Kuza Nila: Meeting Your Purpose

Eagle Wings works with young people in schools and communities in Kenya.

This interview was conducted by Sam Moon with editing support from Sam Walby.

Eagle Wings Organization, situated in Kisumu City, Kenya was established by Saraphina Amble in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. Eagle Wings works with young people in schools and communities, focussing on youth and women's economic empowerment, sexual reproductive health and rights and environmental conservation.

Saraphina Ambale Executive Director of Eagle Wings Organization

We are changing the whole narrative.

Through her own experience, Saraphina has become a changemaker in shifting the narrative of sexual health rights, challenging taboos and enabling economic sustainability. Here Saraphina shares her story of seeing the environment she wanted to influence – and her journey of making that happen through Eagle Wings.

Saraphina, what are you working on that excites you most?

At the moment, what really excites me is the fact that we do a lot of community empowerment work especially within the schools that is also focusing on sexual reproduction and health rights (SRHR), sustainable sustainability of SRHR for the young girls and women within the schools. So we are having a program that is dubbed as Kuza Nia (supported by Zana Africa) in English it translates as: ‘Meeting your purpose’.

This project is mainly focusing on demystifying myths and misconceptions related to Menstruation and Gender Based Violence (GBV). Our design questions is-how do we keep young girls in schools? How do you ensure that these young girls are able to attend their classes fully and are able to meet their potential? So apart from just doing the donations of sanitary towels and personal products for the ‘dignity pack’, we also focus more on information. Because we still have a lot of myths and misconceptions [in Kenya] when it comes to matters sexual reproductive health and rights.

We are changing the whole narrative and ensuring that discussions on sexuality is something that everyone needs to talk about. It's not a taboo and it shouldn't be a taboo. So our conversations with the schools and also within the community really ignite a lot of interest from the young people and also from just the community to get to know the facts, to get to know the realities about sexuality and sexual reproductive health.

So you're working primarily with young women, around their sexual reproductive rights and menstruation [...] working on changing the conversation. Tell me why that's important to you.

I was born in a family of six girls. Within our community, the gender of children really mattered when it comes to making decisions. My mother & Father faced a lot of stigma and discrimination. They faced a lot of challenges while trying to meet our needs. I was seeing from the environment that we were living in, we had a lot of stigma and discrimination, because we were girls. Such comments were made frequently, ‘They don't even deserve to be going to school, they shouldn’t be empowered / trained, they don’t need to go to good high schools, to go to universities,’ and all of that.

So it came to my realisation that after joining Campus (University) that I am supposed to be in this place. It's not a matter of: because you are a girl, you're not supposed to be here. No – it's my right to attain education and the fact that I had earned my place in this institution. So it's very important for me to reach out to the young girls, the young women, as well as young men to instil confidence and change the narrative on gender roles. I believe women and girls can do much more when given the chance to. 

As a result of those experiences, you started to think, how can I do this, and then there’s a journey into the Eagle Wings Organisation. What was the catalyst from your experience in seeing there was something wrong? Tell me a bit about what the trigger was. What happened?

I had different networks that I was working with, during Covid 19. I was volunteering with an organization focusing in Improving health of community members. When Covid happened, most of our programs changed to be able to accommodate the immediate need of awareness about the pandemic. So while at this, I still felt like there's something that I needed to do to make myself feel better. It wasn't very satisfying to just go to the community and give out hand-washing items, the sanitisers, the masks and create awareness on how this can be prevented.

We still have the same problem that we had, even before Covid-19. And now we have households that depend on someone for provision of all needs, households that are not able to work because of Covid, take their children to schools and etc. The whole situation was just out of hands as prices hiked, travelling was limited in most areas, families were staying indoors hence increasing violence rates and more. Questions such as What happens to me if I need to go for my family planning appointment? How do I even get to a health facility or youth friendly centre? I just started my period – how do I access menstrual products? Where do I get the money to cater for this? Lingered in my mind. I still felt there is a gap and there's something that we need to do to ensure that these people who still do not have access to reproductive health needs. 

School activity on Menstrual hygiene

The thread that I'm picking up is you noticing that there's a gap and that something's not right, and following your curiosity or drive and passion around that, but not quite knowing what it is until you get there. How did you go from the feelings you're having and what you're experiencing to making something happen?

I think it's just pushing yourself each and every day. When you feel like there's something you need to be doing, then you need to find out what you need to be doing. I really want to make some difference within the girls and women – that is what I really felt like I need to focus on. Being out there and giving a listening ear to the girls and women felt like the right thing to do. Like, these are the challenges that I am going through – what are the challenges you are going through? And then we see from there how can we help each other. So it was more of just getting out of my way and being like, I know I'm supposed to be doing this. It was so satisfying and relieving each time I had sessions within the community

I really liked how you've put it: ‘getting out of my way’. That has a lot of meaning. Through that you were discovering lots of other things and having conversations with other girls around what was going on for them around their health needs and then hearing their stories, because you were going out of your way. Tell me a little bit more about other things that you discovered by getting out of your way.

Well, one of the things I also realised – apart from the increase in violence [during Covid] and all that – I felt like, any time I had a session with the girls, women and community, these dialogues had an impact into their lives. It was so nice to know that I am making a difference and contribute to someone's life in a positive way.

And so during that period, it's not like I didn't really know that I was able to lead, but it was so much clearer to me that, I should be doing this.

Tell me a little bit more about the feelings of responsibility around being in this new space, or of leading?

A very big learning experience was working with different people from different backgrounds, just trying to make sure that the decision I'm going to make is really going to have a great impact within the community. But at the same time, this decision is going to have an impact on the people I'm going to work with. Because this is a team and any decision needs to be something that is going to grow them in one way or the other, and at the same time create an impact within the community. So it took me time to learn how to do that – and I'm still learning how to work with different people.

