Shoulder to shoulder

Akeyo has been a community health worker for 7 years. Fathiya is also a community health worker, living positively with HIV for the last 15 years and grandmother to 4 kids. Gathoni is both a community health worker and a sex worker and mother of 2.

We were privileged to meet and talk with these 3, who are helping the women of their community, each using their own experiences to break down barriers and empower women facing the same hardships and issues in Korogocho.

Korogocho, meaning “crowded shoulder to shoulder” in Swahili, is Nairobi’s 4th largest slum, 11 km from the city centre and bordering one of the city’s main rubbish dumps, home to an estimated 200.000 people pressed into 1.5 square kilometres.1

Rooftop view Korogocho
Rooftop view Korogocho

We met with Akeyo, Fathiya and Gathoni this afternoon to discuss the Aunty Jane hotline, their experience of its use, and the reality that makes the service relevant. There is no doubt that STI’s and unwanted pregnancies are common problems amongst women in the slum. Poverty and HIV status make abortion, although seen as a last resort, the only viable option for most. Where information is absent or inaccessible, women take matters into their own hands, often with tragic results. In desperation they have been known to drink bleach or use sharp implements in an attempt to abort.

Gathoni pointed out that unemployment is high, and many spend the day scrounging for plastic or metal to resell. Children brought into this environment often find themselves doing the same of their own volition, hoping to earn enough for something to eat, rather than attending school (primary school is free in Kenya).

Residents wash recycled plastic for resale
Residents wash recycled plastic for resale

The hotline provides these women with a confidential, non-judgemental source of information – not only on how to deal with unwanted pregnancies, but on pregnancy prevention through contraception, protection against STI’s and sexual reproductive health rights.

Women often borrow the phones they use to access the service, and scrape together sufficient shillings (often from the community health workers themselves) to pay for the call. Akeyo felt that a free-to-caller service would be very beneficial for such women.

It is interesting to note that the current debate around abortion and the Aunty Jane hotline was sparked by a Google Zeitgeist report for 2012, which stated that “How to abort” was the most searched topic in Kenya in the preceding 12 months.