A couple of weeks ago, I wrote here about Mama Furaha, a woman that I met that does not officially exist and how many people don’t count. I have so many more stories of real people and I will be telling you about them. One of the people I will often tell you about is Brian (*not his real name), a 21 year old young man who works with me at my farm.
Brian is married to a 19 year old girl and they have a 4 year old child.
Both Brian and his wife dropped out of primary school, in part because they were expecting a baby (teenage love became real married life) and also because there wasn’t a support system to keep them in school. His father died years ago leaving him, the eldest son of the family, responsible for the family. He was going to drop out any way because he needed to fend for the family and find a job. Also, his friends and relatives his age were all dropping out – they had started school late and he was in year 7 when he dropped out at age 17. His wife was 15 and in year 3 when they got pregnant.
Brian’s father dropped out of school in year 8 and worked as a labourer until he died. He married his mum that year, as he dropped out and their first born was born the next year. Brian’s mum was 15 years old when she got her first baby. She has 8 children now. Her second-born, Brian, is her eldest son and as a man, he is traditionally the head of the household.
Over the past 5 years or so, Brian has worked as a Boda-Boda driver (unlicenced), a construction hand and a farm hand. He does not have a specific skill beyong his hands and so he has always earned way less than minimum wage. He and his wife are not doing any family planning. “You know these things (contraceptives) will make us unable to have more children – and mtoto huja na sahani yake.” A child comes with their own plate.
“What if you got another child now, with all the responsibilities you have?” I asked.
“I will be in trouble.”
Does Brian exist?
Neither Brian nor his wife have an ID card.
“I had a birth certificate, but it was torn so I threw it away. I went to try and get a replacement but the people in those offices, took me round and round and I didn’t understand what they wanted so I never went back,” he told me. His wife had the necessary documents to get an ID card, but she washed the waiting document with her cloths, the paper that you hold as you await for the ID card. She never went back because she didn’t want to be berated by the government people. “I was too embarrassed.”
But then, Brian doesn’t think that they need the ID card. “Nothing in our life is different. What are we going to do different? We eat, we have a home, we live!”
Getting Brian to Count
I have a theory. For Brian to count and for him to be counted (by government, by the world) and for him to access the systems that could see him prosper financially and socially, there are a number of things he needs:
- Basic Literacy. It is impossible for him to work towards what he does not know. For him to do so, he has to have some basic skills in reading, writing, language and arithmetic. That way, his mind has a chance to be opened up.
- Basic Lifeskills. Brian and his wife need to develop a better understanding of parenting, their position as stewards in their child’s life, how they can plan out their life for prosperity and stability, how to engage with the world around them, how to make better use of his three acre land and make it more productive and how to navigate society’s quirks.
- Financial Literacy. Brian, and others like him, need a good understanding of money – how to manage it, how to save it, how to invest it and grow it.
- Civic Literacy. For Brian to take advantage of the systems that could help him and his family access public services, he has to know which offices are useful to them and what power he holds as an individual in his community and country. He would then understand the way that things like an ID card can be useful to him and then he can become an active citizen, who contributes and demands for the services that are due his family.
With this understanding, I started to look around for solutions. That is when I met Jackie Mungai, a 27 year old adult literacy activist in Malindi. I learnt that she has dedicated herself to teaching young men and women like Brian how to read and write at least and as she does, she sensitises them on important issues in society like the value of family planning, budgeting for the home, the dangers of drugs and substance abuse and so on. The literacy crusader told me that she is keen on building a community of active young people “who are useful to themselves and society.”
I thought that was powerful. So I introduced her to Brian and this week, Brian and his colleague at the farm, 21 year old Joseph (not his real name) have started their literacy journey for two hours a day, every day.
Imagine if we could do this at scale.
With the kind of youthful population that we have in Africa, there is an opportunity to make many young people count by dealing with the barriers to their active citizenship. We have to find the data to show just how many young people are disenfranchised – I don’t know how yet given the vastness of remote parts of Kilifi, Tana River and other marginalised counties, but I’m on it.
Read this also: What if I moved to the Village?