Updated on October 15, 2018.
On September 13, 2016 Resilience Action (RAI) founder Muzabel Welongo had the honor of being announced as one
of the 40 winners in the 120 Under 40 project. 120 Under 40 is a project sponsored by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the John Hopkins School of Public Health whose aim is to recognize young leaders in the field of family planning under the age of 40. Each year, the
program will nominate an addition 40 leaders “so that a roster of 120 outstanding young
leaders will be assembled by 2020 — the year by which the Family Planning 2020 (FP2020)
partnership aims to enable 120 million additional women and girls to access life-saving
contraceptives and other reproductive health supplies.” I spoke with Muzabel to hear his thoughts on the award and what it means
for him and RAI as a whole.
Muzabel did not start his work focused on reproductive health or family planning. “My main
topic of interest was education,” he announces. As a refugee from The Democratic Republic of
Congo living in the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya, he wanted to make sure that every child
had the opportunity not just to enroll in school, but to complete high school and go on to
higher education. Muzabel expands on this point in saying, “My family planning work was to
help girls and young women enroll in school, stay in school, and finish.” Muzabel saw that in
Kakuma, people take finishing school to mean finishing primary school. He saw that unintended
pregnancies from forced relationships and various cultural norms, including early marriage,
made it incredibly difficult for girls to remain in school, particularly considering the limited
access to youth-friendly family planning services. That’s why he decided to engage in family
planning work with the refugees in Kakuma. “I want to see more girls in high school and even
university…. My aim is for young girls to be in control of their own lives.” Yet, education is not
the only reason Muzabel found to work on increasing access to family planning for youth in
refugee communities. Aside from education, he has seen many girls have risky pregnancies that
result in serious complications or even death.
When asked bout the biggest challenges to this work, Muzabel asserts “The biggest challenge is the cultural barrier. Parents don’t want their child to be taught…about sexuality.” Muzabel’s experience has shown him that communities in general don’t believe providing information to girls is a way of preventing unintended pregnancies. “In terms of family planning, services are not there. We don’t have youth friendly services,” he states. Practices such as early marriages are very
prevalent as well, which leads to a difficult cycle for women to break. “They get pregnant at a
young age, they drop out of school, and then they are dependent on the men.”
For all of these reasons, winning this award was an incredible honor for Muzabel. He explained
that “the first thing that came into my mind is that when what I do is being recognized, it just
pushes me more. I just feel like it is a call for me to do more.” Muzabel also felt that for RAI,
the award is a recognition of the entire team and everyone that RAI works with. “We have a
story and we are doing something useful,” he adds. Muzabel hopes that this award will help RAI
achieve its goals and aims for the future. Muzabel describes RAI’s ultimate goal for youth in
Kakuma as “having the facilities available for them to receive family planning services without
having any discrimination or stigmatization” – a goal that he hopes is that much closer to being
within reach after receiving this award.
The undertaking, however, is easier said than done. The population of Kakuma is about 160,000
in total, and more than 60% are under the age of 24. Those between the ages of 13 and 20
represent 30% of population. Reaching this population is a formidable challenge, but one that
RAI has been steadily working at since its inception. Around 7,000 young people (both girls
and boys) have been reached through RAI’s programs to date. 2,000 were reached through
curriculum training and another 5,000 were reached by those who had peer educator training.
The next step will be to focus on RAI’s aim to provide referrals for young people to receive
family planning services.
In the face of this daunting task, Muzabel stays inspired by his own passion to help young
people. “Everything I do is because of my own experiences seeing what my friends and relatives
have gone through,” he proclaims. He hopes to see more “independent girls” in his community
who have the agency to control their own bodies and is willing to work to see this change come
true. “I’m not yet satisfied with the change we are making just yet,” he tells me, illustrating the
depth of his motivation.
Muzabel also has a message for young people trying to make a difference in their communities.
Highlighting the significance of having a dream and a vision, he maintains that “you can’t make
an impact if you don’t have a vision.” From there, Muzabel emphasizes the importance of using
your talents to respond to the needs in the community and working with others to build a
team. “It’s very important to value the power of the team If I would say that this is just me, I
would be lying,” he declares.
For those interested in how they can personally support RAI, Muzabel outlines three
different ways. The first is RAI help us raise enough resources to keep our programs running.
This could be through helping to fundraise for RAIor donating as small amount as one may
have. Donation can be made on the SAVIC website, http://www.resilienceaction.net/donate. The second way would be in helping to expand RAI's networks. Anyone who knows of
foundations or people interested and able to support RAI are encouraged to let us know. Lastly, human capital is very crucial for RAI. There is a need for researchers, professionals with knowledge of public health, interns, and volunteers who could volunteer some of their time and talent to RAI. By working together, Muzabel is optimistic that we can make a real difference in improving the lives of the youth in Kakuma Refugee Camp and work towards ensure their access to comprehensive family planning services.
1. Winners Announced | 120 Under 40." Winners Announced | 120 Under 40. N.p., n.d. Web.
14 Nov. 2016. http://www.120under40.org