Mark Okowa is the founder and Programme Coordinator of Advocacy Behavior Change and Communication (ABC). ABC was formed in February 2002 to address the poverty situation, poor governance, environmental conservation and management, and the HIV/AIDS prevalence within the lake Victoria Region of western Kenya. One of the important goals of the organisation is to improve the Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) of vulnerable young people in the lake region by bringing about a lasting positive change in their attitudes and behavior and those of the communities in which they live. Being a youthful organisation, ABC programmes generally target young people.
How much effective role can youths play in bringing about transformation in social development issues?
I think the youth has an equally big role in the society because they stand to inherit that particular society in a matter of time. The youth have all it takes to design a better future for them and for the society because the most fundamental fact is that they stand to gain and loose everything in the long run. As young people, we really feel embarrassed and abused when after being taken to school to learn and acquire the necessary skills to enable us develop our societies, we find ourselves at the periphery of decision making and implementation of development issues which also affect us.
The youth have what it takes to bring in the fresh and relevant technological concepts of development necessary for the progress of our societies.
How did the idea of forming a new organisation Advocacy Behavior-change and Communication (ABC) to work for the youth related issues come to your mind?
This was basically motivated by the findings of a baseline survey we did to categorise the socio economic and developmental issues the youth wanted to be done for them to facilitate their well being within the Lake Victoria basin of western Kenya.
We then decided to target the first three development and health issues as they were raised in the survey, from the first in priority coming down. Only along the line did we realise that there were some very key elements of development, which cut across the divide and those, which we could bring in as we move forward.
Basically what we set up to address when we begun were:
- HIV/AIDs prevalence among the youth and the best strategies, relevant to the local youth, which could be employed to curb the spread.
- Poverty among the young people and their respective societies, how this could be positively addressed and what the roles of the youth were in changing the situation.
- Governance then came third and how the youth could be empowered to get involved in leadership position and how at the local level the capacity of young people could be enhanced.
These were the three main fundamental issues we set out to be addressed in the beginning. The concept of ICT was cutting across with the emergence of MDGs and in Africa NEPAD and APRM.
How much response have you received from the youth towards the HIV/AIDS awareness program of ABC?
We have succeeded fairly since our phase one of the projects was targeting 500 youths to be directly reached through what we called Focused Group Discussions (FGDs), as potential peer educators. If they were to reach 10 people each the project was to reach effectively 5000 young people with HIV/AIDS messages. Out of the target of 500 youths, we managed a total of 591 youths. The response was overwhelming with almost any youth who heard about the project intending to be involved. Though again the challenge was that there is a poor culture developed by some of the NGOs, which have operated in this region before where by, they paid hefty allowances to all their programme participants. So as a youth initiative and with not sufficient funds to dish out to the targeted persons, we faced a lot of demands most of which we could not meet. But later in the project life, the understanding was cultivated and the project was a big success.
The phase two which is just commencing is targeting 1000 youths as potential peer educators and is moving towards policy advocacy and with emphasis on the livelihood of the people within the locality of the Lake Victoria basin.
Sensitizing the community for environmental conservation is one of the important objectives of your organisation. How are you involving the youths in this programme?
We hold clean up campaigns monthly within the city of Kisumu, where we demonstrate the best and proper waste disposal mechanism and how solid wastes can be sorted at the household level so that the recycling and dumping is made easier.
We also organise tree-planting activities within the province once every year in conjunction with main stakeholders like the forestry department, ICRAF and others.
How are you using ICT in your programs?
Networking with other like-minded organisations and youths globally has also been a main tool for our publicity and development. Though I must admit that it has been a challenge to make even the entire staff of ABC to embrace the ICT concept.
Before the initiation the ICT project we are running now, even some of our staff could take as much as a week to check their e-mails, for example. But now that we have available Internet within the ICT centre, we see most of our staffs motivated to enhance their understanding and utilisation of the Internet. The availability of the documentation and pictures of the projects we do with the easy access for those who wish to is a mile stone in making information available and easily and safely accessible.
What are you planning as the future initiatives of ABC?
We wish to see ABC grow to set up satellite centers at least one in every district we work in. These centers could work as our contact areas in these districts and hence the capacity to reach more youths within our province.
We also wish to see ABC effectively address the issues of unemployment to the youth, by enabling the youth to rediscover their self drives to initiate income generating activities besides the predominant fishing career.
We would also love to see ABC network with as many international youth organisations and movements as possible with the aim of initiating exchange programmes, which can culminate into a big world youth conference in Kisumu-Kenya in the near future.
How will the youth and ICT Award help in your future initiatives?
This Award will first of all put me and ABC on the international plat form, and enable me to get important contacts of other youth organisations doing what we are involved in and even better work that we do. Possible partners who could support the expansion of ABC activities like creation of satellite centers are likely to be met by me when I attend this ceremony.
Lastly and importantly, the cash award will go along way in making ABC organise at least something like self-evaluation forum which can make us share and evaluate our successes and short comings.