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Safe on the roads

By | April 11th 2012

Majority of people who die in accidents are young people of productive age. SHIRLEY GENGA talks to two young women working to make Kenyan roads safer

Sheila Atieno, 25, programme director and regional coordinator at Youth for Road Safety-Kenya

What inspired you to start a road safety initiative for the youth?

My work with the road safety campaign started in 2010 after Dr Walter Odhiambo, a senior lecturer in Maxillofacial Surgery and a researcher in trauma and injury prevention, introduced me to the global youth campaign for road safety.

Sheila Atieno

Dr Odhiambo had just returned to Kenya after attending the 10th World Safety and Injury Prevention Conference in London and he brought along a Youth for Road Safety (YOURS) brochure and challenged us, a group of freshly graduated students, to be part of the global campaign given that 2011 – 2020 had been declared the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety. Upon doing research I found out that Kenya has one of the highest road accidents in Africa. Kenya was ranked fifth among the top 29 countries with the highest number of accidents per licensed vehicles worldwide, according to one research by Transport Research Laboratory of United Kingdom.

What did you embark on next?

While at the University of Nairobi, my friends and I. we had formed a student group; Footprints. Our main objective was to mentor children in primary and secondary schools on education and health, while road safety was just a small topic. It then struck me that we needed to focus more on road accidents, which are preventable. In Kenya today, road accidents affect over 20,000 people annually.

 Last year alone, 3,269 deaths were reported. This translates to ten deaths on our roads daily or one dead person every two hours, not to mention those permanently disabled. Road accidents are thenumber three killer after malaria and AidS. There is a looming danger that in few years to come, it will be the number one killer especially among youth. It is based on this concern that Youths for Road Safety Kenya was born.

What is Youths for Road Safety Kenya (YOURS-K)?

It is a registered NGO constituting youth and like-minded individuals who believe that too many lives have been and continue to be lost on our roads unnecessarily. YOURS-K implies and symbolises the much needed generational and paradigm shifts in the youths’ thinking and perception, as well as the rejuvenation of new and dynamic national agenda, motivation and inspiration, together with the re-ignition of the national youth spirit. It is a call for the youth and the nation at large to arise and do something about the preventable road accidents. I am the programme director and Boniface Ngira is the national coordinator. You can get us on www.youthsforroadsafetykenya.org

What does your job as programme director entail at YOURS-K ?

My job involves coordinating activities, sourcing for funding, networking and capacity development training of trainers.

What have you accomplished so far?

YOURS-K in partnership with Blood Life Initiative and ASIRT-K Bright Oywaya successfully displayed 3,000 shoes in Naivasha town to depict the number of people who annually die on the road. We have also successfully launched Road Safety clubs in some selected primary and secondary schools. We have engaged ourselves in several awareness activities and partnerships.

What do you have planned for this year?

We are planning the first ever National Youth Conference for Road Safety and expected participants will be around 350 youth from different parts of the country. We want to expand the school clubs and engage the out-of-school youths towards achieving Vision 2030 and Millennium Development Goals. We also plan to conduct training on road safety in four primary schools in September.

When is the launch of the Youth and Road Safety kit?

It is in a week. The manual is a captivating document. It is youth friendly and tackles all areas of road safety. I cannot wait for the launch, it will be global. We are planning a launch in Africa too!

Challenges you have faced?

Registration of the group with the NGO Council was quite tedious and a lengthy process but thank God after a year of waiting we got our certificate. Another challenge has been convincing the public, especially the youth, of the need to engage themselves in the Road Safety Agenda. Also financing the project has been tough. The projects we have successfully engaged ourselves in have been achieved through personal contributions from the members and our patron, Dr Walter Odhiambo, who has temporarily accommodated us in his private office at Adams Arcade, Nairobi.

Tell us about yourself?

I am the first-born child; I have five sisters and one brother. I did my primary school in St Teresa’s Girls Primary School, Yala; joined St Tuzinde Girls, Mbaga, Siaya County and completed my high school in 2005. In 2006 October, I joined University of Nairobi and graduated in December 2010 with a Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology. I am currently pursuing my Masters at Maryknoll Institute of African Studies at St Mary’s University, Kenya.

Martha Wanjiru Wainaina, 28, is the provincial head representative at YOURS-K.

What inspired you to join Youth for Road Safety (YOURS-K)?

Road safety is very personal to me. My family lost five family members due to a road accident back in 1996 at Christmas. My uncle, his wife and child and two of my two cousins lost their lives. The whole experience was very hard and traumatising for my family and so I know what one wrong decision can do to so many lives.

Tell us about yourself?

I was born in Nakuru and raised in Kericho but we later moved to Kisumu during the clashes in 1989. I went to Kaimosi Girls High School from 1998-2001. My desire has always been to give back to society so while in high school I would volunteer at Nyanza General Hospital. I was particularly moved by the plight of children and was mostly in the children’s ward.

After high school?

I was unable to further my studies due to lack of school fees. I did a lot of informal employment. I was a sales person for Teenage Mothers and Girls Association of Kenya in Nyanza. I worked in the organisation’s curio shop. Then in 2007 during the post-election violence, I moved back to Nyahururu where my mother had bought a small piece of land. I later moved to Nairobi in 2008 to look for work and to start a new life for myself.

What did you do in Nairobi?

I did a few informal jobs here and there before I opened up a small café with a friend along Moi Avenue. In 2009 we were forced to close shop due to uncontrollable circumstances. After that I got a job as a receptionist at a casino but I quit soon after. I did not want to be employed. I wanted to find a way to do my own thing and give back to society at the same time. Then in November 2010, I met Sheila at a friend’s birthday party and we instantly connected. She told me about the project she was embarking on and I jumped in especially since that accident had affected my life, it was a matter very close to my heart. I am currently the provincial head representative at YOURS-K. My job is to coordinate other representatives and projects in the different provinces.

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