Article

UNESCO: O3Plus awareness walk in support of students’ physical & mental health

O3Plus  (Our Rights, Our lives, Our Future) Walk in support of students’ physical & mental health, Thika town, Kenya © UNESCO/Cynthia Meru

UNESCO, in partnership with the University of Nairobi and Mount Kenya University (Thika Campus), held a joint awareness walk in support of students’ physical & mental health, in the framework of UNESCO O3Plus Project.  Our Rights, Our Lives, Our Future Project supported by Sweden focuses on young people in higher and tertiary educational institutions to ensure they realize positive health, education and gender equality outcomes through sustained reductions in new HIV infections, unplanned pregnancies and gender-based violence.

 

The 5 Kilometers walk organized in Thika town, Kenya, on 11 February 2022 attracted the participation of the Diplomatic Community (Embassy of Ireland and Italy in Kenya), United Nations family (UNFPA, UNAIDS, UN Women, UNESCO), Government partners, NGOs, CSOs and Thika town community (Police, Boda-boda riders) who joined more than 1000 students to raise awareness on students' physical and mental health well-being and break the stigma around HIV/AIDS, mental illness. This awareness walk was one of the many key advocacy activities of the Project.

UNESCO O3Plus Project is significant because it sets up safe places in campuses where students can find advise, engage in sports and participate in campus radio programs that help promote their well-being.
Prof. Hubert Gijzen, UNESCO Regional Director for Eastern Africa and Representative to Kenya

Prof. Hubert Gijzen took the occasion to share with the students and stakeholders present, the “Fit for Life” Program, a UNESCO sport-based flagship designed to accelerate COVID-19 recovery, support inclusive and integrated policy-making, and enhance the well-being of youth around the world.

Ms. Teresiah Kariuki, Assistant Director of Public Health, Kiambu County, representing the Governor, expressed her excitement at the O3Plus Project. “Adolescent and young people are part of the Kiambu County Government Agenda. This program is timely, here in Kiambu County we have over seven universities with high population of students, therefore we would like to work together with the O3Plus partners”, she remarked.

Prof. Stephen Kiama, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Nairobi, applauded the students for leading in the walk and fully embracing the Project. He said that students are the real owners of the Project. “I believe the partners want the young people to lead this project. This is about their future, their families’ future, your country’s future and the future of the world”, he said.

Prof. Deogratius Jaganyi, the Vice Chancellor of the Mount Kenya University emphasized the need to work together with the community around campuses in promoting the students’ wellbeing. “Mount Kenya University, Thika Campus, alone has over 10,000 students with only 1,400 students living on campus while others live within the local community. It is in this regard, that the University has established a very strong partnership with the neighbouring communities through various types of agreements for the good of the students. This awareness walk would not be satisfactorily accomplished without the community involvement", he acknowledged.

During the ceremony Mount Kenya University launched “RADA App” a mobile application developed by University of Nairobi students with the support of UNESCO as an interactive one-stop shop where students can readily and easily access information on sexual and reproductive health, mentorship, counselling and report cases of sexual and gender-based violence

As demonstrated in their short skit, the students applauded the project for giving them safe spaces to speak up on issues affecting them. However, the call for safe spaces at home to talk to their parents on issues of sexual and reproductive health, mental health stigma, HIV/AIDS so as to make the best decision on their rights, lives and future is not available.

O3 Plus Project is being piloted in Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe, with the overall objective of ensuring young people in higher and tertiary education institutions in the Eastern and Southern Africa realize positive health, education and gender equality outcomes through sustained reductions in new HIV infections, unplanned pregnancies and gender-based violence.

UNESCO is calling on more partners to join and support the O3Plus project to upscale it beyond the pilot phase which only is being implemented in two universities. Kenya has more than 61 higher and tertiary institutions. Therefore, with up scaling, O3Plus has the potential to reach more student.