(Unity is strength, while biasness is unhealthy)
An Interview with Chacha Baru Peter — Nairobi, Kenya
U-TENA and Article 25
Nairobi People’s Parliament Meeting, Margins of the World Social Forum 2007. Image Credit: Nicolas Haeringer. Some rights reserved.
My name is Chacha Baru the assistant director. U-Tena youth organization that works in three areas: Health, Education, and Arts. Under health U-Tena conducts monthly healthy choices training for youth between 13–17 years, sharing experiences and topics on: abstinence, sexual reproductive health, goal setting, contraceptives, and more. We also use theater to discuss contemporary topics like FGM and rape, and we give referrals to those who have been raped. We also conduct quarterly trainings for parents in topics like healthy relationships.
In education, we conduct mentorship sessions to girls on literacy, numeracy and lifeskills on how girls can deal with slum challenges that are affecting them. We invite motivational speakers from the slum who were able to navigate slum challenges and achieve in life. An annual community conference is organized for the youth within the community to exhibit and sell their products, and stakeholders and partners are invited to attend this conference.
Nairobi Kenya. Image Credit: Eduardo Zárate. Some rights reserved.
Arts forms the bigger part of U-Tena and it’s used to transform lives artistically: plays, short skits, poems, narratives, folk dances and contemporary dances. Scripts are written with characters that identify as youth who live in the slumsand relate to what is happening in the community,using language that is well understood by audiences and the story and issues are solved by them through the performance. Annual festivals are organized to bring different performing art groups and artists to identify their art and start using it.
I was born in the slum. I grew up in the east of Nairobi, mostly referred to as Eastland’s, which is densely populated with industries and thousands of people who offer labor to these industries surrounding the area. But the pay is small wages. The laborers started making structures that I later called home-the Mukuru slum. The shelter was used as rest place before laborers go to the company for work.
Health service and sanitation in this area is very wanting even today in the 21st century.
Mukuru Slum, Kenya. Image Credit: The Advocacy Project. Some rights reserved.
I saw different issues affecting the youth in the slum— I experienced the gap of information especially from our parents to us due to our cultural social norms in the community. We started the U-Tena youth organization after attending different trainings on issues affecting youth mostly on health. I was among the five pioneer U-Tena members, and we realized that we could reach youth through acting and dancing. With a small coverage area, we became local implementing partner for a big international organization.
After they noticed that the community trusted what we were telling them, we grew to cover bigger geographical areas. And soon we found ourselves covering the whole Mukuru slum which is very big, having a total four regions. And as time passed we realized that theatre is a very powerful tool to advocate and share information.
U-Tena works hard to make sure important health information is packaged in an easy way for people to understand. We constantly demand peoples’ right to good health services provided by the government.
How did you become interested in performance?
All through my life I have performed with different institutions. From primary school, I joined music club, and in my senior year at high school I found myself in drama and music club.
My friends and formed a vocal crew that we called “wapako” which is a dholuo word for praising — we sung mostly gospel.
This never stopped, our school music club was selected to participate in the United States of America music festival and that was the start of the Kenya boys choir, which performed in eight American states. We performaned in churches, schools, college and shopping malls etc.
After finishing school I was unable to continue with the choir and that is how I found myself attending a peer education health training. The training gave birth to the idea of forming a performing art group called U-Tena. We thought of using performance in advocating for the importance of seeking medical attention at the Antenatal care clinic (ANC) and after rape . We wanted to tell people about voluntarily counseling and testing, effective use of condom and many more topics.
It was people’s right to know since the majority feared visiting public facilities.
We transformed peoples’ fear through community advocacy for health.
U-Tena has shown its best practices by performing in different local and international gathering, especially on health issues. For example, we have performed at the international conference on urban health in 2009, at international aids conference in Austria in 2010 we presented a skit on positive living called (Mama Kitungu), in Washington DC in 2012 we presented Table Top Puppetry entitled (The Preacher), and in Australia in 2014 we presented a narrative entitled Mamuna Mamuna.
The name U-TENA -Tena comes from the Swahili word Ungano Tena meaning re-uniting or coming together. We decided to have an acronym that was easy to recall and still mean what we are. That’s how we came with the word U-Tena — it has three colors that identify us, green for “u” black for “–“ and Red for “Tena”.
What do you see as the relationship between performance and advocacy?
As we all know advocacy is about promoting awarness and there is no way you will do this without involving performance, which is a form of presentation or showcasing, Thus performance and advocacy go hand in hand. There are different methods of performance that can be used to advocate for something, for examples U-Tena has being using.
- Narrations to tell stories which are really in our community – we tell stories of specific issues and pratices that we want our audience to adapt to.
- Painting — by drawing big community murals in strategic places, the message we want can be read by anyone, and the picture also tell the story of what we want seen, especially on sanitation, proper defecation, and caring for the environment.
- Thespians [actors] to show or present performance that talk on certain topics that is affecting our community — in so doing we are using performance and at the same time advocating.
Performance and advocacy are like a gear box, ignition key, and steering. Those are just a few of performance tool used in advocacy.
How can performance-style advocacy create momentum for health reforms in Kenya?
Performance is one of the most powerful tools that is used in creating and sharing information to majority of Kenyans who have a culture of not reading a lot, so it will be hard for you to pass information in books, pamphlets, lectures and magazines.
