and sponsoring a child’s education to now endorsing business initiatives, Kenya Works is working around the clock to help end a cycle of poverty in Kenya, hoping to be able to help the people of Kenya achieve their goals and dreams.
– Isabella Polo