Meet Her: Olivia Otieno, A Reproductive Health Rights Advocate And Champion For Teenage Mothers
Do you know that about 378,397 adolescent girls in Kenya aged between 10 and 19 years became pregnant between July 2016 and June 2017 alone? What about the other years or worse the other young mothers in campuses around the country? This obviously interferes with their studies and it pains me to see that number being so high, yet the re-entry back to school is very low. Many girls in schools opt for abortion because they think it’s an easier option for them to continue with their studies. But that may not be the best option according to one lady I was more than honored to meet at the YALI Regional Leadership Center East Africa who is extremely passionate about seeing girls and young women in Kenya as well as Africa have a safe space where they can be empowered enough to make informed decisions about their health. Introducing Ms Olivia Otieno.
Who is Olivia?
A graduate from Maseno University with a second-class upper division in public health, She wears many hats among them being a sexual reproductive health rights advocate at Network for Adolescents and Youths of Africa, Kenya (NAYA). She is the Cofounder and director programs at Empower HER Initiative an initiative that aims at empowering girls socially and economically to become agents of change.
She is one of the finalists of Network Generation women Leaders 2018, whose focus is in developing female leaders by recognizing women who are making a difference in their community. She is also an Akili Dada fellow and a mentor at Kakenya Center of Excellence (KCE) where she’s currently the 2018 mentors’ coordinator.
What Triggered The Formation Of The Empower Her Initiative?
The conception of this idea was out of early pregnancies that occurred in campus. We observed that young women were dropping out of the university due to stigmatization and financial problems since they couldn’t fend for themselves as well as their babies. I and other co-founders were moved by this. We therefore started brainstorming how this could be remedied. What became of concern most was a situation we personally related to was when a friend of ours got pregnant and we saw her ordeals. We really got passionate about this and that’s when we thought of this idea. It was political times in campus and one of our co-founders was vying for a Gender Secretary post and we thought that having this issue in her manifesto would appeal to young campus mothers who would relate to it. Honestly, we had not conceptualized how we would implement it if she would not win her seat. Fortunately, she won and we got to realize that there were a lot of issues affecting female students apart from being a mother in campus, and that is what led to inception of EHI. We later got like-minded friends with whom we shared our vision and have since them been a part of this amazing initiative
What is Empower Her Initiative (EHI) and What Does It Do?
It began in 2014 as Saidia Students Initiative but rebranded it a year later to Empower her initiative ,this had a greater purpose apart from supporting students, it was meant to give them power in various aspects of campus life. This was made possible with the help of our co-founder during her term of leadership in office as a student leader.
What would you consider as your most significant accomplishment so far?
Being able to help young mothers stay in school and equipping them with hand skills that enable them to start up businesses that can sustain them and their babies, and being able to provide for them a safe space where they can talk about their issues as well as provide psychological support for them. For us seeing these young mothers living a healthy life, taking care of their babies and living a life of purpose is our complete fulfillment.
In 2017 it was awarded for being the most innovative idea in “My Big Little Thing Project”,Zuri awards ,in which our founder took part. It also managed to be among the top organizations making impact during the next generation women leaders contest ,which I took part in, and its currently been nominated for DIAR (organized by Daima trust Ltd)2018 award category C5 :diversity and inclusion program award which will take place in June 2018 ,during which the winner will be announced .
What next for EHI ?
We are looking to introduce and integrate programs that will enables us to complementary tackle all issues affecting women and girls since these issues are interrelated and go in handy. It is therefore important to state that as our vision, we’re looking forward to adopt a multi approach. Our next plan is to broaden our scope within Kenya, launch the initiative in other counties. We also want to start working with teenage mothers in primary and secondary schools since initially our target group was campus-mothers.
Any advice for women who would want to pursue this kind of Initiative?
It’s all about passion and knowing that time is always right to act. Talking to people about a course you believe in and issues that you hold dear to you is a greatest resource you have. As a woman/a girl you got to stop procrastination and act. Don’t hesitate, initiate !
What would you advise young ladies in campus who get pregnant?
It doesn’t matter how you got there, you are already there now make sure that you and your baby live a good life just like you always dreamt.
Babies are blessings regardless of the timing of conception, and it doesn’t stop you from achieving your dreams. You can be a mother and have any other tittles that you want, a doctor, a teacher, an engineer, name it. You never allow anyone torment you for that not even the society. We have a lot of success stories of women who had kids in campus but still achieved their dreams.
How can well-wishers contact You?
Facebook: Empower HER Initiative
Twitter : @empowerher_org
Instagram: Empower HER Initiative.