Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya…
Off Olympic road on the left, a busy, noisy packed street with tiny squeezed shops on both sides punctuated by pedestrians briskly walking up and down as though they are running late for something……Both men and women vendors consumed in their daily hustles……Piercing noises and glittering sparks of fire by welders springing across the road…..Smell of fried ‘chapatis’ and ‘mandazis’ consuming the air around while screams of children playing at a nearby school-Olympic primary school-engulfing the whole neighborhood ……. This street will lead you to a Centre of hope and voice for thousands of young girls and adolescents living in Kibera.
300 Metres, right before the street takes a mighty curve. You will find a ruby rugged gate, paint peeled off. Not to judge. What lies inside is much greater-Polycom Development Project office. Err…Still hard to figure out what goes on there? On a closer look signs displayed on the door and walls- ‘Speak Out!… ‘Sitakimya’ meaning ‘I won’t be silenced’ suggest that it is an empowerement Centre. Right guess!
A charming Jane Anyango- Director Polycom Development, seated at the furthest corner right after you enter the building will gladly fill you in about what the project is all about..
Polycom Development project is one unique project that was started to ‘break the silence’ on Sexual, Gender Based Violence among children and adolescents in Kibera.
The project adopted a secretive ‘talking box’ approach to allow girls who would otherwise shy away from sharing their issues (especially GBV related) to confidently draft a note and drop it in the emblematic box.
In an interview with Jane at her Office, she revealed to me that the innocent project started seven years ago and was piloted in 14 schools, which after one year it scaled down to 7 schools, because some schools did not embrace it well and also some parents were against the initiative citing that it was a project meant to ‘use their children’ . She did not lose hope.
She further confirmed that they are currently working with16 schools and are scaling up to 34 more schools which will bring the total number to 50 schools, thanks to her recent partner, UNFPA Kenya.
She informed me that at first, they used carton boxes which did not function well because dubious persons broke into the boxes. She later got a volunteer who made them wooden boxes with safety padlocks but they still do not guarantee 100% safety.
She is glad about the recent partnership with UNFPA Kenya, for they have pledged to support production of 50 metallic boxes that will guarantee, not only safety but longevity.
Benefits of the ‘talking boxes’
Teacher Rose Okeya also a counsellor and Social Worker at Spurgeons Primary School- A beneficiary of the project, confirmed that the project has brought about behavior change among pupils. She has observed girls at the school being able to open up and speak out on all issues ranging from SGBV, Sexual Reproductive Health and menstrual matters. Additionally, with follow up, she has observed girls perform well in studies.
She said that the project has been able to detect, curb and resolve issues raised, most common being issues of gender based violence, especially sexual harassment among peers in school, including sexual harassment by teachers, guardians and neighbors.
For issues that require much more attention the project reaches out to relevant persons or authorities for further help.
‘The project has been very successful. We have beautiful success stories and we are in fact coming up with our own research to challenge existing results.’ Said Jane.
Jane observed that while dealing with cases of SGBV, a lot of focus is always directed to perpetrators than survivors. She called upon donors and service providers to understand the importance of working with survivors, for they bear the pain. Especially cases where the victim might never access Justice whenever the family resorts to resolving the issue amicably- which is a normal avenue for resolving GBV cases within family set up.
Jane always urges parents, during parents-teacher meetings not to be very harsh to their children. She encourages them to be friendly with their children in order to establish rapport with them. The amicable environment will enable them to share their issues freely with them. Above all, she urges them to create time for their children amid their busy schedule. She understands that the economic burden and the need to provide is huge on them but they have to sacrifice some time for their children.. Her dream is to see the project expand beyond Kibera.