Over 2,000 primary and secondary school girls aged between 11 and 19 years from poor and vulnerable pastoralist communities in Narok, Isiolo and Marsabit counties have been empowered with information on menstrual hygiene management and access to adolescent sexual and reproductive health services. By the end of 2019, they had facilitated 25 sexual and reproductive health sessions and supplied menstrual hygiene kits to over 1, 000 girls. Through the “MetaMeta Programme”, more girls are now staying in school during their menstruation, early pregnancies and child marriages have reduced.
Adolescents have to deal with changes that take place in their bodies and the confusion that comes with puberty. Unfortunately, girls from poor and vulnerable communities receive little to no guidance on how to deal with these changes. This makes them vulnerable to negative outcomes like early pregnancies, child and forced marriages, which among other things leads to them dropping out of school.
Saddened by this reality, Jane Mwikali, a Community Development practitioner started the MetaMeta Foundation in August 2018 to contribute to advancing the well-being and rights of these adolescent girls especially those living in rural Kenya. MetaMeta Foundation primarily supports girls from pastoralist communities in Narok, Isiolo and Marsabit counties. In these communities, many girls don’t have easy access to reproductive healthcare services and drop out of school at an early age because their parents don’t recognize the value of education.
Through reproductive health education, menstrual health management, mentorship and empowerment programmes MetaMeta creates safe spaces for girls to discover and enjoy girlhood and to fight against harmful practices such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), truancy and forced early marriages.
“We aim to redefine the value of the girl by empowering, providing mentorship, giving them hope and building their confidence. We believe it’s important that girls and women can make informed choices regarding their bodies and sexuality, free from discrimination, coercion and violence,” says Jane. The Foundation’s vision is to create safe spaces where girls can simply embrace the magic and joy of girlhood, to truly grow, to dream and to know that their current situation doesn’t determine their future.
MetaMeta Foundation’s approach involves mobilizing community stakeholders like chiefs, community elders, teachers, parents and caregivers, and engaging them in focus group discussions on the challenges plaguing the community with regards to adolescent girls and young women. A separate discussion is also held with a few girls to discuss the same, and then with both groups to suggest solutions to the challenges raised.
The organization then engages various stakeholders in the areas to provide comprehensive sex education which is aimed at addressing rooted stigmatization and marginalization of girls during their reproductive development. To achieve this, the project also engages various local decision-makers to advocate for adolescent sexual reproductive health policy interventions.
Shining Light for Girls
Jane is passionate about bringing about holistic transformation and positive change. She is on a mission to become a light and a voice in addressing the challenges women face in their communities, including combating the violation of women’s rights. She believes every girl deserves an opportunity to shine, hence the name “metameta” – which means “to shine” in the local Swahili language.
Though she never grew up in a poor and vulnerable community or faced even half of the challenges that these girls face, Jane is convinced that life is so much more meaningful when we live for others, when we serve and protect others.
“I was involved in a project in Narok while working for a certain international non-governmental organization (NGO), when I witnessed first-hand the challenges young girls go through, from FGM to forced marriages, and it was heartbreaking. So, one day I decided that I wanted to be part of creating a solution to these challenges and bringing lasting change,” recounts Jane. Since she had already worked in Narok before it wasn’t difficult for her to find goodwill through a community gatekeeper. After a few discussions and visiting several schools she requested for and got permission to implement the MetaMeta Programme in the schools. All the school heads agreed that the challenges were real and they were hopeful that the programme would help bring some change.
Restoring the Dignity of Menstruatio
Over 2,000 primary and secondary school girls aged between 11 and 19 years from poor and vulnerable pastoralist communities in Narok, Isiolo and Marsabit counties have been empowered with information on menstrual hygiene management and access to adolescent sexual and reproductive health services. By the end of 2019, they had facilitated 25 sexual and reproductive health sessions and supplied menstrual hygiene kits (sanitary pads, underwear, soap and tissue) to over 1, 000 girls. Through the “MetaMeta Programme”, more girls are now staying in school during their menstruation, early pregnancies and child marriages have reduced.
