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Heroes

He grew up around oppressed women. Now he's fighting for their rights in a brilliant way.

Growing up in rural Kenya, Nick Oketch became acutely aware of how differently women and men were treated there.

In his small village in Siaya County, which is in the western part of Kenya, things like forced arranged marriages, wife battering, and polygamy were commonplace. Oketch's own two sisters were married off when they were only 12-years-old.

It wasn't hard for him to see how all these patriarchal practices undermined young women's development, and stifled their ability to become empowered.


This oppressive environment also didn't provide adolescents with many outlets where they could learn about reproductive healthcare. So unsurprisingly, Siaya County has the second highest HIV prevalence rates out of Kenya’s 47 counties.

[rebelmouse-image 19346534 dam="1" original_size="700x462" caption="Photo via Noah Terricks/Unsplash." expand=1]Photo via Noah Terricks/Unsplash.

When Oketch made that connection, he knew he had to do something to help break the cycle.

"I had always been dreaming of a world where each and every person has the freedom to exercise their reproductive health rights without discrimination or stigmatization," writes Oketch in an email.

So in 2008, as a senior in high school, he launched the Paradigm Youth Network Organization, a nonprofit dedicated to advocating for the sexual, legal, social, and cultural rights of marginalized women, children, and men in Kenya. By challenging outdated societal traditions and attitudes, it aims to build a safer environment for the people of Kenya, especially the marginalized groups who are most threatened by the status quo.

The organization offers services like training and empowerment workshops, access to reproductive health information, and support for communities who may not have access to sexual and reproductive healthcare.

And since adolescents are the most at risk when it comes to the effects of lacking sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), Paradigm targets them specifically. They've reached over 8,000 adolescents to date.

[rebelmouse-image 19346535 dam="1" original_size="640x516" caption="Masaai young women in Kenya. Photo by Ninara/Flickr." expand=1]Masaai young women in Kenya. Photo by Ninara/Flickr.

However, sexual health is a delicate subject, and Oketch knew there were many more youths who were afraid to ask for help. So he utilized technology and social media to bridge that gap.

He named his creation LucyBot. LucyBot is a bot that lives in Facebook Messenger and offers sexual and reproductive health information and advice to young people who might otherwise not seek it out. She's filled with verified facts that she then relays to users who can ask her whatever questions they might have on the subject.

Oketch actually developed the idea out of conversations he had with leaders from Women Deliver — a nonprofit that bolsters people who are fighting for gender equality and focused on SRHR — of which he is also a member.

"Chatting with Lucy is just like chatting with any other friend on the platform [except she's probably much more knowledgable], and it is important for us to make the user experience fun and informative," explains Oketch.

What are the most common sexually transmitted infections? Click on this link and #ask LucyBot: m.me/LucyBot2017

Posted by LucyBot, Your Sexual Health Rights Buddy on Thursday, August 23, 2018

So far, LucyBot's reached over 1,5000 Kenyan adolescents, and it's still only in beta testing.

LucyBot is now in final stages of development, but the last test is perhaps the most important one.

They're testing her on 1,000 students from three counties in Kenya through a project called the `De-stigmatizing Sex Education in Kenya through Artificial Intelligence (AI) Initiative.' The project involves training 30 other students to conduct research and perform community outreach to gather a range of questions that adolescents might ask LucyBot. They'll then populate the bot with as much relevant information as possible, and see if she's able to answer the 1,000 students' questions satisfactorily.

If all goes according to plan, they'll officially launch, targeting the 18-25 demographic via Facebook and other media campaigns.

Oketch's hope is that LucyBot will encourage adolescents to speak up and demand the sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights they deserve, but he also recognizes the responsibility shouldn't all be on them.

[rebelmouse-image 19346536 dam="1" original_size="700x465" caption="Photo via Esteban Castle/Unsplash." expand=1]Photo via Esteban Castle/Unsplash.

"We need to work on training the health workers to create a friendly environment in the health facilities so that young people can be more comfortable visiting to get the services they need," he writes.

"Also parents should be enlightened to be more free in talking about reproductive health topics to their adolescent children, so that they don’t resort to getting information from peers which can be misleading."

While LucyBot is poised to make a huge difference in the lives of Kenyan adolescents, many in rural Kenya don't have regular access to the internet. So Paradigm's doing something about that, too.

"We are starting a youth resource center with computers and mobile phones  to ensure that youths who don't have mobile phones or internet can interact with LucyBot for free," explains Oketch. They're currently running a fundraiser to help pay for the equipment. (You can donate to it here.)  

In the meantime, Oketch is continuing to advocate for sexual and reproductive health and rights by imploring policymakers to improve access to family planning options for Kenyans in rural areas.

On the ground, he's aiming to positively impact the sexual and reproductive health of 2,000 Kenyans each year. And now that he's got an innovative information bot in his corner, he should have no problem reaching his goal.

Photo via Oketch.

Nature

Pennsylvania home is the entrance to a cave that’s been closed for 70 years

You can only access the cave from the basement of the home and it’s open for business.

This Pennsylvania home is the entrance to a cave.

