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Promoting resilience in Kenya

Psychosocial support programs can make an enormous difference to the lives of people in vulnerable situations, explains social services officer Asha Bradley.

Asha Bradley (right) with peer educators from a Kenya Red Cross sexual health program.

It's early days but I'm finding Kenya endlessly interesting.

I am based at the Karen Langata Branch of Kenya Red Cross Society, near Nairobi. Our work is engaging, my colleagues welcoming and the scenery in this country is spectacular beyond words.

I work in a large hall established in British colonial times, amidst leafy surrounds set far back from the pollution on the main road. The grounds are like an oasis, with a large vegetable garden, beehives and a chicken coop - all income-generating activities for women and young people. It's a nice place to catch the breeze during our frequent power blackouts.

My role is to support the implementation, monitoring and evaluation of psychosocial programming, especially during emergencies. I recently attended a five-day training session with 30 counsellors who deliver psychosocial support around the country. These counsellors will be valuable contacts in the future, as I develop training manuals and materials to help Red Cross roll out psychosocial interventions among vulnerable groups of people.

I've also been involved in other areas, such as a sexual and reproductive health project that interviewed over 900 people to collect information on sexual practices and beliefs, and knowledge of services available in family planning, HIV/AIDS and gender-based violence. By assisting the project coordinators with data analysis and report writing, I gained valuable knowledge about the people we work with.

There have been many other rewarding and eye-opening experiences.

Like the time our peer educators were delivering a sex education session to some young people in the Kawangware slum area and a group of sex workers joined the audience. They wanted to know the nitty-gritty details on contraception and how to protect themselves and others from HIV and sexually transmissible infections. They finally came to the stage to deliver their own demonstration of how to use condoms.

Or the time I assisted one of our energetic youth members to write a funding proposal to support peace-building activities leading up to the general election in 2012. Outbreaks of violence following the last election saw 1000 people killed and 350,000 people displaced, so peace is highly sought after.

Or the field trip to Kibera, the largest slum in East Africa, after 135 homes had burnt down. I was invited into the home of a community health worker, a single mother with six children and one of 100 volunteer health workers in the slum. Not surprisingly, she told me she was overwhelmed by the stories of hardship she hears every day.

At every turn I see the importance of the work I am here to do. Programs that can bring people together and promote resilience will have long-lasting and tangible results.

I look forward to facing future challenges in this role, which has taught me as much about myself as it has of the country I am working in.

Asha Bradley is working in Kenya through the Australian Volunteers for International Development program. The program is an Australian Government, AusAID initiative.

Photo courtesy Asha Bradley.