I'm picking up the energy that you're sharing that with – rather than through gritted teeth – and hearing the the journey that you are aware of that you are on as well. What are you enjoying most about this journey so far?

A lot of things. Because when I had the team, just having people who can believe in you, its such a good thing to have people around you who believe in what you do and are willing to be part of the journey.

And then the other aspects of just seeing the impact within the community; I think that is what makes me continue with what I'm doing.

We're trying to live within the community that they are living in. So it will take some time for you to see a difference. But once the difference is there, we are able to physically see it, because the people we are working with are expressing it, and it's encouraging to learn how our small deeds have had an impact within these communities.

Women's dialogue group on Gender Based Violence and Financial Empowerment

For people who don't know the community where you work, why is your work important for the community that you're working in?

Kisumu is a city yes and it has informal settlements as well, like slums. We have around five slums in Kisumu. And when you visit these slums it's quite different from how the town is.

There's a very big gap when you look at infrastructures, accessibility to water, security issues and all that, even education, because most families are not even able to access higher education. What we are doing is trying to also bridge that gap but bringing the sense of ownership to the community members, because it's like you're living in two different countries

Within this community, when you are able to show them what they're able to do, as a community in as much as development is limited within these areas. Whatever change that they can bring, it makes them feel like part of the community as well, part of the city once more. 

Tell me more about what that sense of belonging looks and feels like, when you're creating it and beginning to see it emerge?

We closely engage those people who are vocal within the slums, people who are able to make decisions within the slums, so that while we are talking with them, while we are empowering and sensitizing them, they're also able to get back there and share the same thing with the entire community.

When you talk of community dialogue sessions, most people feel like this is not something that is going to really be of any impact to them. But when your neighbour comes to you and tells you, last month I joined this dialogue and from that time, I have been able to make this decision in a better way, I've been able to reduce violence within my family, I've been able to support my girl boost her confidence while she goes to school, I am now aware of what I'm supposed to do. My young girls are able to come to me whenever they are having any challenges and etc. then there are high chances that the other friend will want to join the sessions as well to gain from it.

Amazing. What are the things that happen [so that] one neighbour says to another neighbour, you might be interested in this? What's the secret? What happens?

Being able to be in the same shoes as, as the community we are working with. You first of all need to understand what really is the main issue here, right? And so one thing I feel like has also helped in what you're doing is, 80% of the team that I'm having also comes from these areas.

They live within this area, so understand what is happening, how it is happening, who we need to reach out to when it comes to mobilization and what we need to do to get more people on board. So apart from just having the people within the team, we also identify the vocal people, such as the gatekeepers and local admins. People that community members trust and hence are able to make a difference within that community.

During community dialogues, some times its difficult to have communities engage in these sessions. While doing mobilization, most will say that's their hustle time and so it might be a challenge for them to attend. We sometimes offer refreshments during the sessions and some will also just openly tell you, I came because I didn't have something to eat today and I have seen bread and sodas here.

In our session until it ends, and then after it ends, you're able to get something that you can take home to your children, or that you can eat. Then also next week, we will be having the same session. So come with your neighbour, because we need them to also understand what we are doing.

I want a world where men and women work collaboratively to fix challenges facing our communities locally, at regional level, national, international and worldwide.

With all that in mind, when you look forward, what is the best thing that could happen?

A community where women are leaders and young girls are leaders and they're able to make decisions, positive decisions, and they're able to innovate ideas that can really create a very big change within their communities.

I want to see an equal world [...] But before that, I want to see it from this community that I am within. I want to see that everyone is able to access what they want. I need to see that everyone, especially the girls and women, being able to stand up and just say no, if they do not want what is being given to them, and say yes, if they want and decide to start factories because they have seen a gap, and decide to build up universities because they have seen a gap, and decided to vie for positions because they are capable of doing that.

I want a world where men and women work collaboratively to fix challenges facing our communities locally, at regional level, national, international and worldwide,

What else would you like, want or need from the community to make your next steps as fantastically successful as they could be?

My vision is an equal country, And when I say this, I get responses like: ‘No woman will ever be a leader especially here. There is no way you will get an African woman being the President of Kenya.’ And more. But this is not the future, with the work we and other organizations are doing to empower the communities, I'm looking at being surrounded by people who are so open minded, who believe in possibilities and are ready to go out and make it happen!

And if we really want to make a change there we need enough resources to be able to initiate projects within these areas, to bring on board people who are able to drive that change going on within that community. Empowerment is not just enough! Resources from finances, equipment, human support contributes largely to supporting empowered community members to drive change they want to see within their areas.

What you are telling me is an incredible journey. In what ways would you say that you have been changed by your experience with this so far?

I'm not just putting myself at the forefront. Yes, there are things I do for myself, but I put utmost 80% of what I'm doing to change someone's life within the community. Living becomes more exciting when we have more of us smiling and if this is what it takes then I am up for it!

That's beautiful. So my last question is, what if any meaning was made for you through the course of our conversation? Have you noticed anything?

I didn't realise how far I've come. Because, it just hit me. From 2019, just around 2018, up to now, I'm such a very different person. I have grown a lot on how I work with people, how I make decisions and more.

There's so much that I have done and I now feel proud of myself more because of that. I think I didn't realise the journey that I had taken, just from being a young girl to being someone who can be a changemaker within my own space.

Find out more about the Eagle Wings Organization at: https://eagle-wings.org/

Story | 13.10.23

children and families, community, Local Area Coordination, Neighbourhood Care, Neighbourhood Democracy, Kenya, Story

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