Mathew Pkiror Kalele, a 52-year-old Catholic catechist, scans the rolling Kapromtin Hills after a day’s work. Darkness is fast approaching and only the shadow of the sun plays under the indigenous Tunywo tree where a few hours ago men and women sat listening to his unique gospel.
The goodwill family planning ambassador in West Pokot county and a father of nine is a common figure in the area. Kalele is in charge of the semi-permanent Plelakan Catholic church. When he is not working in the church he is traversing the area urging people to plan their families well. He knows too well the pinch of giving birth to a huge family.
He is a father to nine children. He coyly passes the blame to his wife, Jane Kalele. “She is a typical Pokot woman. She kept demanding for more,” says Kalele. He regrets he had to dispose of 10 out of his15-acre land to enable him pay university fees for his son, Francis Pchum.
“Girls are perceived to be a source of income. Hefty dowry is paid in form of cows. Boys help sustain a generational clan,” the cleric explains why his wife wanted more children as he agonises how to sustain three children still in secondary school and the last born in primary school.
“Sasa hivi nimelemewa (right now I’m overburdened),” Kalele confesses. In order to convince members of his community not to get trapped by the size of a family and pay dearly in future, Kalele with support from Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevölkerung (DSW) and World Vision formed Telcan Advocacy Group. Loosely translated, Telcan in local dialect means: “It is time for you to listen to me.”
This is the platform that draws members whose role is to carry out family planning awareness campaigns. West Pokot Governor John Lonyangapuo regrets that high birth rate has been fuelled by high poverty rates in addition to the conflict common in the region. He makes a joke out of the scenario of war. “When the men leave for war, they stay away for long.
When they return it’s time to bear children,” he says. Lonyangapuo spoke during a visit by DSW Country Director, Evelyn Samba. He says education remains key in raising family planning awareness and the need to send girls and retain them in school.
On the role of men in reproductive health promotion, Samba says information is important to enable beneficiaries make personal decisions about their health in this era of escalating teenage pregnancies and spread of HIV/Aids.
“Budget allocations by county governments for reproductive health services has been overlooked while retrogressive culture has impacted negatively on awareness campaigns and knowledge acquisition,” says Samba.
According to her, budget allocations for family planning is inadequate in West Pokot, Uasin Gishu, Nyandarua, Kilifi, Meru, Nyandarua, Nakuru and Laikipia. But is Kalele making any headway? Yes. He responds.
“At the beginning it was easier preaching the word of God than converting the community to family planning gospel. Change has been gradual. As a man of the cloth, people were suspicious of my intention. But I made a personal choice to engage in family planning,” he says.
Among the traditional family planning method used in the area is the long absence of a man from the homestead after his wife delivers. Upon his return home he sends a child to bring his walking stick, signifying that he was ready to ‘see’ his wife again. “The culture is outdated in this era of HIV/Aids. Men who are educated are not opposed. Ignorant men are a stumbling block to my mission,” says Kalele.