NAIROBI, KENYA – It is 2:30 p.m. in Kibera, Kenya’s largest slum. The sun is vengefully hot, and foreheads are polka-dotted with sweat droplets.
A 5-foot-5-inch figure wearing a green and white checkered dress, matching socks and a red sweater approaches from the shade. With each step the shadowy figure takes, the bright sunshine reveals the face of a smiling young girl. She cradles a wooden box in her sturdy arms like a newborn.
Rebecca Apiyo, 14, is in her final year of primary school at Adventure Pride Centre, a nonformal school, or school run by a nongovernmental or community-based organization in an informal settlement like Kibera. She is the head prefect and also the student in charge of the Talking Box.
The Talking Box is a program started by Polycomdev, a local community-based organization in Kibera. It provides pupils an opportunity to share challenges that they are afraid to discuss so that adults can address them.
The children write down their concerns on pieces of paper and slip them into the sealed, dark mahogany box. Every two weeks, the Polycomdev team of volunteers collects the challenges that have been neatly folded and submitted to the boxes.
The team prepares quarterly reports for each school based on the contents of the notes. It then discusses the challenges mentioned by the students with their teachers. In serious cases, the volunteers directly seek out the students themselves to address the issues.
The team is also in the process of consolidating all the reports to submit to the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Development at the end of the year.
Rebecca says that the Talking Box helps girls to voice their concerns because some of them don’t know how to approach their parents about their essential needs.
“Some girls only live with their fathers,” she says, “and he is male, and some find it hard to ask for things like sanitary towels. They think it is bad.”
But she encourages her peers to trust their parents and speak to them about their concerns, especially with the help of the Talking Box.
Rebecca’s mother, Francissa Apiyo, 46, says that all parents should know about the Talking Box project. She says that parents should change their approach to raising their children in order to make the home more conducive for children to voice their concerns.
She says this will have a positive effect on education. Once the children speak up about what bothers them, they can focus on their studies better.
“Children of today were born with their own wisdom,” she says. “You have to talk to them and reason with them.”
The Talking Box program strives to give young students, especially girls, a chance to voice their concerns in a less daunting platform. Concerns range from their families’ inability to pay school fees to revelations of abuse and neglect. Educators say the program is reducing school dropouts and improving academic performance for girls.
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