An inspiring trip to Kisumu, Kenya

by Jetske van Dijk, Development Officer

At the end of August, I was lucky enough to go on my first field visit – to Kenya! Child to Child has been working with Blue Cross Kisumu to help build staff capacity in life skills education for children to minimise harms associated with alcohol and substance misuse. It was a great opportunity to see the kind of work this organisation has been doing in Kisumu and the impact our approach can have in this context.

Blue Cross Kisumu – addressing challenges

Kisumu is experiencing high levels of alcohol and substance abuse. Beer and liquor manufacturers see in the African continent a great new market, but are not concerned about the growing levels of alcohol dependency. To escape the harsh reality of poverty, people have also started to brew their own liquor with a very high alcohol content, and additional problems like glue-sniffing exist among street-connected children. The International Federation of the Blue Cross is a global network of around 40 organisations that are engaged in the prevention, treatment and after-care of problems related to alcohol and substance misuse. Blue Cross Kisumu  (BCK) mainly works with children and youth affected by alcohol. They help alcohol-dependent children to find treatment, have set up centres for street-connected children or children whose parents are alcohol-dependent, and provide holistic support to families in order to get children back to safe homes

I accompanied leading life skills expert Sonal Zaveri on her second visit to this project, during which she gave a week-long workshop for BCK staff on using participatory methods to teach life skills. I loved learning more about the practical side of our approaches, going beyond the office in London.

BCK staff practicing an activity in which children have to write down what they love about themselves and each other

BCK staff will go out to work with children in the community and facilitate activities, developed by Sonal, that are fun but also empower children with life skills, such as self-esteem, critical thinking, risk assessment, problem solving, and communication. These will all help children make healthier choices when it comes to alcohol and drugs, and enable them to influence their community to do the same.

Adults’ attitudes matter

It was very interesting to see the changes in BCK staff. It is difficult to let go of the way you were taught yourself, so at first they struggled to understand how we wanted them to work with children in a child-friendly and engaging way. During the session where they learned about different levels of participation, they reflected on activities that they were already doing with children. To their surprise, there was a lot they could do to reach higher levels of participation.

BCK staff member encouraging a child to share at school

When practicing the activities on each other, they kept going back to a teacher-role and had to get used to encouraging the ‘children’ to talk freely. However, by the time we went to visit a school to practice with actual children on the second-last day, there was considerable progress. Although the children at first were reluctant to let go of their usual classroom constraints, some of the facilitators were really able to make the children feel comfortable to share whatever they wanted. Eventually, all the children seemed to greatly enjoy stepping out of their comfort zone and hoped BCK would return soon to do more activities.

For me, it was eye-opening to see the strides BCK staff made in adopting participatory methods in this short amount of time. I look forward to hearing from them about their efforts in supporting the children of Kisumu to make a change for themselves, their families and the wider community.