Theater and performances are reaching Kenyan young people with reproductive health information

by Wycliffe Omanya, Ipas Africa Alliance

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Stage Media is a group of 15 young people who have found their calling in entertainment that enlightens the community on sexual and reproductive health issues in Bungoma County in western Kenya.

Using radio plays and other types of performances, the group does community outreach that is focused on local challenges such as teenage pregnancies, which can lead to unsafe abortion, school dropout, and lost opportunities for young women and girls.

It was not easy at first. Sex discussion is generally a taboo but something needed to be done. According to the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey of 2014, in Bungoma county, 14% percent of girls aged 15-19 years are pregnant or have already had a child.

Reaching out, making a difference

In 2014, Ipas formally engaged Stage Media to support outreach activities to promote life planning among adolescents through the larger Choice4Change project, which is working in Bungoma and six other counties to improve adolescent and young women’s knowledge of and access to contraception, safe abortion and other reproductive services.

Stage Media uses a number of approaches in their work--they hold ad hoc meetings with young people and the community to get topical issues, and then prepare drama both radio and community theatre to address those issue. Young people in learning institutions are the primary audience. Many lack information to make informed decision and either end up pregnant or seek unsafe abortion. Stage Media’s health talks and dramas enable young people to open up, ask the right questions and get right response from experts.

Stage Media also helps to refer young people to health facilities, where they can get information, support and services such as family planning. In one six-month period, Stage Media successfully referred 2,566 women and adolescent for contraceptive services.

The local television and radio stations that have health segments in their broadcast programming have presented opportunities for Stage Media to share messages with wider audience. These have become avenues for increased advocacy including on safe abortion.

‘A testament of the impact of our work’

Steve, a member of Stage Media, tells of one recent event: “A church recently requested us to organize a ‘Divas’ meet up. This was an opportunity for 30 adolescents to meet and learn about issues affecting them. We also invited health service providers to respond to myths with facts. After our engagement, 25 of them sought contraceptives. In one day this is testament of the impact of our work.”

Another Stage Media member, Kennedy, says that values and attitudes among the communities are changing, and people are increasingly talking about sexual and reproductive health and the consequences of not paying attention. “A principal of a school informed us that for the first time, they have registered zero school dropout caused by teen pregnancies. He attributes it to our positive engagements and the right messages,” Kennedy says.

One goal is to consistently reach rural areas with messages, which is made difficult because of cost considerations. Rural areas have higher unsafe abortion numbers and related deaths, teen pregnancies, and require more support. As Stage Media member Miriam says, “The need for young people to access information and contraception is real.”