In Kenya’s rural communities the word “single” before mother turns something cherished into a burden. Most single mothers struggle to earn money, live far below the poverty line, and are often treated as pariahs in their communities. Despite these significant challenges, providing and caring for their children is their top priority. Peace Corps Volunteer, Teneasha Pierson, shares her thoughts after leading a malaria prevention training with the Elewana Education Project in Western Kenya.
In my opinion, prevention education hasn’t had the impact on behavior change necessary to reduce the burden of malaria in Kenya. Aren’t we at the point of realizing the need to change our strategy? Moving forward, our prevention strategy needs to strike an emotional cord. These women, the 22 single mother participants in a camp in Western Kenya, were the first group for whom I implemented a new prevention strategy. My goal was to lead them through conversation to the health decisions they should make by connecting their life and circumstances to the need of healthy behavior change.
I started the conversation learning about the women, their background, their goals, and their current concerns. I asked them about gender norms in romantic relationships and with their families. I asked them about their health and their experiences with malaria. I asked them about their plans immediately after the camp and in the coming months. I asked how their health decisions would affect their future goals.
I learned that many of their decisions were driven by gaining financial security, even if was in the extreme short-term. I learned that it was often difficult to decline acts initiated by men who were providing financial support. I learned there was a lack of education transfer for women in their communities who made similar decisions in previous generations.
The conclusion of the training was focused on creating a support group where they made a commitment to hold each other accountable to the promises they’ve made to help ensure they keep themselves, their children, their families and their community healthy. While it’s too early to tell, I hope this new approach will increase the percentage of behavior change in malaria prevention methods.