John Boke Mwikwabe is a peer educator in Naivasha, Kenya. This is the fourth post John has written for our blog. To read more from John, see What It’s Like to Be a Peer Educator, posted on March 18, One Peer Educator’s Biggest Challenge, posted March 21, and Why Are Young People in Multiple and Concurrent Partnerships, Anyway?, posted on March 31.

Lately, I have been thinking about the high rate of HIV among youth. I started to ask myself and my peers some challenging questions. “Why are new cases of HIV and AIDS still persisting? Why are young people still getting infected by the virus? What have we been overlooking all along? Are we not clear enough on HOW TO and HOW NOT TO contract the virus? Is it our ignorance or lack of adherence to these messages that causes new cases of HIV among young people?”

Recently, a regional football tournament was held in my town; the event attracted many young people. The large gathering of young people in our area provided the perfect opportunity to provide information on sexual and reproductive health to a substantial group of people. To take advantage of this opportunity, my organization decided to host a filming and facilitated discussion of the MTV-produced TV series, Shugga.

We targeted all of the youths between the ages of 15 and 24 who had come to the football event. We gave out tickets for the film based on age and convinced young people to attend both the viewing of the film and a 45-minute facilitated discussion afterward in our local social hall. The showings were strategically held immediately after the games at around 4:30 pm.

Our target number was 400 for the whole weekend. The turnout was better than we had expected, and the level of interest in the movie was off the roof. After the film, we split the youths into smaller groups of 25 or fewer for a discussion led by peer educators. The movie, which is in English, Kiswahili and “Sheng” (a local dialect), depicts the lives of youths who are prone to various risky behaviors, the choices they make, and the consequences of these choices.

During these sessions, I gained some really valuable information from the participants about young people’s sexual behavior.

  • Most young people said they use condoms the first few times with a new partner, but stop using condoms once they have been with a partner for some time and “the relationship goes to the next level.”
  • In cases where one spends the whole night with a lover, they only use condoms for the first few rounds.  When I asked them why, the youth responded that they thought it was quite illogical to have the all-night partner and end up using a condom the whole night. One becomes tempted not to use it even though they might not believe the partner is safe.
  • Often, young people do not know about their partners’ sexual networks. The fact that dating couples do not talk about their “MIPANGO YA KANDO” (side dish) and that no party can willingly come out and state they are in a cheating relationship puts both parties in a risky situation that compromises their status and health. Approximately three out of four young men that I talked to said that they had at least two “side dish” ladies that they have sex with without using a condom. It didn’t seem to occur to them that these ladies might also have side dishes at the time.

It seems that despite all of the knowledge we have about HIV prevention, young people are still engaging in risky behavior. So how do we address these challenges before it is too late? Sometimes, trying to get youth to change their behaviors feels as difficult as climbing Mount Everest. While we try to find the answers to these challenging questions we will just have to continue raising awareness about the risks of HIV and help the youths understand the importance of protecting themselves and their partners.