Last week I went to Nyanza and Western Province in Kenya to help film a documentary about the We Can campaign. It’s a global campaign that aims to end violence against women, by challenging and changing the social attitudes that perpetuate and promote such violence. The central strategy is to engage individuals – men, women, boys and girls – as “changemakers” who then actively work to change behaviour within their families and communities. They commit to change their own attitudes first, and then influence others. We went to western Kenya to meet some of these changemakers – in schools and villages, shopping centres and fishing markets.
First stop was the town of Riat, on a hill with amazing views over the vast waters of Lake Victoria. There we met Sabina Odhiambo, a single mother of eight.
Sabina told us how difficult it’s been for her since her husband passed away and she’s had to bring up her children on her own. She heard about We Can and realised that things had to change in her own home.
“There were so many fights between the boys and the girls, and the girls were left to do everything. Even just removing the plates from the table was a problem for the boys because they felt it was not their place. Since I brought the message of We Can, the boys have since changed their attitudes. It’s been a long journey, but we’re getting there!”
Once she changed attitudes in her own home, she also worked to improve relations between her uncle and aunt, who had separated following a fight.
She said the villagers initially had a problem accepting the message of change, but they are slowly warming up to the idea.
For me perhaps the most memorable place we visited was Nyabondo Primary School. The children were so enthusiastic, very eager to perform a drama they had prepared for us. The teachers also welcomed us and even allowed us to film during the lessons.
The children had prepared a very powerful 10-minute drama about violence in the home. They acted out a ‘man’ coming home completely drunk and beating up his wife. The children tried to intervene but were overpowered by their father. Neighbours, wives, his friends and the local pastor then intervened. They talked to him until he agreed to change his ways.
I know it sounds a bit simple and clichéd, but it was amazing how the kids were able to fall into character so flawlessly. It was clear that for many of them it was not just a play but something much closer to home. The pain in their eyes as they acted it out was clear – it all seemed much too close to reality.
For kids that young to be able to understand these issues around alcohol and violence so well shows the rot in our society today. Children have had to grow up much too fast.
The positive side though is that not only did the children understand the issues, they are themselves powerful changemakers. In their own way, maybe they can influence their parents a little, and it certainly bodes well for the future.
I just wish their parents had been there to see how their children see them, their relatives and the villagers. We suggested to the school authorities that they could hold a public performance so the children can act it out for their parents and the adults of the village – I would like to think they would cringe and even be a little embarrassed.
In Chulaimbo we met Milka Rachilo, a widowed mother of four. Before her husband passed on, Milka says they were not communicating.
“I used to speak to him through notes. After I heard of We Can, I decided to dialogue with him. It’s unfortunate the change was only realised a few months before his death, but there was a change.”
Milka is a member of a self-help group for widows, supporting each other after the loss of their spouses. She helps other members learn how to communicate better with their children and extended family.
At Usenge Beach we spoke to the fishing community and met women facing very different challenges. Some of them have to offer sexual favours to the fishermen before they can buy some fish.
We set up an appointment with the chairman of the Beach Management Unit, so that we could explain about We Can. We were pleased to see he was very receptive to the idea of the campaign.
I hope that many more people are.