By James Wakahiu
Vice Chancellors of two Kenyan universities have advised all colleges in the country to join a programme led by a United Nations organisation that aims at boosting the health and well-being of students to make them ready to become wholesome and more useful members of the community after graduation.
The University of Nairobi (UoN) and Mount Kenya University (MKU) are spear-heading implementation of the Our Rights, Our Lives, Our Future (O3 Plus) Programme. It is aimed at ensuring that young people in higher and tertiary education institutions in the Eastern and Southern Africa realise positive health, education and gender equality outcomes through sustained reductions in new HIV infections, unintended pregnancy and gender-based violence.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Regional Director, Prof. Hubert Gijzen says the programme is being implemented in Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe and is hoped to enable young people reach their full educational potential and contribute more effectively to the development of their countries and region as graduates, professionals and young leaders.
MKU and UoN, being the pilot universities in Kenya, have already covered sufficient ground in the implementation of initial project activities.
Speaking during an event that saw participants take a 5.7 Kilometre awareness walk organised by MKU, UoN and UNESCO over the weekend, UoN Vice Chancellor, Prof Stephen Gitahi Kiama said the government should do everything possible to help students concentrate on their studies.
Prof. Kiama said that UON will continue to partner with institutions of higher learning to implement the O3 Plus.
“Drugs, peer pressure, raging hormones, sex and early pregnancies are among factors that have been delaying completion of studies among university students and we hope to walk with them to tell them that there is hope. For instance, while many students have been suffering in silence, mental challenges effects have continued to be displayed among the learners,” he said.
MKU Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Deogratius Jaganyi said immense achievements have been recorded at MKU main Campus in Thika through the O3 Plus programme.
“The project’s gains to our students can never be overstated considering the numerous challenges that are facing the youth today at the Higher Institutions of Learning,” the VC said.
The MKU Thika Campus has over 10,000 students but only, 1,400 of them stay within the campus while the rest live outside the university. Moreover, the 1,400 always get out of the university where they interact with the local community in various ways.
“The university has over time established a very strong partnership with the neighbouring community through various types of agreements for the good of our students. Consequently, this sensitization event and all other similar ones would not be adequately accomplished without the community involvement,” he said.
Furthermore, Thika High School has partnered with MKU to develop a sports facility on a 10-acre piece of land that belongs to the secondary school.
“Through this partnership, our students have immensely benefitted through sports chaplaincy, which is open to all students at this campus, courtesy of the Thika High Chaplain, Reverend Stephen Kabuba,” he said.
MKU Co-Founder Dr. Jane Nyutu welcomed more community based stake-holders to enroll in O3 Plus project activities given close relationships MKU management, students and their neighbours.
“Since the students are strongly influenced by the neighborhood, the decision to include the community in this event and other similar events is well advised,” she said.
Dr Nyutu said a study that was completed in 2020 on effectiveness of counselling services at Kenyan Universities found out that despite the availability of counselling services at the Kenyan universities, only a few students do benefit from these services due to negative attitude towards seeking counselling help as fueled by negative peer influence.
“It is indeed true that, even when students know they need counselling support, many do not go for this help. The 03 Plus project, using the various strategies including digital platforms, as explained by our earlier presenters, we then see a lot of hope for all students at the Universities across the continent,” she said.
The chief guest, Prof David Serem, who is also the Chairman of the Mount Kenya University Council, said institutions of higher learning are home to a large number of the youth who are energetic and sexually active. These young adults are vulnerable to challenges such as; HIV/AIDS, unintended pregnancies, Sexually Transmitted Diseases, Gender Based Violence, Alcohol/drug and Substance abuse, Mental Health issues among others.
“We can no longer keep silent, watching the precious lives of these young people being destroyed by behaviours and practices that we can change, modify or even stop altogether. They must be guided so that they can safely transition to responsible adulthood,”
“It is our hope that upon successful implementation of this project in the two pilot universities in Kenya, the project shall be scaled up to other campuses and universities in Kenya,” Prof Serem said.
Following the implementation of the O3 Plus activities at the two universities, a more structured support towards the overall well-being of students has been availed and mostly via digital platforms. “We are very optimistic that the gains made and lessons learnt through the O3 Plus Project will also be shared with all other Institutions of Higher Learning in Kenya and in Africa for the good of our continent,” added Prof Jaganyi.