Luca Khaoya is a respected man in his rural Kenyan community. Neighbors come to him for advice about health issues. They ask him how to solve family problems. They see how happy he, his wife, and his children are, and they want to be the same way.
But Luca hasn’t always been so content. His marriage was filled with tension. His teenage daughters feared their father. He was bound by expectations that fathers always rule, even when it wasn’t in the best interest of his family’s health or his own.
Then Luca and his family joined an innovative PATH program that is helping families talk honestly about issues that affect their health. The idea is that better communication will help young family members avoid some of the pitfalls of adolescence, such as early pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS.
In Luca’s case, it also helped him establish a happier and more satisfying life.
The discussion groups bring together several families—parents and adolescent children—to explore health issues. They challenge stereotypes about the roles of men and women and encourage families to listen to one another and treat each other equally. The increased communication helps give everyone the power to take control of health, while the groups link families to health resources in their communities.
The groups are part of a PATH-led project across western Kenya to expand HIV care and support services. The region is one of the most densely populated areas in the country and has a high rate of HIV infection. Many western Kenyans, however, fear disapproval from their communities and never get tested for HIV or fail to get treatment if they do test positive for the virus. Discussion groups are one way to provide a supportive environment and reduce stigma associated with the disease.
Since Luca and his family started attending family discussion groups, their relationships with one another have changed dramatically. Topics such as sex, HIV, and peer pressures are no longer taboo in their household. Daughters Maureen and Mercy can talk with their parents about sexuality and get accurate advice and information.
Setting an example
Luca’s wife, Dorcas Sikholia, is proud of the standards she and her husband have set for their six children. “They have seen the way we live with their father, they’ve seen what we’ve gone through, and they’ve seen the way we’ve been able to overcome all of these challenges,” she says. “This is what I want them to have.”
And Luca is pleased with his family’s transition, and his own.
“Through the discussions, listening to people sharing their experiences, I now have opened up fully,” Luca says. “I can talk about issues freely with my daughters, talk about issues with my wife, and easily talk to the members of the community on the importance of the peer family program.”
Global health quiz
Do better childhood survival rates mean an increase in population over time?