These young girls are being equipped with information and resources that will better assist them to serve themselves and their peers in their communities to maintain dignity during their periods. Reduction of stigma, the transformation of existing community norms and increased sensitivity to harmful practices are outcomes of these interventions.
At the end of 2019 school term, one of the schools in Narok, Koitiko Primary School, had an increased number of girls sitting for Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examinations contrary to the past when most girls dropped out of school in class 6 and 7 to get married. “There was a girl from Le Marle Primary School in Narok who got pregnant and had dropped out of school because she wanted to get married. Through our intervention and encouragement, in consultation with the parents, she went back to school to sit for her KCPE examination and scored 311 out of a possible 500 marks. Her mother agreed to stay with the baby once she gave birth so that the girl could proceed to Secondary school,” narrates Jane.
Many people, especially teachers, parents and caregivers are happy with the changes they have seen as a result of our interventions. This community work on gender equality and empowering women and girls, has received the recognition and endorsement of the County Governments of Narok and Marsabit.
Quest for Mindset Change
Despite this recognition, the greatest challenges yet for Jane and her friends have been language barriers and having to deal with parents who are still very traditional and require a lot of mindset change to loosen up from their traditional norms. In some communities like in Marsabit, they have been faced with a bit of criticism mainly because of patriarchy. This notwithstanding the overall the feedback has been encouraging.
The use of community gatekeepers has proven to be a vital resource in navigating through some of these challenges, like interpretations needed when engaging parents. Changing the norms, however, continues to be a long-term process that they hope to achieve with time. They are engaging more parents and caregivers, who are the decision-makers when it comes to the girls, to help them make deeper inroads into the communities.
When handling people’s children, making parents your best ally is a sure way to achieving sustainable learning in the family. MetaMeta mobilizes parents and talks to them about the dangers of harmful practices like FGM, forced marriages as well as about the value of education. These parents then become ambassadors and pass on the message to their peers creating a wider circle of awareness.
Doing the Best We Can
The Foundation is led by a board chaired by Mr Paul Waruhiu Mwendia, while Jane oversees the project coordination work with the help of two volunteers and several peer educators in the communities, whom they train to do the same work they do. Mr Mwendia is a professional with vast experience in international project management, poverty alleviation and reproductive health. Jane has worked for at least seven years with various local and international organizations to successfully implement different community programmes.
Considering service to humanity is service to God, Jane believes she has found her calling in the works she does at MetaMeta Foundation. She reckons that it’s extremely important to know you are not hurting people in an effort of trying to help them. People are not objects and deserve to be treated with dignity.
Knowing all too well that sometimes success in any venture may not be forthcoming as quickly as one may wish it to, she urges patience and high emotional intelligence when working with people to avoid frustrations. “Don’t just be comfortable with how things are in your world, in your bubble – look outside, look around you. We all have a part to play in making the world a better place. Find your part and do it well,” strongly urges Jane.
Talking about the future MetaMeta Foundation, Jane interestingly says that, “I honestly don’t have a 10-year plan or even a 5-year plan. I move as I’m led by God. I may not be doing this in the next two years, so I’m just focused on what I can do now, and how best I can do it.” Possibly this is the best example yet of living one day at a time.
Watch her speak in this video about what they managed to achieve in 2019. Surely, this is work that deserves support. So why don’t you drop an email at firstname.lastname@example.org? Whether it’s cash or donations of sanitary towels, underwear, soap and adult diapers, they will appreciate. To give cash please use their M-Changa Paybill number 891300, account name “Metameta”. You can also visit their website www.metameta.foundation for more information about their work. They can also be found on Social Media: @Metameta Foundation on Facebook, @metametadada on Twitter, @metameta_foundation on Instagram or Metameta Foundation on YouTube.
This story was written pro bono by Nelson Opany as part of his Communications Volunteering Series during the COVID-19 public health emergency to give a spotlight to grassroots organizations creating positive change in communities across Africa. Nelson is a Public Relations and Communications Management professional and a Scout with a passion for volunteering. (email@example.com). Additional editing by Ray Saunders, an Information and Knowledge Management consultant based in Geneva, Switzerland.