Teaching Mental Health in Bungoma County

Teaching Mental Health in Bungoma County

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Planting the seeds in the minds of teenage girls

I co-founded Rainbow Room Foundation (RRF)  with my twin sister about ten years ago (we celebrated our 10th year in 2023). One of our school teachers gave us an assignment which involved interacting with some of our neighbours and friends and passing on some particular knowledge we had gained in school. I do not remember the details of the assignment, but I remember its impact on us. For this assignment, we decided to do it with our friends and neighbours, whom we would hang out and play with whenever we were in Bungoma. However, this year was different. When we looked for our friends to play with us, we were stunned to see that quite a number of them had become mothers, so they had different priorities and couldn’t play with us. We were shocked, we couldn’t understand it. We kept asking our parents how and why this could be because we were only 16. We had a hard time wrapping our young minds around this.

This situation initiated several conversations about how different our realities were. It awakened us to how many young people didn’t have access to some of the resources and information that we do. Privilege is a term and concept we already knew and understood, and we were well aware of the privileges we had. Still, this particular situation deepened our understanding. So we decided to create a Mentorship programme for teenage girls in Bungoma where we planned to collaborate with different professionals to equip them with knowledge that they may not have access to and, in doing so, empower them. Once they gain this knowledge, the teens are expected to pass it on to their peers during the school term, a process monitored and evaluated by RRF.

Now, I didn’t imagine that years later, I would be serving my community and giving back to our foundation in a different way. I am part of the team helping them create a new syllabus for the Teen Peer Mentorship programme, which will now include mental health. I am also facilitating the sessions for the teens on mental health. I felt immense gratitude as I facilitated the first set of sessions. Merging two of my greatest passions, mental health and empowering young girls, ignited a joy I cannot describe. 

So far, working on this syllabus has been quite a challenge. I have had imposter syndrome, I have been anxious, I have also been excited, and I have learned a lot and grown a lot! I enjoy understanding concepts in mental health and breaking them down to a level that anyone can understand, and that is what I have been doing while I work on this. In addition, I have also had to find examples that resonate with the girls, who are mostly from different villages in Bungoma County. I have also had to grasp how to explain many terms and concepts in Kiswahili. While I speak and understand Kiswahili, doing this work is pushing me to learn the language better because this is the language the young girls connect with best.

So far, I have seen that the participating teens already have some knowledge about mental health. Still, there is a lot of misinformation and stigma. It was a great experience seeing them absorb the knowledge, ask questions and learn. There were about 40 girls, who I split into smaller groups to help me have more intimate contact with them during the sessions. Doing this helped a lot as I interacted with each group and helped them understand certain questions for their group work, explain concepts better, answer their questions and connect with them. Making sure that they understand and really absorb what I am teaching helps them have the confidence to share the knowledge with their peers. 

This year, I actively committed to having  more educational in-person sessions with young people on mental health, so this opportunity is very timely, and I am immensely grateful! I have facilitated a number of sessions before to pre-teens and to college students however, it has been a while since I had such in-person sessions. It feels great to be doing this again!

Our mission at The Artistic Psychologist is ‘To end the stigma surrounding mental health one conversation at a time, one action at a time.’ By doing this work and planting these seeds in these young minds, we continue to contribute a little more to our mission and slowly making our way to a world free from mental health stigma.