How has your life changed since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic?
The reason why I joined these organisations is that I like to grow and meet with different people, and what has changed in my life since the beginning of this pandemic is that it has affected my personal space. I can’t go to school. I can’t meet with my friends. I can’t go to the hospital freely to get services such as counselling. Access to services has gone down. This is due to the regulations put in place to curb the pandemic. For those working, it has affected their income.
What is it like to be a youth champion?
Since I am empowered, I am at a better position and I also have the right information. It also feels nice to be a role model since I can give out correct information to people and even proper counselling.
Based on my personal experience as a youth champion, there is no need to judge because people have different views. I have a friend who got pregnant after high school and she had strict parents so she was not sure whether she wanted to go ahead with the pregnancy. Since I was her best friend, she called me for advice. I am proud that she listened to me, and now she is a very proud mother.
Before COVID, I did various activities such as meeting with young people and helping them get empowered, I also met with the chief of our area to speak on issues concerning the youth. All of this is through my training. I also have a WhatsApp group for the youths where we share our issues, they tell me their problems, and we always come to a solution.
What is the teenage pregnancy situation in your community?
Teenage pregnancy rates are high in our county. What we should do to curb this is to spread awareness to the youth. We need to empower young people with the right skills. We should not encourage teenage pregnancy but neither should we encourage stigmatisation.
Family planning is essential because our generation is sexually active, and some of us have goals and ambitions and we do not want to have kids too early. In our community, we mostly use pills and injections as a method of family planning.
How do you see the future?
What worries me the most is that we have wasted a lot of time in the last six months. Many young people are engaged in crime and also there’s a lot of teenage pregnancies in the community. We don’t know what the future holds for us.
In terms of my career, I want to be one of the best engineers in the country. As for SRHR, I would like to start an organisation to help the youths and mothers in the community and I am hoping that in two or three years I will have created something that will help protect them. I also want to become a mentor and guide young people.
What advice would you give to women and girls?
My advice is that life is not easy, but God will only give you a share that you can handle. Women should not be discouraged and must push through what they are going through. Always keep your eyes on your goal. Between men and women, the fact is that we do have different abilities, but we are equal.
Mercy Mwende Mugambi, 21, is a member of the Youth and Women Advocacy Network (YWAN), a youth organisation based in Meru County, Kenya. Photos and interview conducted by Brian Otieno for DSW.