Polycom Development Project: Empowering Women in Kibera

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SEATTLE — Kibera, located in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi, is Africa’s largest slum. Approximately 250,000 Kenyans live in Kibera. Ninety percent of Kiberans are tenants without rights. The people of Kibera live extremely impoverished lives. The most common living arrangement is a 12 feet by 12 feet shack that usually houses up to 8 people. Women in Kibera face additional challenges, as the nation has an ongoing issue of sexual violence and abuse.

According to a University of Nairobi study, 56 percent of 13 to 18-year-olds in Kibera have experienced some form of sexual abuse. However, this study also found that only 12 percent of the sexual abuse victims actually reported their abuse. When Jane Anyango found out about Kibera’s struggles with sexual abuse, she founded Polycom Development Project. Her goal for this organization is to “empower young women in Kibera through access to education, sports activities and sanitation to be able to manage their lives positively and develop a voice to influence policy and decision-makers on issues that affect the lives of girls.” Here are some of Polycom Development Project’s most impressive programs.

Talking Boxes

One of Polycom Development Project’s newest initiatives is the installment of 50 “talking boxes” around Nairobi. Funded by the United Nations Population Fund, most of these boxes are placed around local schools to try and gain a better understanding of what difficulties young girls are going through. These boxes offer girls in Kibera a discreet way to tell mentors their concerns without the fear of being ostracized.

An anonymous girl living in Kibera explained how the talking boxes have impacted her life, “For a long time I had no one to talk to and bottled up my issues. But when the talking box was introduced in our school, I was able to speak out by writing on a piece of paper and depositing it into the box, without having to reveal my identity”. Once a week, trained volunteers read the submissions and will either notify teachers or attempt to help the girls themselves. Overall, this program is a massive step towards learning more about how we can protect vulnerable people in Kibera from sex abuse.

Utilizing Sports for Good

Another exceptional plan pioneered by Polycom Development Project is its G-Pende sports program. G-Pende means to love yourself and the goal of this initiative is to “promote peace and unity” among young girls. This project has raised over $29,000, reaching 2,500 girls in Kibera. Polycom development is helping normalize female participation in sport and “provides a place where girls can reach their potential and expand their ambitions.”

Expanding Reach

As of January 2018, Polycom Development Project has trained 7,000 girls on sexual reproductive health and life skill programs. The organization has also distributed sanitary towels to 6,000 women and is currently partnered with 50 schools in Kibera.

Conditions for women in Kibera are extremely difficult, with girls 15 to 24 contracting HIV at five times the rate of their male counterparts. Additionally, women only hold 9 percent of the elected seats in Kenya, evidence of the barriers they face in Kenyan society. However, according to local girls in Kibera, Polycom Development has had a transformative impact on their lives, “I now feel free because I can express myself and get help. We feel more comfortable. We feel happier.” The work Polycom Development is doing throughout Kibera to empower, educate and unite women is truly inspirational.

The Polycom Development Project serves as a great role model for other non-governmental organizations looking to have a positive impact on their local communities. Founder Jane Anyango’s commitment to empowering women and girls in Kibera has not gone unnoticed. She has received a number of awards and distinctions for her work. Polycom Development Project is a key ally in the fight against global poverty and gender discrimination. 

– Myles McBride Roach

Photo: Flickr

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