By Emmanuel Ngilah
Young adolescents in Kaloleni Sub County in Kilifi County are currently beneficiaries of an initiative dubbed Youth First Kenya that seeks to support pupils, primarily those in class seven, to build personal resilience and their mental wellbeing.
The initiative particularly focuses on impacting three interdependent factors in wellbeing that is, socioemotional health, physical health and education. The overall goal is to build resilience in these pupils that is, their ability to face challenges and bounce back from adversity and thrive, noting that challenges are a reality of life, and how one is able to handle them, really matters.
The program makes use of a learner centered approach, whereby a select number of schoolteachers are trained as facilitators of the program within their respective schools. The teachers then facilitate sessions with their pupils with a key requirement being that the teacher shifts from being a teacher that is, an authoritative figure, to a facilitator, embodying principles of sameness, equality, mentorship, and mutual learning amongst peers.
These sessions will always begin with a circle, and end with a circle. A circle neither has a beginning nor an end and this therefore creates emphasis that all the pupils as well as their facilitator are all linked and connected to each other. This symbolizes equality and builds from the famous quote by John Donne, “no man is an island.” Humans need one another to survive.
A facilitator will for example initiate the session by asking, “what is the one thing you have experienced over the past week that has brought you joy?” The goal for this is to break the ice and create the right environment for engaging.
During the resilience sessions, the pupils are usually in groups of either girls only, boys only or mixed boys and girls. The groups are meant to be used as a support system where the pupils can have peer to peer sharing, therefore when in their respective groups for instance girls only or vice versa, they are more open and freer to discuss issues that affect them. In situations where it is a mixed group of both boys and girls, here it has been done to enable both genders get a better understanding of the challenges each of them go through, and also learn how to better communicate with each other. These groups also provide a safe space where they can freely discuss different topics affecting their lives, and how they can apply the lessons they are learning to overcome their respective challenges.
To ensure that these sessions are more cohesive, the groups develop guidelines of how they would like to interact. These include respect for all, timekeeping, confidentiality, keeping quiet when one is talking and turn taking.
One of the sessions that the pupils find empowering is on emotions and proper ways to express themselves. Boys for instance, owing to the traditional African cultural beliefs that they should not express their emotions and that expressing their emotions makes them weak, are dissuaded against holding onto such beliefs and instead encouraged to embrace expressing themselves. Girls on the other hand learn how to build their self-esteem and decision making as a way of mastering their emotional vulnerability.
Enabling these adolescents to start building such capacity when they’re still young is meant to enable them carry this as they grow older therefore, they will be more resilient in life.
The Youth First Kenya initiative is guided by a curriculum that is geared at helping the pupils understand and maintain their mental wellbeing. The different sessions will address a mix of topics such as character strengths, goal setting and planning, identifying and regulating emotions, benefit finding from difficult situations and gratitude. The sessions also address ways in which the adolescents interact with their families and wider community through assisting them to cultivate social resilience. Here they build skills such as listening, collaboration, trust, assertiveness, self-advocacy, problem solving and conflict resolution among others.
These are valuable character traits that will come in handy as these preadolescents and adolescents transition from childhood to young adulthood.
Currently, the Youth First Kenya initiative is being piloted in six primary schools in Kaloleni County that is, Kizurini Primary School, Vishakani Primary School, Chilulu Primary School, Walea Primary School, Vuga Primary School and Chalani Primary School. There are however advanced plans in partnership with the Ministry of Education – State Department for Early Learning & Basic Education to roll out the program countrywide.
The Youth First Kenya program is an initiative that is a collaboration by Basic Needs Basic Rights Kenya, CBM Global Disability Inclusion, Corstone and the Ministry of Education – State Department of Early Learning & Basic Education, with funding from Fondation d’Harcourt.
Story compiled by Emmanuel Ngilah a healthcare worker and community member residing in Kilifi County, as part of an initiative by the Inclusive Communities Program to give community members an opportunity to self-document the program’s progress and impact.