In Mlolongo, Kenya, out of school children and youths between 16 -24 years old are left vulnerable to sexual exploitation due to inadequate opportunities to appropriate vocational skills training. To curb this vice, the Wezesha Vijana Project was put in motion. The project, which is being implemented by Youth Support Kenya in partnership with Terre des Hommes Netherlands and Terre des Hommes Germany and funded by Volkswagen Employees Foundation, will run from August 2021 to January 2023. It will empower children and youth through vocational skills development and life skills, and strengthen child protection and response systems including community-based structures to engage in prevention, reporting and response to sexual exploitation of children in Mlolongo town.
The official launch of the Wezesha Vijana Project took place on 2nd December 2021 in Nairobi, Kenya. Over 100 different stakeholders graced the event including representatives from the Government, CSOs, communities and even those in the private sector who wanted to contribute towards the fight against sexual exploitation.
The director of Youth Support Kenya- Jimmy Kilonzi gave a brief overview of the Wezesha Vijana project by elaborating on the project's results model. Firstly, he cited the problems faced by children and the youth. ¨One of the main issues faced by children and youth is inadequate opportunities to appropriate vocational skills training leaving them vulnerable to sexual exploitation. The project aims to target 180 children and youth between 16-24 years of age. Out of the total number of beneficiaries, 144 of them are at risk of sexual exploitation while 36 are survivors of the same.¨
He further explained the project's overall goal. ¨The Wezesha Vijana project will contribute to the reduction of sexual exploitation of children and youth 16 to 24 years in Mlolongo town through economic/ livelihood empowerment opportunities. Improved relevant technical skills among the target youth will enable their acquisition of decent employment.¨ He stated that the limited capacity of the local community (parents, caregivers and gatekeepers) to prevent, report and respond to sexual exploitation of children in Mlolongo Town was a problem. To address this issue, emphasis was placed on improving the capacity of the local community structure to engage in prevention, reporting and response to SEC.
¨We jointly call upon all stakeholders to collaborate with us as we implement the Wezesha Vijana project. Together, we can jointly work towards preventing the sexual exploitation of children and youth in Mlolongo town.¨Jimmy Kilonzi concluded.
The Chief Guest, Ernest Munyoki, who is the County Director of Youth Affairs in Machakos also gave his remarks. He stated some of the issues that the youth in the country are facing such as lack of proper employment opportunities, skills mismatch, alcohol and drug abuse, crime and violence, inadequate support from parents and responsible institutions, lack of funding opportunities and access to youth services, lack of awareness on sexual and reproductive health among others.
He further added that ¨Many youth are finding themselves cornered by multiple challenges, albeit the increasing cost of living. Sexual exploitation is one example of the consequences of unaddressed issues among the youth. It is therefore commendable to those youth-serving organisations that sacrifice to provide solutions to the problems the youths face, through programs like the Wezesha Vijana Project.¨
Geoffrey Mugendi, the Senior Employment Officer at National Employment Authority who was also in attendance stated that ¨Unless we protect our children, we will have no future to be proud of as a country. This calls for a multi-sectoral approach to child protection.¨
Various stakeholders made commitments to support YSK and TdH NL during the entire project life cycle.
Sneath Kilee, a police officer in charge of crime, reinforced her support for the children and the youth in Mlolongo. ¨We as the police are ready to partner with the Wezesha Vijana Project and any other stakeholder in stopping SEC. One of the things I can remind you of is to be vigilant in reporting any case of child sexual exploitation to us.¨
Mlolongo´s Assistant Chief urged those who were present to embrace the Wezesha Vijana Project collectively and each person to contribute to the project in order to better our community. ¨We should all work hard to ensure the success of this project.¨
Also among the guests who spoke was the County Coordinator of Children Services. ¨Unless we protect our children, we will have no future to be proud of as a country. This calls for a multi-sectoral approach to child protection.¨ She emphasised.
Terre des Hommes Netherlands (TdH NL) Country Manager, Magdalene Wanza presented on the importance of partnership/joint collaboration in fighting child exploitation. ¨There is great importance in partnering with all stakeholders in the fight to stop the exploitation of children. It is important to note that sexual exploitation can also occur through online platforms and we should make sure that our children are not exploited through such platforms. One of the ways we can do that is by reporting any child exploitation cases to the relevant authorities and making use of hotline numbers such as Childline Kenya 116 number.¨
Beneficiaries, who actively participated in organising the launch also entertained the participants by performing a skit. The skit was about a schoolgirl who was being sexually exploited but later received the necessary help from an organisation that helped children at-risk and survivors of SEC.
To officially launch the project, the Chief Guest- Ernest Munyoki took part in the cake cutting ceremony and unveiled the Wezesha Vijana Project Launch book for the guests to leave their comments or suggestions about the project.
Generally, the launch was a major success! The participants were able to share some of these positive remarks.
A very valuable initiative geared towards sustaining our youth and children to impact positively upon their lives and their communities. Much gratitude to TdH NL and Terre des Hommes Germany, Youth Support Kenya and Volkswagen for their great support to the project. We look forward to a new society free from exploitation of the children and our youth. THANK YOU ALL!
What a wonderful initiative aimed at rescuing our vulnerable youth in Mlolongo. The Wezesha Vijana Project has come at the right moment. I am very much encouraged by what stakeholders are doing to make this project a success. I will forever pray for this initiative.
Thank you guys for your support in my life. May God bless you guys and keep the spirit moving to reach more and more youth and to change the life of many.