When his name is mentioned, Reverend Johnson Bukachi conjures the image of a controversial preacher. He has been advocating for access to safe reproductive health services, such as safe abortion and family planning, in the conservative setting of Khwisero sub-county.
Reverend Bukachi, 69 and affiliated with the Church of God (East Africa), has undertaken a courageous journey in his quest to ensure women and girls of reproductive age can access these services without discrimination.
“I have buried many people and attended funerals of women who died from botched abortions that could have been avoided if the victims had the correct information on where to get such services,” said Reverend Bukachi.
He believes saving lives is more important than adhering strictly to religious norms divorced from reality. The cleric chose to utilise the pulpit to educate women and girls about reproductive health. Subsequently, he received training at the Volunteer Restoration of Hope Counselors Association (VORHCA), a local Community-Based Organisation (CBO) addressing the same initiative.
Armed with this knowledge, he organised a youth convention in August 2018 for those aged 13-35 years at his church. During the event, he invited the CBO’s coordinator, Joseph Amani, as the guest speaker. After the preachings, Amani provided sexual and reproductive health education to the attendees.
Amani would once again preach during the Sunday service, and before delivering the message, he educated the congregants on the same topic.
“After the service, a woman approached me and confessed that she had been impregnated by another man and wanted to terminate the pregnancy to save her marriage. After proper counseling, I referred her to Mr. Amani, who took her to the hospital for comprehensive abortion care,” he said.
Having saved the congregant who ‘wanted to use an unorthodox way’ to terminate her pregnancy, the preacher has since been spreading the gospel throughout the sub-county, becoming a voice of reason in the area.
“I hold meetings with the youth and advise them to engage in responsible sexual behaviors to avoid unwanted pregnancy and diseases. For those who are sexually active, I encourage them to consider family planning,” said Bukachi.
He said for married women, “I tell them if the husband is away, go and see him when you feel lonely so that you are not tempted and start wondering about what to do or end up losing your life when options become limited.”
“Poverty is a key driver of teenage and unwanted pregnancies in the area. Girls offer sex in exchange for sanitary pads, including married women. Some have two children but can’t feed them, get a man who gives them Sh200, and end up getting impregnated,” added Reverend Bukachi.
Hellen Watulo, North Kisa location chief, is also promoting access to safe reproductive health services and fighting gender-based violence.
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Watulo said she was convinced by VORHCA to join the initiative, saying: “At first, I thought they were promoting abortion,” and as an administrator, “I contemplated having them arrested and arraigned in court.”
The chief said in 2016, the CBO organised community dialogue meetings in partnership with Ipas, and “I realised they were doing a noble job” by educating women and girls about reproductive health and how to avoid unsafe abortion.
Ipas Africa Alliance is a non-governmental organisation working to promote access to reproductive health services.
“The CBO members were telling the truth, something we were afraid of talking about, as ‘when we talk of safe abortion, they rebuke us’ in public but secretly come and seek our advice.
She said pregnancies resulting from incest were rampant in the area, culturally advocating for the child to be killed and the responsible man to be banished.
According to the Kenya Demographic Health Survey (KDHS) 2022 report, Kakamega reports approximately 12,900 teenage pregnancies annually. Of these, one in five of those aged between 15 and 19 now give birth. The youngest girl to give birth in Kakamega county in 2022 was aged 13.
In 2021, some 558 young girls aged between 10 and 13 got pregnant in Kakamega. The Kenya Health Information System 2022/23 report puts the number of women of reproductive age receiving family planning commodities in Kakamega at 57.7 per cent.
Adolescent girls aged between 10 and 14 and receiving family planning services were 219, while those aged 15 to 19 were 23,829. Women aged 20 to 24 who received contraceptives were 63,155. Those that received male condoms were 18, 298, female condoms 714, and those who were counseled on natural family planning methods were 16,943.
During the year under review, 435 women received post-abortion contraceptives. Those that received postpartum family planning services for four to six weeks were 12,013. Those who got the services for 48 hours were 5,451. Implant insertion of one rod was done to 14,425 and 35,216 for two rods.