Have you ever seen something in a movie or online and thought, "That's totally fake," only to find out it's absolutely a real thing? That's sort of how this house in Pennsylvania comes across. It just seems too fantastical to be real, and yet somehow it actually exists.

The home sits between Greencastle and Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, and houses a pretty unique public secret. There's a cave in the basement. Not a man cave or a basement that makes you feel like you're in a cave, but an actual cave that you can't get to unless you go through the house.

Turns out the cave was discovered in the 1830s on the land of John Coffey, according to Uncovering PA, but the story of how it was found is unclear. People would climb down into the cave to explore occasionally until the land was leased about 100 years later and a small structure was built over the cave opening.

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Architectural Digest/Youtube

This house was made with love.

Celebrity home tours are usually a divisive topic. Some find them fun and inspirational. Others find them tacky or out of touch. But this home tour has seemingly brought unanimous joy to all.

“Stranger Things” actor David Harbour and British singer-songwriter Lily Allen, whose Vegas wedding in 2020 came with an Elvis impersonator, gave a tour of their delightfully quirky Brooklyn townhouse for Architectural Digest, and people were absolutely loving it.

For one thing, the house just looks cool. There’s nothing monotone or minimalist about it. No beige to be seen.

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Pop Culture

Buffy Sainte-Marie shares what led to her openly breastfeeding on 'Sesame Street' in 1977

The way she explained to Big Bird what she was doing is still an all-time great example.

"Sesame Street" taught kids about life in addition to letters and numbers.

In 1977, singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie did something revolutionary: She fed her baby on Sesame Street.

The Indigenous Canadian-Ameican singer-songwriter wasn't doing anything millions of other mothers hadn't done—she was simply feeding her baby. But the fact that she was breastfeeding him was significant since breastfeeding in the United States hit an all-time low in 1971 and was just starting to make a comeback. The fact that she did it openly on a children's television program was even more notable, since "What if children see?" has been a key pearl clutch for people who criticize breastfeeding in public.

But the most remarkable thing about the "Sesame Street" segment was the lovely interchange between Big Bird and Sainte-Marie when he asked her what she was doing.

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Health

Oregon utilizes teen volunteers to run their YouthLine teen crisis hotline

“Each volunteer gets more than 60 hours of training, and master’s level supervisors are constantly on standby in the room.”

Oregon utilizes teen volunteers to man YouthLine teen crisis hotline

Editor's Note: If you are having thoughts about taking your own life, or know of anyone who is in need of help, the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is a United States-based suicide prevention network of over 200+ crisis centers that provides 24/7 service via a toll-free hotline with the number 9-8-8. It is available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.

Mental health is a top-of-mind issue for a lot of people. Thanks to social media and people being more open about their struggles, the stigma surrounding seeking mental health treatment appears to be diminishing. But after the social and emotional interruption of teens due the pandemic, the mental health crises among adolescents seem to have jumped to record numbers.

PBS reports that Oregon is "ranked as the worst state for youth mental illness and access to care." But they're attempting to do something about it with a program that trains teenagers to answer crisis calls from other teens. They aren't alone though, as there's a master's level supervisor at the ready to jump in if the call requires a mental health professional.

The calls coming into the Oregon YouthLine can vary drastically, anywhere from relationship problems to family struggles, all the way to thoughts of self-harm and suicide. Teens manning the phones are provided with 60 hours of training and are taught to recognize when the call needs to be taken over by the adult supervisor.

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Family

Mom shares her brutal experience with 'hyperemesis gravidarum' and other moms can relate

Hyperemesis gravidarum is a severe case of morning sickness that can last up until the baby is born and might require medical attention.

@emilyboazman/TikTok

Hyperemesis gravidarum isn't as common as regular morning sickness, but it's much more severe.

Morning sickness is one of the most commonly known and most joked about pregnancy symptoms, second only to peculiar food cravings. While unpleasant, it can often be alleviated to a certain extent with plain foods, plenty of fluids, maybe some ginger—your typical nausea remedies. And usually, it clears up on its own by the 20-week mark. Usually.

But sometimes, it doesn’t. Sometimes moms experience stomach sickness and vomiting, right up until the baby is born, on a much more severe level.

Hyperemesis gravidarum (HG), isn’t as widely talked about as regular morning sickness, but those who go through it are likely to never forget it. Persistent, extreme nausea and vomiting lead to other symptoms like dehydration, fainting, low blood pressure and even jaundice, to name a few.

Emily Boazman, a mom who had HG while pregnant with her third child, showed just how big of an impact it can make in a viral TikTok.

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Dating is hard for just about anyone. But it gets harder as people age because the dating pool shrinks and older people are more selective. Plus, changes in dating trends, online etiquette and fashion can complicate things as well.

“Sister Wives” star Christine Brown is back in the dating pool after ending her “spiritual union” with polygamist Kody Brown and she needs a little help to get back in the swing of things. Christine and Kody were together for more than 25 years and she shared him with three other women, Janelle, Meri and Robyn.

Janelle and Meri have recently announced they’ve separated from Kody. Christine publicly admitted that things were over with Kody in November 2021.

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