Like most entities that want to be successful in their efforts, we at Y-ACT believing in pausing to take stock of the past; celebrating wins and recognizing our shortfalls. Such was a recent conversation with one of our team members, Mr. Clayton Opiyo the advocacy outreach coordinator (AOC) for Kisumu and Kakamega County. Clayton’s role is more of a technical backstopping for what implementing partners are doing currently within the Y-ACT coalition. By offering mentorship and guidance to these partners and key government officials, Mr. Opiyo strengthens advocacy efforts and project goals within these counties. 

Clayton noted that Y-ACT’s interventions are always running full steam ahead, with little to no hitch. However, advocacy efforts in the counties slightly took a back seat when COVID hit the health sector hard in early 2020. During the pandemic, a lot of resources were pulled away from a lot of routine services and care, and those services were redirected to coronavirus response. T note, one of the key frustrations is that physical interactions; being one of the key aspects to advocacy work, was tampered with. Majority of advocacy work is done through these interactions hence with the COVID 19 menace; face to face meetings were banned. This in turn slowed down advocacy efforts within the region. Further, the transition from physical meetings to virtual platforms such as Zoom or Microsoft teams discouraged the process owing to the fact that many people aren’t equipped with technological skills in the area. Even more challenging is the fact that majority of data relevant to advocacy efforts comes from places within the counties, where internet connectivity is a problem. 

Partnerships were also negatively impacted, seeing as most partners were now working from home and some were not accessible for meetings. Despite these trials, Clayton and his team officials learnt how to transition to virtual meetings and slowly got a hang of the new reality. For Kakamega County, the key policy advocacy issue is tackling teen pregnancy while in Kisumu County; the goal is to improve youth and adolescents’ access to sexual and reproductive health services. These aspects were highly affected by the pandemic, with teenage pregnancies being at an all-time high in the country. Restrictions on movement also made it harder for girls to access contraceptives and family planning services, and mandatory curfews trapped girls in homes with predatory family members and neighbors. Over a period of three months in lockdown due to COVID-19, 152,000 Kenyan teenage girls became pregnant — a 40% increase in the country’s monthly average. These numbers, from early July, are some of the earliest pieces of evidence linking the COVID-19 pandemic to unintended pregnancies. 

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic greatly hampering advocacy efforts in 2020, both counties were able to meet their advocacy objectives. How, you may ask? During this perilous period, Y-ACT Kisumu and Kakamega worked with key government officials to nurture partnerships with organizations that support our cause. These efforts proved successful with five new youth-led organizations joining the Y-ACT coalitions within the two counties. The team posits that COVID 19 is a revelation to how Y-ACT as an organization can mitigate the effects of epidemics on access to SRHR. All advocacy interventions, moving forward, need to be pandemic smart in order to avoid such realities and emergencies.  It is imperative for advocacy to be flexible and adaptable to prevailing situations. “Advocacy work is very fluid so we need to always be on the lookout for emerging opportunities or threats and adapt to change,” notes Clayton. 

He further insists, “Having young people at the forefront of advocacy impacts significantly, therefore there’s a need to invest a lot of research and gathering evidence so that engagements are evidence based. Advocacy must be put on paper, based on factual evidence in order to check off goals. There’s also a necessity to invest in developing county specific data in order to foster local interventions.” 

No doubt, Y-ACT continues to flourish in its advocacy efforts at the grassroots level and we couldn’t be more excited to see what exploits the coalitions continue to make. #ChampionsKwaGround 

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