I spent two days this week working with youths. This may be a bit puzzling to some of you who know me back in the States (“But Megan, you don’t like children!”) but it actually went rather well. I didn’t boil any of them into stews or bake them into pies, and I may have even reasonably passed for a Competent Figure of Authority. If I can just keep faking *that* for the next 21 months, we’ll be set.

Wednesday was The Holiday Formerly Known as Kenyatta Day, aka “Mashujaa [Heroes] Day.” The clinic was closed, so in the morning I went to a nearby town with an established Youth-Friendly Services department to meet with an activist group. The age range there is 16-21, although most of the kids were around 17/18, and they chose to spend their well-earned day off from school huddled in a stuffy back room at a district hospital to talk about public health issues. One of the projects my supervisor and I have discussed is developing our own YSF division and stirring up interesting in starting local youth groups to provide services to kids in our sub-location, so I was mostly trolling for ideas. And boy, was I at the right place.

Spending your day off in a room full of unfailingly clever teenagers may sound like some peoples’ idea of a personal hell, but it was actually quite fabulous. Those kids (am I allow to call them kids if they’re only 5-6 years younger than me?) had their act together and were brimming with achievable goals, realistic ideas, a strong logistical grasp of their area, and ambition for community behavior change. On top of it all, they were hilarious. It must be a self-selection thing of joining a group like that, but not a one of them wasn’t a wit. They were pleased to have me there and politely asked for my opinion on various abstract possibilities for projects, but mostly? I was the student, and pleased to be.

The next day I ventured back into the realm of academia, but this time, as the teacher. I led my first outreach to primary school kids – form 8, or eighth grade. Pacing beneath an expansive shade tree while occasionally pausing to scribble something semi-intelligible on a makeshift chalkboard, I spent half an hour lecturing about hygiene and the importance of preventing parasite infections. I had been instructed to use English, and was glad to do so: how exactly does one say “wide-spread infection can lead to an amputation of your foot” in Kiswahili? They seemed to absorb it reasonably well, even if they had few questions at the end, and getting a volunteer to help me draw something on the board was more difficult and taxing than choosing one’s favorite flavor of Girl Scout Cookie.

My colleague then presented for rather a long time about HIV/AIDS (the standard topic for such lectures), referring to me from time to time to give additional input, provide clarification, or answer a question about which he wasn’t 100% sure of the answer. Go team! When he reached the end, I was expecting another silence audience full of deer-in-headlights stares, but was shocked and pleased to see that lots of kids had questions. Discussing some topics – drug use, condoms, etc – is often taboo for teachers when working with kids that age, but if a child asks directly, it’s your duty to answer. Rather than filing it away under “more boring morality lectures I’ll never use,” as most 11-14 year olds would, the kids actively engaged with the material and sought answers to salient (if mildly scandalous) questions. I’ve been to college sexual health lectures with less audience openness. It was impressive.

A lot of what I’ve done so far has dealt with adults, but if you REALLY want to affect lasting change in a community, you MUST target the next generation. I have a meeting next week to set up a health club system in a school near my house, and hope to do a lot more of that in the future. It’s easy to get frustrated here, but seeing kids who actually care about making a difference either in their community (as with the first group) or their own life choices (as with the latter) is incredibly, incredibly refreshing.

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