Santa Kagendo Sebastian, 31, is the founder of the Youth and Women Advocacy Newtwork (YWAN), an organisation based in Meru County, Kenya. The brainchild of Meru youths, YWAN’s goal is to build a platform for advocacy and provide skills for young people.

How did you get introduced to the advocacy field?

I was trained and introduced to advocacy by DSW. This training laid the foundations for our organisation in the same path. The training we received helped us to in turn train the youths. It has also enabled us to create links with the county government and other stakeholders. Being a youth champion and also a family planning champion has been impactful.

What has changed since the onset of the pandemic?

The pandemic has created many challenges. There have been a few reported cases of FGM, especially in rural areas, and GBV, which should be reported to the relevant authorities. Additionally, very few youths reach out to us due to the fear of infection. We have moved online, where we do comprehensive sex education forums through WhatsApp and Facebook. It has been difficult since only a small percentage of the youth have smartphones and can access our social media. The pandemic has caused young people to be digitalised because information is now accessed online.

Teenage pregnancy has increased during the pandemic. This is as a result of the county’s cultural beliefs – one is not allowed to freely speak on sexuality. Also, people are at home and they are sexually active. What needs to be done to curb teenage pregnancy? Stakeholders should come and combine their efforts to approve comprehensive sexual education for young people – and do a lot of media engagement through which youths can access youth-friendly health services. As it stands now, young people only have access to services that are not youth-friendly in terms of the environment.

Santa Kagendo Sebastian is the founder of the Youth and Women Advocacy Network in Meru County, Kenya.

In your opinion, why is family planning important?

Family planning is important because you should have children by choice and not by chance, and when you are in a position to take care of them. This is achieved by getting the correct information to make the right decisions and using suitable family planning methods. To us, contraception is about being safe in motherhood, even before becoming a mother.

My personal experience of being a family planning champion is that I got pregnant when I was 14 years old. I lacked the required information to avoid a pregnancy, and as a result my life changed for good. I joined youth advocacy movements to ensure that young people who are not ready to have a child do not experience the same thing that happened to me.

What family planning methods are used in your community?

The family planning methods most commonly used in this county are the short-term methods, three-month injections and male condoms.

What worries you?

Accessibility of services and information has been a big worry. Also, the economy has suffered and this has led to a lack of access to health facilities. In terms of family planning, my advice to young women is to acquire the right information. It feels good to be a family planning champion. I feel happy to be a bridge and refer young people to the right services.

Photos and interview conducted by Brian Otieno for DSW.