In August 2023, TICAH turned 20 years old!
Honouring our history and our community is important to us. For our anniversary, we want to reflect on and share the learnings we have jointly gathered with our communities over the past two decades. And we want to build on these learnings to go deeper. To jointly remove barriers to health and well-being. To foster alliances and fight for our rights across disciplines.
Every month, we will be highlighting a reflection, a learning or special feature for our 20th anniversary. This month, we are starting off with 20 Questions with our Executive Director, Jade Maina.
1) Who are you?
I call myself an activist. I am a feminist, a mother of two lovely daughters, and a lover of life.
2) What do you do at TICAH?
My current role at TICAH is leading the team and steering the ship! This includes fundraising, visioning and dreaming.
3) What’s one word you would use to describe our team at TICAH?
4) What’s one word you would use to describe our work at TICAH?
5) Let’s dive into your history a bit. How long have you been at TICAH?
16 years. You could say I’m a teen here. I joined in 2007.
6) What made you want to join TICAH?
After hearing about TICAH and doing my research about the organization, I got intrigued about TICAH’s approach to health using indigenous foods and herbs.
Back then, the team was very lean with only two members. When I came for an interview, the conversation was so lovely. The founder, Mary Ann, asked me during the interview if I had ever had sex, and I thought this is exactly the kind of organization I want to work for—an organization that’s willing to have honest and bold conversations!
7) What was your first ever project?
I joined TICAH as a Program Officer when the work on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) was just starting out. This was before it became the Our Bodies Our Choices program we have today.
Back then, TICAH’s main programs focused on HIV and herbal medicine. We had a group of women that were part of the program and served as advisors to TICAH, they called themselves “The Kudus”. Every month, we’d meet at the TICAH office to have conversations—about the community, the realities of living with HIV in Kenya, the gaps… and of course, discussions about sex and sexuality inevitably came up! We agonized over the fact that brave and honest conversations about sex were not at the center of HIV prevention despite HIV being largely spread through sex.
People shared their personal experiences and questions, and we started creating handouts with readings on various topics as well as questions to incite self-reflection. Sessions also included journaling, and those who wanted to share could do so within the safe space of the group. Most really wanted to share! When they left the group sessions at our office, they would then have these conversations in the community.
8) How do you look back on your last 16 years with TICAH?
I feel like I found my purpose at TICAH. I always knew I wanted to do women’s rights work but I wasn’t sure how that would look like. In campus, I thought this meant being a lawyer. I had lived in a community where there was a lot of violence, and I grew up with that combative spirit of “I shall represent women”. My mother didn’t like me being a lawyer and really influenced my not picking law. Sometimes I still wonder if I should have studied law… I would like to have the ability to challenge things in court. At the same time, TICAH showed me that this is not the only way to fight for rights.
My current work is fulfilling, not just combative and I love meeting everyday people at the community level. Hearing the good, the bad and the ugly. Happy stories. Being able to connect at that level and really be brave and sometimes brave to a fault. TICAH allows you to take risks and not instil fear when we need to take a certain course. Other than the admin side of things, I don’t feel like my work is work. The admin side, that proposal, that report, people management can feel like work. But when doing work on SRHR and advocacy, I am just like… let’s go!
9) Which of TICAH’s values comes alive for you the most every day?
Listening & co-creation. Even before we formally crafted TICAH’s values, the one thing that our founder Mary Ann always used to say is: We listen, we listen.
I realize that it’s at TICAH that I understood what that meant. I saw what that listening looks like. I had worked in other organisations and I realized how different TICAH was. Most other organisations thought they knew the answers but at TICAH, we know that as long as we ask the right questions, the right answers will come by truly listening to our communities.
Often, in proposals, it’s expected that you fully know the solution to a community problem—but in reality, that’s not the case. We have to be open to listening and learning, and adapting as we go. So, at TICAH, even if we say this is how we say we will fix a problem, it’s never tied. We go to the community and find out what’s the challenge, how do we fix it together? We’ve been lucky enough to have had donors let us share other things we found out and be honest to say: “You know what we said, it didn’t work, but we learned ABC”. Being humble enough to know that we do not know the solutions and being willing to learn.
10) If you could relive one memory from your time with TICAH, what day would it be?
2008, I had been at TICAH for just one year. We went for the 2008 HIV conference in Mexico. And we performed a play called “I’m Sexy Too”. This play was about stories of people living positively and a reenactment of some of our sexuality groups’ experiences. The main ethos of the play was: “Even if I am positive, I am sexy.” Sharing the good, the bad and the ugly of the stories. Good sex, bad sex, pleasure, disclosing status… all of it. There were so many people at the conference who came to watch that play and so many people came after and said that we really told their story. This was a global conference, even when we told those stories from the experiences of Kenyan women, the stories were universal. Very powerful. It was such fun to see in an AIDS conference where we have a lot of scientific papers.
