History of the African Christian Initiation Program
The African Christian Initiation Programme (ACIP), is a community participatory programme of the Eldoret-based Gender and Development Network (Eldo-GADNet). Eldo-GADNet is an inter- denominational, inter-disciplinary and inter-ethnic initiative. It serves to i) meet the mandate of Moi University and more specifically of the founder members to translate knowledge generated in the University into practical development for communities at the local, national, continental and global levels, and ii) meet the needs of loca+l and national community to empower young people to transit from childhood to responsible adulthood. This initiative, which began in the mid- 1990s as Ladies To Ladies Talk (LTLT), was founded by four female lecturers/researchers of Moi University, namely, Pamela Abuya, Eunice Kamaara, Joyce Nyairo and Mary Wahome. The group later grew to include like-minded men and women from different ethnic groups, professions, church denominations and academic disciplines. The initiative initially focused on female university students and revolved around their social, economic and academic challenges. The experiences of the four founding members indicated that many first-year students of public universities had neither any experience of – nor any preparation for – the demands of social life without the supervision of teachers and away from the watchful eyes of parents and guardians.
The series of LTLT sessions embarked on informal interaction and dialogue with female students at different levels, beginning with a special programme for first year students during the five-day orientation week. With time, the organisers realized that young people needed training in knowledge and life skills well before entering university. Consequently, the initiative spread to secondary schools and later to primary schools. In the course of this work the organisers recognized that adolescents are a neglected lot.
The introduction of Christianity and the condemnation of all traditional African beliefs and practices as evil created various gaps. Among the major practices that were condemned is the traditional process of initiation from childhood into adulthood within which there were some harmful practices but also many valuable practices that are actually in line with Christian values. Christianity did not offer anything to maintain valuable aspects of the process. Consequently, many adolescents today rely on uncoordinated information on sex and other aspects of their life from their peers, parents, the mass media, churches and other sources. Yet adolescence is the critical point in human physical and psycho-sexual development, at which socialization for responsible adulthood should be offered in a systematic way. In view of the lack of such socialization, Eldo-GADNet designed the African Christian Initiation Programme. The programme aims to systematically integrate African values with Christian values, and to provide a process of initiation (and transition) from childhood to adulthood for boys and girls between the ages of 11 and 16. Eldo-GAdnet adopts a holistic asset-based approach to youth empowerment and therefore the programme is designed to cover 12 broad areas of life skills which are critical for healthy development of young people. The programme recognizes the many assets that young people possess and only serves to facilitate development and exploitation of these assets by the youth themselves. The broad area of building skills in confidence and self esteem among young people is central in empowering young people to develop and exploit their assets.
In early 2006, Eldo-GADNet began a process of consultation with the Strategies for Hope Trust, a UK-based organisation which produces and distributes information and training materials on community-based responses to HIV and AIDS, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa. This led to a partnership through which the Strategies for Hope Trust provided Eldo-GADNet with technical and financial support for the production and distribution of this manual. The manual provides African adults with the information and practical skills needed to conduct a life skills training workshop for young people aged between 11 and 15.
In 1992, in response to these global Higher Education trends coupled with the desire to give back to their communities, a group of female researchers from the then School of Social Cultural and Development Studies at Moi University in Eldoret, Kenya, came together to establish the Eldoret-Based Gender and Development Network (EldoGADNET) as an umbrella organization through which they could translate their research findings into practical development (research uptake). Right from initiation, the researchers were clear of the need for local communities to be in charge of their own development and therefore the imperative for community supported and community participatory initiatives was highlighted. They registered EldoGADNET as a social welfare organization with the Ministry of Social Services in Kenya.
Among the pioneer research projects whose findings these researchers sought to implement was a project on sexual behaviour of Moi University students. The findings of this study indicated that over 80% of university students were sexually active, over 56% of them having had multiple sex (Abuya & Nyairo, 1993). The result of this behaviour was clearly manifest: high incidences of sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS, unplanned pregnancies, abortions, and stress. For example, the study established that sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) were among the top five diseases treated at the university clinic. Further the study suggested that ignorance on matters sexuality due to a culture of silence, characteristic of many modern Kenyan contexts, was responsible for this situation.
Under the auspices of EldoGANET, the researchers sought to intervene to transform this life- threatening situation into a desirable situation by organizing ‘Ladies to Ladies’ talks at Moi University main campus. These talks revealed that university students were largely ignorant of their identity as biological sexual beings (with natural sexual instincts and impulses), and at the same time ignorant of their identity as rational and spiritual beings capable of effectively and successfully managing these sexual instincts and impulses. The findings indicated also that for a significant number of the sexually active girls, sexual initiation had occurred well before they got to campus – while they were still in high school. The researchers, therefore, sought to come up with interventions at earlier stages in the school system, interventions that would, gradually, also include boys because the male students at the university had indicated that they too needed help understanding themselves and the protocols for healthy interactions with their female counterparts. Thus the EldoGADNET researchers started School Visitation programmes. These involved visiting schools around the university to provide forums for motivational and mentorship talks to address the identity and sexual crises associated with adolescence. Fortunately, these visitation programmes were replicated and supported by the Association of African Women in Research and Development (AAWORD), a continental organization to which the researchers belong. For close to a decade, the founders of EldoGADNET continued with their school visitation programmes under the auspices of AAWORD.
Meanwhile, a doctoral study by one of the researchers on gender, HIV, and youth sexuality, was completed in 2003 (Kamaara, 2005). The findings indicated that unequal gender relations, engraved over traditional ethnic initiation from childhood to adulthood practised in rural areas, significantly contribute to unequal gender relations, sexual activity and the consequent prevalence of HIV among young people. For urban youth, the absence of any form of initiation rite left adolescence without any guidance through their sexual and identity crises. A most telling finding was that while over 90% of all young people interviewed indicated that their preferred source of information on sex were their parents, only about 20% got this information from the preferred source (Kamaara, 2005:74). Similarly, about 60% of them said they preferred to get information from religious leaders but actually only about 10% got information from this preferred source. On the other hand, while less than 40% said they would prefer to receive sex information from their peers and the mass media, over 80% said that they actually got sex information from peers and mass media (ibid). The conclusions of the study indicated that there was need for an intervention in form of an initiation rite towards supporting young people to successfully transition from childhood to adulthood by providing not just information about sex but also information on their holistic being. It is in response to this study and to earlier efforts that the African Christian Initiation Programme (ACIP) was founded as the pioneer programme of the EldoGADNET. Affirming the imperative of local communities to be in charge of their own development ACIP was designed to be a local community-based participatory initiative.
The African Christian Initiation Programme (ACIP) is a character virtue Development programme for adolescents that was founded in 2004. The founders of the programme seek to fill a cultural void created by the erosion of indigenous African rites of passage by modernisation.