The Kuza Project and Beyond
by Samuel Cai and Sai Kurapati, GlobeMed at Brown
Since 2012, GlobeMed at Brown has partnered with Ungano-Tena (U-Tena) to run the Kuza Project, an afterschool female-led mentorship program for girls aged 12–17 in the Mukuru slum of Nairobi, Kenya. Girls are mentored on sexual and reproductive health, self-esteem, life skills, crafting, and financial literacy. The objectives of Kuza — the Swahili word for nurture — include sharing knowledge, igniting aspirations, reducing early marriage, and preventing teenage pregnancies, with the long-term goal of economically empowering young women.
There’s a conundrum that every person who has ever tried to fundraise for a nonprofit has encountered. “Why should I support you?,” we may get asked. For GlobeMed at Brown members, the answer to this first question is easy: “Well, through your donation, you will be supporting a program that empowers teenage women in a Nairobi slum through sexual education and financial literacy.” The second question is harder: “Yes, but why you over all the other great causes?”
This question can be frustrating. How are we supposed to show that our work is unique in a world where so much important work is already being done, from reducing micronutrient deficiencies in infants to fighting food insecurity in vulnerable populations? The answer we’ve relied on is also the reason why we joined GlobeMed at Brown and continue to believe in the work that our partnership does: women’s empowerment touches all people and all facets of life.
Women are the cornerstone of the community. They are typically the main caregivers of families and are part of a network of women. Thus by supporting women, the work that GlobeMed and U-Tena do has the potential to lift entire communities. Whether as daughters, friends, mothers, or consumers, the teens in the program communicate their skills and lessons learned across their social connections, to this generation and the next. In this way, a new generation of female leaders will support the growth of their local community, inspiring change from the ground up.
The impact of empowered women not only affects everyone in the community, but it also has the power to spur large-scale change. Sexual education and financial literacy directly influence health and economic conditions in the community, but a movement empowering women has the potential to foster broader social and political change, leading the way towards equitable political representation and righting gender inequalities.
Another question we are commonly posed with is “why Nairobi and not your local community?” While we recognize that health inequity lies in every system around the world, including the United States, we also believe that global awareness is pivotal to expanding our understanding of various issues, especially in the realm of health. Cross-cultural experiences promote an enriching exchange of knowledge, communication, and perspectives that otherwise would not be as diverse and eye-opening. They provide us with the opportunity to develop transferable, life-long skills and lessons that will directly influence our approaches to inequities at home.
Moreover, experiences such as working with the mentors and young girls in programs like KUZA allow us to try to bring change to a part of the community where there is the most hope for change: the youth. By funding a program that emphasizes the importance of reproductive and sexual health in vulnerable populations, like the Mukuru slums in Nairobi, we strive to bring the vision statement of GlobeMed to life: We envision a world in which health — the ability to not only survive but thrive — is possible for all people.