Performance style-advocacy encourages thespian to come up with plays, songs, clowns, and puppeting that are talking about wanting health issue and to remind the audience that it’s their rights to have good health care. And they must demand it, not beg for it.
A few days ago, the doctor’s went on strike saying that they haven’t been paid by the governments, and the community used a social mob sing-song agitation to demand their rights. The government then had to respond to the situation. Performance –style advocacy is a powerful tool of advocating or agitating for change.
In the midst of so much ‘pessimism’ and ‘disillusionment’ surrounding political processes, how do you think people can inspire citizen activism and empowerment for health?
This can be done by making sure that all the stakeholders, especially the citizens who really don’t know that they have a right to health, be informed. And this can be done in many forums: health talks on TV, radio, and open community dialogues and community performance, where serious issues are discussed and people can encourage the removal of bad politics in health related issues. Health is wealth and if not well taken care of, it will be hard to involve leaders in talks. We have to hold them accountable to ensure that all people have equal access to health care and health services, despite their economic status.
As we all know, West African states are been engaged in one of the largest health crises — Ebola. Kenya has been mention a high risk area, and so if political leaders have good political will for health issues affecting their countries, none of their citizens will suffer because of health. And this will encourage active citizen participation in their health.
What are some of the most difficult moments you have faced in this work?
Working without payment for several months and you have bills to pay, and you are expected to always give you best. Working with the youth who see you is a ray of hope, while you only have hope and information to offer. Hearing someone you knew passed on due to discrimination of her health status, and left to rot for some days, are really the worst moments. I keep dreaming and aspiring to have a healthy independent, informed community, and this keeps me going as I try to keep these moments out of my mind.
Nairobi Railway Station. Image Credit: Xiaojun Deng. Some right reserved.
How do you envision a social movement for the right to health? — For article 25 — can change things?
Collective action is change in itself.
A social movement for the right to health can change everything by incorporating grassroots organizations that really work closely with their communities and have passion for change and transformation.
We have to show that this is a health crisis to our leaders and make them know that health is is not a privilege — health is a right. And citizens or communities can demand it any time they it has been deprived from them.
We must also award leaders and communities’ organizations that are fighting for the rights of their community to make others follow suit. In doing so, the social movement for the right to health will come to reality and many will borrow a leaf to this movement. This will not only achieve the overall goals of the social movement for right to health but make leaders implement and formulate policies that favors their citizens’ right to health.
Nairobi sky. Image Credit: Clara Sanchiz. Some rights reserved.
What are your plans currently for October 25th?
U-Tena plans to hold workshops for teens in different locations especially in Mukuru-slums and community outreach within the month of October, culminating on October 25th.
During these events, youth, women, men and general population will be informed of their right to health as stated in Chapter 4 of the Bills of Rights: Article 43 of Kenya constitution which states:
1. Every person has the right –
a) To the highest attainable standard of health, which include the right to health care services, including reproductive health.
b) to accessible and adequate housing , and to reasonable standards of sanitations;
c) to be free from hunger, and to have adequate food of acceptable quality;
d) to clean and safe water in adequate quantities;
e) to social security;
f) to education
2) A person shall not denied emergency medical treatment.
3) The state shall provide appropriate social security to persons who are unable to support themselves and their dependents of Kenyan origin.
I asked you about your most difficult moments; I think it’s only fair to balance it out – What are some of the most beautiful moments you have faced in this work?
Working with communities and teaching teenagers about themselves, about contraceptives, and noticing they are making healthy choices, finding legitimate ways of making money, and seeing positive results from participants makes me very happy.
Performing in a community and walking in the different parts of the slum and hearing people calling me with my stage name always make me feel happy — it shows me that they understood the skit at the take home message.
Getting a chance to perform at international arena was another thing that made me happy. There is someone noticing our work. Making a presentation at an international forum and meeting with delegate sfrom different part of the world that want to go and do the best practices they learn form us always makes me happier too. It always tells me that we are not only changing lives in Kenya but all over the world.
I represent both U-Tena and my community at large.
Sunrise in Nairobi. Image Credit: Digadiga. Some rights reserved.
This September, world leaders are convening at the United Nations to kick off a set of global goal-setting negotiations for a post-2015 development agenda. If you could sit down with President Kenyatta what would you tell him?
Provide a friendly environment for the youth catering for all fields (skilled and semi-skilled). The national youth policy must be implemented to the fullest without biasness, so that the youth can empower themselves economically. We must ensure that various sectors of the government have the full involvement of the youth to prepare them for the future, thus creating a better today.
I will also request him to make his manifesto a reality. Especially on the seven principle agenda he promised Kenya to deliver, specifically for poor people who are struggling without basics to survive.
1. Put food and clean water on every Kenyan table
2. Ensure that every child in Kenya gets quality education
3. Create wealth
4. Ensure that every Kenyan gets quality and affordable healthcare
5. Empower Kenyan women to take their rightful place in developing this country
6. Keep Kenya safe and secure both internally and externally
7. Develop a cogent foreign relations and trade policy for Kenya
Are there any Kenyan poems or quotes that you or your community returns to for inspiration?
Uungano ni umoja utengano ni udhaifu- (unity is strength while biasness is un healthily).Mgagaa na upwa hali wali mkavu (if you work hard you will succeeded and will not eat unhealthy food).
If the political leaders can put the citizens’ health as a top priority, then even economically the country is set to grow. When citizens are of good health then they become more productive economically and the end result is peace and stability in the country.