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Family Planning Champions Join Forces in Kenya

Francis Wambua
Wambua, 22, is a youth motivator and family planning champion. Photo by Jhpiego/Ronald Dangana

A Bustling Outreach

Kangemi, Nairobi—Francis Wambua is standing amid a flurry of activity on the grounds of a local church in Kangemi, a slum outside of Nairobi, Kenya. Behind him, two large tents and three health wagons are being prepped to offer health services. Mothers talk among themselves, their babies well-wrapped against the chilly morning wind. Every so often the conversation is interrupted by a wailing newborn who is swiftly nursed to comfort.

This is the scene at this morning’s integrated outreach, organized by the Tupange Project in collaboration with Kangemi’s sub-county health team to bring health services straight into the community. Tupange, which is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and led by the Government of Kenya in partnership with Jhpiego and private health care providers, reaches some of the country’s most vulnerable women and families with key health services such as family planning. As a Tupange family planning champion, Wambua greets new clients as they arrive.

But Wambua is not the only champion expected for the day. Today’s outreach is awaiting two special guests: Melinda Gates, Co-Chair of the Foundation, and Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund.

A Local Champion

Wambua, 22, is stationed at the entrance of the outreach services, which typically attract about 500 clients in a day. Patients will have access to various reproductive health services including family planning, HIV testing and counseling, cervical cancer screening and cryotherapy treatment, child growth monitoring services, immunization, nutritional services and referral for services not provided during the outreach.

Wambua uses his loudspeaker to urge onlookers closer to the mobile clinic, encouraging them to take advantage of the free services. He is a youth mobilizer and founder of the youth group Ndugus for Dadas—Kiswahili for “Brothers for Sisters.”

Wambua is the fourth in a family of five children, most fathered by different men. He was often told by his mother, who struggled to care for him and his siblings, that he was a mistake. Then, at the age of 20, Wambua learned that his girlfriend, whom he fondly refers to as his “beautiful Damaris,” was pregnant with his child. As a result, he was nearly excommunicated from his conservative church for having sex before marriage.

These two experiences encouraged Wambua to begin speaking to young people about family planning. With training from Tupange, he and his youth group encourage men like him to be involved in family planning efforts, teaching them how to be partners in empowering women. He even convinced the elders in his church to let him speak to young people in the congregation about reproductive health.

Wambua (in green) smiles for the camera alongside Melinda Gates, Babatunde Osotimehin, Jhpiego’s Kenya Country Director Mildred Mudany, and family planning colleagues.
Photo by The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

An Unlikely Trio

In the late morning, Gates and Osotimehin arrive at the outreach and greet Wambua and his fellow family planning champions. Together, the co-chair of one of the world’s leading foundations, the head of the United Nations’ reproductive health efforts and the young Kenyan activist share the same goal: empowering women and families with the opportunity to plan when, where and how often they have children. In a round table discussion, the Tupange team shares stories of the challenges they face in championing family planning. Wambua reiterates the importance of prioritizing the needs of young people in the family planning agenda.

Gates acknowledges that the donor community and local and international organizations all need to look for creative ways to engage youth in family planning, noting that family planning is one of the cheapest interventions for global development.

“Family planning is one of the keys that unlocks the potentials of women and girls,” Gates says. “If a girl or woman is able to voluntarily space the births of her children, it frees her, her family and the next generation from the cycle of poverty.”

From 2010 to 2014, Tupange increased the contraceptive prevalence rate among the urban poor in Kenya’s three largest cities from 45 to 65 percent, encouraging people to think of family planning as an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Tupange’s community outreach events—like this morning’s—bring in approximately 30 percent of new family planning clients.

Wambua is optimistic that his baby boy will grow up in a family where he is loved, accepted and able to thrive. “I want my baby and my beautiful Damaris to have a better life,” he says. “We can do that with proper child spacing.”