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TOPIC: GIRL MENTORS and SEXUAL HEALTH|INTRODUCTION by EMILY BREW

 

A young mother from Kibera, Aliyah‘s story illustrates the simple yet powerful concept of girls helping other girls. After the Binti Pamoja (Daughters United in Swahili) Center, a reproductive health and women’s rights program for teenage girls, helped Aliyah become aware of her own body and provided her with the dignity she had lost, she took it upon herself to become a role model for other girls. Sharing her knowledge of domestic violence and female circumcision gives her a purpose and helps other girls become more informed and aware of their bodies. When you think of what’s required to get a program like that started, you can’t help but think, “Wow… that’s pretty simple.” But it is extremely powerful to have a safe space in which you can address dark issues in a positive way.

 

Aliyah dropped out of school…

 

in class three, but she really struggled and wanted to go back. Eventually, she did put herself back in school, but had to hide it from her mother, who was in favor of her discontinued education.

 

Aliyah was forced into a marriage…

 

at age thirteen, and she experienced violence by her husband. At fourteen, she gave birth to their child. A year later, she moved to Kibera and was able to leave her husband and raise her baby on her own.

 

Aliyah started at Binti…

 

in 2002 when she was sixteen, and it was there that she was introduced to ideas of sexual and reproductive health, including abortion. Karen, the woman who started Binti, gave Aliyah courage.

 

“BINTI HAS GIVEN ME INFORMATION, BUT ALSO THE STRENGTH TO MAKE DECISIONS FOR MYSELF AND STAND UP FOR MY RIGHTS. “

 

She graduated…

 

from a high school for adults in 2009 with the help of Binti, which she describes (with a huge grin) as the happiest day in her life. After, she became a leader and started her own group, called Wild Papillion. She works part-time as a field officer and started the first community-based group for safe spaces. She now works to recruit extremely vulnerable girls.

 

“I AM MOST PROUD OF MYSELF. LIVING IN KIBERA IS VERY HARD. LIFE CAN END MISERABLY. I LEARNED A LOT TO CHANGE GIRLS’ LIVES, TALKING TO PARENTS TO MAKE THEM UNDERSTAND.”

 

Aliyah has an incredible passion for…

 

and commitment to helping other girls. And she’s dreaming big for the future; she wants her own organization. She describes places like Mombassa, where girls as young as nine end up selling sex to survive. Her ideal is to create a chapter of Binti there and where help is needed, give support, and change girls’ lives.

 

“YOU HAVE TO HAVE SELF-ESTEEM. SOME OF US DIDN’T KNOW WHAT THAT WAS BEFORE JOINING BINTI, BUT NOW THEY LOOK AT US AS ROLE MODELS. BEFORE BINTI, I COULD NOT STAND AND TALK IN FRONT OF PEOPLE. I DID NOT KNOW ANYTHING, AND NOW I CAN TEACH AND ANSWER QUESTIONS… AND IT MAKES ME PROUD…

 

GIRLS WHO ARE NOT IN THE PROGRAM DO NOT HAVE INFORMATION, DO NOT HAVE CONFIDENCE. WE TALK, WE JOKE… WE ARE LIKE SISTERS; WE FEEL AT HOME HERE.”

 

She plans to raise her daughter…

 

in a way different from her own upbringing, keeping her close and letting her open up. She believes it’s important that she have someone to talk to — something that wasn’t an option in her own childhood.

 

“EVEN WITH MY SON, I GIVE HIM ALL THE INFORMATION I HAVE; HE NEEDS TO KNOW THAT BOYS NEED TO BE EMPOWERED, TOO, TO BE BALANCED WITH GIRLS.” 

 

Aliyah is a very chipper young woman…

 

with many hopes and dreams. We should have known she’d sum herself up perfectly:
 

“I AM A SMILING MACHINE.”

 


 

ABOUT BINTI PAMOJA: The Kibera slum is the entry point for many girls migrating to Nairobi, Kenya. Like slum communities around the world, Kibera lacks basic infrastructure like water, electricity, health services, and law enforcement. Girls are often forced to exchange sex for food, shelter, or cash because they lack their own income. The Binti Pamoja (Daughters United in Swahili) Center is a reproductive health and women’s rights program for teenage girls in Kibera and a program of Carolina for Kibera. Binti Pamoja uses drama, writing, peer-led small group discussions, and photography to explore the critical issues that 13-18 year-old young women face in Kibera. Challenges addressed include: HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections, lack of reproductive health care and information, unintended early pregnancy, violence against women, prostitution, female circumcision, sexual abuse, unequal access to education, and stifling domestic responsibilities. The Binti Pamoja Center has created a safe space for teenage girls to harness their energy, sense of hope and mutual understanding to proactively affect change in their community. And it’s working.

 

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