Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Talking Box

by Thomas Bwire

Its on a Wednesday  morning hours as the cold chilly weather seems to take a toll on everyone as people seen walking along parts of the slum are warmly dressed with heavy jackets and scarves. As I walk through the slum, many local residents are busy with their day to day tasks as a way to get the day’s income. My walk from Olympic to Mashimoni takes roughly 30 minutes.

My mission today is to visit one of the local primary schools called Magoso. As I enter the school premises, I find some of the girls in brown sleeveless uniforms rehearsing for the up-coming music festivals slotted for this term. I am welcomed by the head teacher whom calls the patron of the Talking Box Club, madam Maureen Awour.  The Talking Box is a box for pupils to lodge written messages about issues that they cannot share openly with either parent or a guardian.

Madam Maureen with students Berlyl, Linn and Valerie
Issues range from child molestation, neglect and abuse that relate to gender based violence (GBV). according to Madam Maureen, girls are prone to abuse in the community. In most cases girls will be given two weeks to draft all the issues they feel should be addressed, and drop it into the talking box within the school premises. Many of the issues that kids write come from home. “You find that at home the father leaves and goes to drink alcohol and come home late and drunk and starts to insults the wife in front of the children.  Or even they start to engage in sexual activity without giving kids respect before they are asleep, and this becomes a problem to the children, as they don’t know these are bad behaviors in front of children,” notes madam Maureen.

And what are the main issues that affect girls? I posed this question to Madam Maureen. "We found out that girls are not ready to tell us their problems and we saw the need for them to write their issues on pieces of paper so as it helps us solve the problems they encounter. In most cases they are shy to tell us teachers directly," she says.

The Talking Box
The Talking Box is a program that was started in 2011 by Polycom Development Projects, a local community-based organization in Kibera slums. Once the girls write their issues and drop them into the talking boxes, a team of volunteers pick them and reads through to access the kind of issues that have been adversely mentioned then discuss pupil's problems with their teachers. In some serious cases, pupils are involved one on one with the volunteers.

Jane Anyango,founder of the Talking Box says they discovered that girls had many unresolved issues when they used to hold local forums, and even at such forums many of the girls feared to talk their issues out openly.  "We could not accommodate all the girls so that’s how we came up with this concept," she tells me.

Jane Anyango, Founder of Polycom Development Projects
According to Jane, many of the issues coming up heavily touch on gender based violence. “Many parents fight and if want to ask something, you don’t know who to approach the dad or your mum, since after a quarrel, the child becomes a platform of realizing all the stress, and kids end up stressed up as the home becomes a battle field. Also girls are so confused on relationship issues with boys, many don’t understand what needs to be done since as a society, boys will want to befriend the girls and they don't know how to respond," says Jane.

I managed to talk to a few of the pupils from Magoso primary about why they think it’s important make use of the talking box.  One of  the girls was happy that the talking box helped them since they didn’t have sanitary pads.  "Once we wrote it down, a good Samaritan was able to donate them to our school," she tells me.

An example of one of the notes in the box
Another student, who is 13 years old and a class eight pupil notes that some of the parents touch their kids private parts, like breasts, like they want to have sex with you and the child fears to say no, because of threats that nothing of this nature should be disclosed to any one or they will be punished.  She says that such a child should write her problem and post it into the talking box for help.

Girls especially face extra obstacles to education, these range from lack of sanitation facilities and sanitary napkins to teenage pregnancy, according to a 2008 report by the Centre for the Study of Adolescence in Kenya.

The Talking Box Program now runs it in 12 schools, all of which are in Kibera. The program also plans to open a counseling center as a way to give a listening ear to girls and will also target boys in the near future.

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