My name is Lauren Jackson and I have decided to make Kenya my second home this summer. I came to Nairobi in order to complete my practicum and fellowship. Nairobi is the capital and largest city in Kenya, with a population of nearly 6.5 million. Nairobi is also home to the only national park in the world that can be found within a metropolitan area and appropriately earned the name “green city under the sun”. However, after meeting so many residents and professionals, consideration should be given to rename it the “city of hope”. Almost everyone you meet is friendly, polite and optimistic about Kenya’s future
From Concrete to Suburban Jungle
Rather than stay in the hustle and bustle of Nairobi, I decided to stay with a family in a more rural area. Karen, Kenya is a wonderful respite from crowds of people, shaded by tall canopies and surrounded by lush floral shrubs. If you have ever seen or read “Out of Africa”, the setting takes place in Karen and the Ngong Hills. The city was aptly named after Karen Blixen, the story’s Dutch heroine and struggling coffee farmer of the 1920’s.
The house I am living in reminds me of her very estate. It is a beautiful, bungalow style home-made of white stone construction with a red tile roof. My home comes complete with 2 donkeys, 5 chickens and 3 dogs. The natural environment provides me with the occasional monkey, the bulbul birds and the screeching hyrax. The former has taken residence in the tree beside my windows and likes to “act-out” sometime around midnight. In my first week I was alone in the house when I was awoken by banging and footsteps in the attic. I was petrified that someone had gotten in to the house and promptly grabbed my attacker alarm key chain. As I left my room I could hear them in the kitchen, so I crept around the corner and turned on the lights. I was so startled that I screamed and pulled the alarm, while two monkeys with fruit screamed at me and jumped out the window. I immediately just turned and ran back into my room.
My host family laughed really hard and explained that was my first proper introduction into Karen. As a few weeks have passed I have learned to live with monkeys, take baths with geckos and walk around African ants is if they are not there. You are really acclimated when you wake to find them in your hair while sleeping and just brush them out and go back to bed. Kenya has welcomed me and I in turn have embraced it.
Action in Advocacy
Leaving Karen each morning and heading to Nairobi, I pass the national park and catch glimpses of ostrich and zebra grazing in the low grass, still mesmerized this is right outside some people’s windows. I was also amazed at how many times I was held up in traffic because of cattle! My work days are spent with the Kenya Legal & Ethical Issues Network on HIV and AIDS (KELIN) which has helped me explore global health from a resource-limited setting. KELIN focuses on four thematic areas: Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR), Women, Land and Property Rights (WLPR), HIV and TB and Key Populations. I will be spending the majority of my time split between SRHR and HIV and TB programming.
At KELIN, Our goal is to advocate for health through a rights-based approach. Kenya has some of the highest rates of HIV and sexual violence, globally. Kenya also has some of the largest socioeconomic disparities. The majority of Kenyans live in poverty, while nearly half of the Kenya GDP goes to government employee salaries. These disparities affect overall health and quality of life and are further driven by social, cultural and political views. Most of the civil service operates on bribery and inconsistent education concerning rights, leaves many without recognized health and human rights.
KELIN is composed of lawyers and advocates who not only review and recommend policy change, but train civil society on how to better recognize and advocate for vulnerable and marginalized populations. In addition, they represent victims in court in order to secure justice for health and human rights violations. Allan Maleche, KELIN’s Executive Director, explained that KELIN has even been uninvited from certain government conferences due to the amount of times they have taken the government to court. However, he says this with a mischievous grin and also states that he’s not offended, it means that KELIN is doing a good job.
In the next few weeks I look forward to writing about my research, conference proceedings and training with KELIN. I will be exploring gender based and sexual violence and the societal and cultural determinants that prevent victim reporting. I hope to impart the challenges adolescent girls and young women face and how my work as helped me explore how young boys and men have also become invisible victims.
Lauren Jackson is a student in the Master of Public Health online program at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. Her project, “Intersecting Domains of Health and Human Rights in the Kenyan Context,” is funded by the Anderson Family Global Health Immersion Fellowship.