by Jonathan Walker
Want to know how to engage, inspire and motivate students to become champions for health in their community? As DASH’s Jonathan Walker shares from his experience working with Kayole youth, students need to identify with a project and have a voice in its development and outcome. Then, the sky is the limit for both their personal and community growth.
Focusing a research project on how students perceive health in their community was a great way of engaging students on issues that affect their everyday lives. Through the photo-mapping method, the project linked student’s perceptions on health to the physical attributes and locations of their lived environments (e.g. schools, streets, markets, public spaces, etc.). Not only did this connect subjective and objective indicators for community health assets and risks, but provided a rich collection of qualitative data to act upon.
As the research and data collection for the pilot project reached its end, neither myself, the project supporters, nor teachers needed to intervene to prompt the students toward further action. After putting in the work through hours of photo-mapping, focus groups and community interviews, the students had taken ownership of the project and wanted to see that their efforts make a lasting impact in the community.
We had a discussion on what we could do with the photos and how we could use our research findings to promote and advocate for community health. A whole range of ideas came up, including contacting the local MP to showcase the health risks children and youth face, to creating free student-led health workshops in the community to raise awareness and sensitize residents on healthy practices.
In the short time since the pilot project (May 2013), the students, teachers, and project coordinators have organized several impactful events. The first was a trip to the Africa Continental Headquarters at the UN offices in downtown Nairobi to spread awareness about the health issues faced by youth in Kayole (see right). For many of the students from the PPM project, this was their first time experiencing the downtown district, let alone having an opportunity to visit the United Nations. It was a tremendous learning opportunity, and resulted in partnerships formed with two NGOs in consultative status with the U.N. : WFWP (Women’s Federation for World Peace) and WAIT, an HIV awareness and prevention organization. The students had opportunities to present about their work at workshops and conferences organized by both the WFWP (picture) and WAIT. (picture)
Due to the successes of the pilot, and the interest for more youth to get involved, we’re now forming an organization– Healthy Settings Kenya – which seeks to support the efforts of youth in Kayole and elsewhere in student-led research and health interventions for their communities. Future efforts are also being made to improve the school environment of the Great Hope Educational Centre where the participating PPM students attend secondary school. Great Hope caters for underprivileged students in Kayole who otherwise could not afford school fees, and works to provide a safe environment for orphaned, neglected and HIV affected youth to receive education and keep hope alive.
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