11) What does TICAH’s 20th anniversary mean to you?
This is very exciting. It feels like we’ve come of age. We’re adults now. I think it’s that feeling of proof of concept. What we have been doing, we have the evidence that it works, it’s very effective. What comes to mind is celebration!
12) Something you learned at TICAH?
I learned to be brave. I think the way I talk about sex and sexuality is not something I would have the confidence or comfort to, had I not joined TICAH. I was able to create that space with friends and people around me, including extended family. I am able to create safe spaces outside of work, break stigma and barriers that would hold people back and I feel that this is so freeing and empowering in so many ways. Often women are held back or shamed for having sex and their sexuality and that can hold them back in other areas of their lives, such as relationships or work.
I also learned from TICAH about foods and herbs. I honestly just used to just eat rice and meat. My colleague used to laugh that my food didn’t have any vegetables. We now eat traditional veggies Monday to Monday and sprinkle herbs on our food everyday. It’s become our way of life. If I am going to visit my mom, she brings me a list of what to bring: Moringa, artemisia, hibiscus tea, chili ointment…
13) Now let’s get to know you a bit better personally: What’s your favorite food?
Nyama is still top on the list. Mukimo. Fish.
14) What’s your favorite book?
The Alchemist. I’ve read it more than once. Every time I read it, it speaks to me in a different way depending on where I am in life. There’s always a new message.
15) Finish the sentence: If I wasn’t working to fight for reproductive rights and spearhead TICAH’s vision, I would be….
… living my best life at the beach, collecting shells, and chasing sunsets.
16) What are you most excited about for the next few years?
Personally, I am excited to see my children grow. I think they teach you so much every day.
For work, I am excited to see where TICAH goes, including achieving the ambition of our new strategy!
17) What are TICAH’s strategic goals for this period?
We have three corporate goals for this period:
1) Cultural and social barriers to equitable health and social outcomes are removed, especially for marginalised populations.
2) Transformative change for social justice is realised through a greater and diverse network of cultural, artistic and social activists and actors.
3) Our work is adopted and sustained by many diverse allies and partners.
18) Which of TICAH’s Strategic Goals are you most excited about?
I am most excited about removing social and cultural barriers.
When we were doing the strategy, we discussed the difference between equity, equality and transformative change with our consultant, Fabio Saini. Lightbulb moment! There’s a graphic where people watch football but are blocked by a barrier. Equality is giving everyone the same box to look over the barrier, equity is giving people the number of boxes they need to be able to look over the barrier, but transformative change is removing the barrier altogether. Equity only works for as long as you bring the box. Essentially, the change that we want to make is that that barrier doesn’t exist anymore. We started interrogating our programs and asked how we get to that transformative change.
We took this discussion to menstrual hygiene and providing pads for girls who don’t currently have access to them. We realized that if we buy pads today, tomorrow they will still lack pads again. The question became: Why do girls need people to bring them pads? This is how we now approach our programming, looking at root causes while still understanding immediate needs. Right now, it still makes sense to give you the pack of pads today, but we are working towards removing the barriers so that you do not need me to bring you a pack of pads in future.
So that in the long run people don’t need us as a bridge to access anything. You should be accessing freely and openly.
19) Which of TICAH’s goals is most ambitious?
Our adoption goal is most ambitious. We want to reach 500,000 people by 2026. Our work is very high touch: We work with the same group of people for a long time to see transformative change. So to reach 500,000 is very ambitious. We’re not just ticking boxes and counting people. The idea that we will have enough allies who will work with us, adopt our strategies and do this work with the same level of quality to be able to reach that number is very ambitious.
20) In your opinion, what makes TICAH different?
We’re not afraid of difficult or even controversial conversations. From the very founding days, we were having conversations about masturbation, sex work, abortion, LGTBQ…
We do not do anything to tick boxes. For us, it’s the true change that happens in community. Early on, some donors who were craving for scale would question our methodologies. “All that and only 20people are in the group, how cost effective is it?” Some look at return of investment, how many people were reached. For us, we understand that those 20 people, when their lives change, and their lives change, they go ahead to impact many more in their communities. We could reach 100 people at a go and not really have an impact in their lives.
Our holistic and intersectional approach. Us knowing that individuals are not just one thing. I could be a mother, a lover, a friend, a teacher, HIV positive, a person with disabilities, and all those things affect my needs. We could come with an SRHR program and then realize a participant can’t act on their choices because of an abusive partner, they need an income, their child has health issues and they need food and nutrition. We don’t look at people as one single thing, we look at whole individuals and how our programming could impact their lives in different ways.