A helping hand for Kenya's vulnerable girls: Q&A with HKSAI
Written by Olivia Nater | Published: January 28, 2023
Through our Global Partners program, Population Connection supports a growing number of grassroots organizations around the world working to increase access to education, public health and family planning services. Their efforts make a vital difference in their local communities and represent the “final step” in our shared work to make the world a more just and sustainable place for everyone.
Get to know our wonderful partners in this Q&A series! Melvine Ouyo, Population Connection board member and Founder and Executive Director of Hope for Kenya Slum Adolescents Initiative (HKSAI), reveals how her organization advances opportunities for low-income adolescent girls living in Kenya’s informal settlements (aka slums).
What prompted you to start your organization?
Growing up in a small village in Busia County of Kenya, I witnessed firsthand the pain and suffering of women and girls subjected to gender-based violence. As a young girl, watching women and girls drop out of school because of teenage pregnancies, or because they were orphaned, and then struggle to acquire an education, employment, and financial freedom, was tormenting. Born of a 16-year-old, I myself went through a similar experience.
Defying all odds, I promised myself to work to reverse structural biases that expose women, girls, and other vulnerable individuals to such vices and depravities as gender inequities, early and forced marriages, gender-based violence, and lack of education, by providing them with opportunities for social and economic empowerment.
What programs or projects are you currently working on?
In line with our mission, we implement programs that advance opportunities for vulnerable adolescents and young women in Kenya’s informal settlements through education, health and well-being, policy advocacy, and peace and security. Last year, we successfully implemented an “Empowerment for Equality” project with the goal of empowering adolescents and young women through education and skills development.
This year, HKSAI is investing its resources in “Hope Through Education Empowerment.” This is an education program that helps HKSAI beneficiaries access higher education and technical and vocational training institutes. Following graduation, our beneficiaries find opportunities to join the job market or to found startups so they can earn a decent living.
Through our advocacy initiative, we sensitized communities on the need to empower and protect adolescents and young women. HKSAI also continues to lobby for progressive policies on matters relevant to adolescents, including sexual and reproductive health.
What do you hope to achieve in the next five years?
HKSAI hopes to achieve its objectives through community impact, partnership and stakeholder engagements, and stronger institutional capacity:
- Support access to sustainable education, training, and skills development for at least 500 vulnerable adolescents and youth in informal settlements in order to limit the number of adolescents, particularly girls, at risk of dropping out of school and failing to secure technical and professional training and employment. We hope to achieve this through scholarships, financial literacy sessions, and community and parent/guardian engagement.
- Promote and enhance the health and social wellbeing of over 2,000 vulnerable adolescents and youth in the informal settlements of Mombasa, Nairobi, and Uasin Gishu through mental health and psychosocial support, guidance and counseling sessions, Adolescent and Youth Sexual and Reproductive Health training modules, and mentorship programs.
- Set up a community resource center that will accommodate and be a resource to HKSAI’s beneficiaries.
- Continually lobby and advocate for adolescents and youth-related policies and legal frameworks that uphold, respect, and safeguard their welfare through community outreach.
- Sensitize communities on issues affecting adolescent and youth education and the need to eliminate harmful practices affecting girls and women (female genital mutilation/FGM, child marriage, child poverty).
- Promote sustainable peace and security in the informal settlements through capacity building.
Partnerships and stakeholder engagements:
- Keep aligning our aspirations with the objectives of our partners, including Population Connection, in order to build continued synergy and mutually promote the achievement of objectives.
- Build and strengthen formal working/active partnerships with at least 10 community-based organizations, five regional non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and five international NGOs in order to have a unified and shared front regarding interventions on salient problems facing adolescents and youths in informal settlements.
- Strengthen institutional capacity (physical, technical, and financial) for effective program delivery and operations through continued resource mobilization, continued training of staff and volunteers, recruitment of more volunteers, strengthening of Evidence-Informed Decision Making (EIDM), and expansion of operations to at least five counties — Mombasa, Nairobi, Uasin Gishu, Nakuru and Busia.
What have been some of the greatest challenges you have faced?
Our programs’ inputs in terms of resources have been overpowered by the needs of our target beneficiaries and communities. The number and degree of vulnerability of young people in the informal settlements exceed the help we are able to provide. There is a vicious cycle of poverty that has sadly made us give up on some of our initiatives, although they would have been critical to achieving the impact that we wish to see.
We often have to get innovative to meet our goals and are limited by insufficient finances to build our staff’s capacities and motivation. Our current staff, however, give more than what they can get — we are proud of their high levels of professionalism and commitment to serve.
We have a high volume of target participants that we can currently only consider for future support, which is tough. We recognize that they genuinely meet the eligibility criteria and it has taken time to convince them and the community members that we can only support a few at a time.
What are you most proud of?
Wow! It has been amazing to transform frowns to smiles, disillusionment to hope, agony to ease, desperation to calmness, and turmoil to peace among our girls, young mothers, and their babies from the slums of Langas in Eldoret (Uasin Gishu), Kayole and Kibera in Nairobi, Changamwe in Mombasa and Nyalenda in Kisumu counties.
Scholarships for basic secondary school and Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVETs) colleges have impacted these girls’ lives and those of their families in ways and magnitude we are thrilled about. Their mindsets have changed for the better, and they have applicable skills that no one can take away from them. Those who didn’t see a chance of joining secondary school now appreciate the miracle that came and are now in high school, working and walking towards independent, healthy and dignified lives for themselves and their families. The young mothers who previously slept hungry with their babies can now put bread on their tables thanks to our entrepreneurship program.
Anything else you’d like to share with Population Connection members?
Absolute gratitude to Population Connection for supporting us to do this. We can’t be proud enough!