Sunday, November 30, 2008

Kicora; Kigoma College by Radio

Ok, I've already posted today but I have time and I don't want a backlog later.

My Master's degree was in Education and International Development, but I don't limit my interests to narrow concerns. After all, education has a big part to play in reducing the spread of HIV. It also has a part to play in poverty reduction, agriculture and environment, health, business and the economy and whatever else you can think of.

Here in East Africa I have had the opportunity to visit a number of schools and educational projects and I will mention some of them by and by. But one of the most outstanding is called Kicora; Kigoma College by Radio. Kicora do distance learning by radio, although they have an education centre as well. They are based in Kigoma, Western Tanzania. This blog may be called 'HIV in Kenya' but I am not going to limit it to just one country or one disease!

At present, Kicora's broadcasts are limited to the immediate town but there are plans to build an antenna on a nearby hill, so the coverage will soon be much greater. As well as the two official languages of English and Kiswahili, there will also be courses using French as the language of instruction. The founder of the school, Dr Deo Baribwegure, is Burundian and several neighbouring countries are francophone, DRC, Rwanda and Burundi.

This distance education college is for people from the age of 14 upwards. Kigoma (some more photos) is a very isolated area. It has a population of about 2,000,000 people. However, it is not well served by infrastructure, communications, health or educational services.

Kigoma is host to many refugees from surrounding countries and some of Kicora’s aims are to strengthen civil society, democracy and sustainable development through education. The Kicora board is diverse, having members from both the Muslim and Christian communities. Another of the school’s stated aims is to reduce gender inequalities and thus influence the reproductive health of the community.

The 300 students presently at Kicora study for the national exams in mathematics, biology, physics, chemistry, geography, history, civics, Kiswahili and English.

Radio Mahoro is a local radio station, part of the Kicora project. Radio Mahoro concerns itself with issues such as environmental degradation, deforestation, poaching, responsible garbage disposal, overuse of non-renewable energy, over fishing and bush fire prevention. Radio Nuru also promotes local music, arts and culture and gives information about medicine, traditional medicine, HIV and safer sexual behaviour.

As a result of their work to date, Kicora have been awarded the Civil Society prize for their contribution to initiatives by Africans in Africa. The award was presented by the Belgian Government and the European Union in November of this year.

There are many similarities between Kenya and neighbouring countries. After all, someone thought it a good idea to draw some straight lines through anything and everything when carving up Africa. There are also significant differences. I am particularly interested in what Kenya and other African countries have in common and in their differences.

For example, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda have reasonably similar HIV prevalence figures; 7.8%, 6.2% and 5.4% respectively in 2007. But the history of the spread of HIV in each country is quite different. It started and peaked much earlier in Uganda, peaking in the early 1990s at 13.8% and is now lower than prevalence in Kenya. It is currently flatlining but there is a possibility that it will start to increase again.

Tanzania's HIV prevalence, like Kenya's, peaked in the late 1990s but at a lower rate, 7.5%. Since then it has only declined a little. New infections are now most common in more isolated areas, further away from roads, schools, medical services and just about everything else.

Similarly, in Kenya, rural transmission of HIV affects far more people than urban transmission. A lot more work has been done on reducing HIV in urban epidemics, some of it, apparently, successful. And this is the problem outlined this week in Western Kenya. Testing centres and other facilities are almost always concentrated around towns and cities.

Therefore, education by radio has a lot to offer the fight against HIV. Radio can be used to reinforce messages about safe sex, the importance of testing, sex education, reproductive health and lots more. Indeed, radio can be used for all sorts of education and information content.

Now, this, for me, is the most important thing about HIV: it is NOT the biggest problem faced by Kenya or other developing countries. It is serious, but there is only a severe HIV problem because many other things are lacking and have been for many decades.

I can start the list of problems, but I can't finish it now (and probably never will):

1) Widespread gender inequality, especially for the most vulnerable females
2) Poor and declining health services, widespread disease, little access to facilities
3) Poor and declining education, low levels of school admission and attendance in many areas
4) Severely damaged environment with imminent threats from international crises
5) Fragile economy, widespread poverty, also threatened by international crises
6) Rudimentary infrastructure, particularly water and sanitation
7) Dependence on small number of raw materials with little manufacturing. Much production controlled by foreign interests
8) Low employment levels, many working in informal sector, little secure employment, loose labour laws, usually flouted by foreign employers

HIV is only a symptom of these and other problems. The HIV epidemic in Kenya will not decline significantly until these issues are also addressed. These issues were involved in the initial spread of HIV but now that the epidemic is widespread, it will not just disappear.

Distance education by radio could play a part in addressing all of the above issues. Community based organisations like SAIPE could do even more if they had access to facilities like Kicora's. Mumias is not as isolated as Kigoma, but it is not as big either. And neither of these towns are as isolated as the majority of people living in both countries.

HIV is just one issue and education is just one way of reducing the spread of HIV and other diseases. Others will be discussed over the coming months.


1 comment:

ibraheem said...
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