- The organization was born to help youngsters navigate adulthood with ease.
- High school students are the main target for the mental wellness trainings.
- GULI is partnering with other like-minded organizations.
- Members are trained and certified for effectiveness.
When Mwithali Gakii was crowned Miss Egerton Culture 2019, her smiles perfectly concealed her fight with depression.
No one could tell that the then vibrant and bubbly girl was battling depression.
Her battle was made even worse when the Covid pandemic hit Kenya and schools had to close for up to nine months.
Delivered from depression
Away from the schoolwork that had previously preoccupied her, the threat of sinking deeper into depression became more imminent.
In her search for a solution for her troubled state of mind, Gakii stumbled upon Psychiatric Disability Organization (PDO) Kenya, a community-based mental health organization.
Her life-changing experience with it not only helped her resolve her depression but also bred the idea of founding her organization to fight depression among the youth.
So in dealing with her mental health, Growing Up and Liking It (GULI) was born in June 2019.
However, it was not until December 2020 that Gakii registered GULI as a community-based organization in Nakuru County.
Gakii, now a third-year student pursuing Bsc. in Clinical Medicine at Egerton University, founded GULI to change the world’s mindset on mental wellness and psychological disabilities.
A changed perspective
She says that we live in an age that makes adulthood seem more intimidating than it really is, with social media and memes implying that becoming an adult is the beginning of a disastrous era.
However, she believes that growing up does not always have to be a bad thing.
The mental health ambassador discloses that GULI’s mission is to make young people realize that growing up can be fun and exciting.
Crossing county borders
Although GULI was founded in Nakuru, their partnerships transcend the Nakuru county borders.
The youth-led organization comprises 28 registered members and more than 100 active participants nationwide.
Calvin Omwega, the executive board chairperson at GULI, narrates how he joined the organization.
“I was working in Narok with a different organization on a campaign to stop sodomy in Narok county in 2021 when I met Gakii and her team. I noticed that we were committed to the same cause of promoting mental health in the current generation. That is how GULI piqued my interest,” he says.
Omwega currently runs the organization’s daily activities.
Mental health for all
According to Omwega, GULI takes pride in being a bridge between the community and affordable mental health-related services.
He explains that by reaching out to GULI, anyone needing mental health services can benefit by getting subsidized therapy from the experts within the GULI network.
He further explained that their activities revolve around mental health advocacy, peer support and sign language advocacy.
Gaining KSL skills
By teaching basic Kenya Sign Language (KSL), GULI hopes to improve the focus on mental health in people living with hearing and speech disabilities.
They also hope to teach KSL to mental health experts to avoid the breach of confidentiality that may occur whenever the therapists use interpreters.
Gakii explains that they mainly operate through school visits because that is the most accessible way to reach multiple students at a go.
They plan to expand their training to reach youths operating as bodaboda riders and churches.
She shared that they have a ton of events lined up for this year, ranging from a bike riding festival to a color festival, both of which will allow them to connect with young people better as they tackle mental health issues.
Environment and mental health
GULI’s impact is not just confined to training and charity events.
Their contribution to environmental conservation in Njoro, Nakuru county, is unmatched.
Their members are active participants of the annual marathon dubbed Run For The Mau.
They also participate in the Njoro River rehabilitation program under the guidance of their patron, Prof. Charles M’Erimba, who is the coordinator of the rehabilitation program.
“We take environmental conservation very seriously. Having a good environment is paramount for nature therapy. This year, we plan to plant at least 500 trees in Njoro,” explained Gakii.
Despite their great aspirations and unyielding efforts, the organization faces various challenges.
Gakii explains that a lack of funds sometimes threatens to cripple their efforts.
Their training often involves artistic activities that require plenty of stationery, especially when dealing with high school students.
GULI also runs charity events and gives donations whenever they visit financially disadvantaged students.
According to Gakii, raising funds for fuel and other event-related costs is sometimes hard.
Being yet to get donors, their main source of operational funds comes from the member’s registration fees.
The board of executives, which consists of seven members, also plays a huge role in funding their activities.
“Our patron at Egerton University, Prof. M’Erimba, is also very instrumental. He is always there whenever we encounter challenges,” said Gakii.
Omwega also pointed out that Egerton University provides a welcome respite from their financial hurdles by providing some of their T-shirts, stationery and promotional materials.
“The university has been really helpful in our activities. They allow us easy access to the students whenever we want to do training.
What’s more, we are registered as a club under the university’s Director of International Linkages and Career,” said Omwega.
In an interview with Scholar Media Africa, the GULI founder, Gakii, said that they partner with other like-minded community-based organizations to maximize their impact.
One of their major partnerships is with Tareto Africa, a community-based organization raising awareness against Female Genital Mutilation.
Through Tareto Africa, GULI offers mental health guidance and counseling to girls who have survived FGM or escaped their homes in a bid to escape the cut.
Guli also partners with Crown With Care, a youth-led, community-based organization based in Nakuru, Touch One Life (based in Migori), and PDO.
To equip their members with the requisite skill for counseling, GULI ensures each member gets proper training.
Before becoming a fully-fledged member of GULI, you have to undergo a QualityRights Certification.
This is an e-training initiative by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that aims at improving mental health services and the rights of people with psychosocial disabilities.
In the QualityRights modules, members learn a wide range of topics, from taking care of their mental health to supporting others in their mental health crisis, tackling discrimination and stigma and taking action in support of mental health services.
The GULI leadership also gives frequent refresher courses to keep their members abreast of training methods and materials for their events and activities.
“We also encourage the public to take the QualityRights course on WHO’s website. It is a free course yet it offers plenty of insight on how to deal with mental health issues,” said Gakii.
While she admits that growing up is challenging and young people may face lots of mental issues, Gakii says that with the right guidance, they can learn how to maneuver and help others deal with mental issues by drawing from their own life experiences.
Sharing her experiences with young people around the country has elevated her levels of self-awareness.
She has a better understanding of mental health issues and she hopes that GULI can be replicated in schools across the globe to promote mental health awareness.
In his time in GULI, Omwega says that his experience has been life-changing.
Through the activities, he has impacted the community in more ways than he thought he ever could.
Concerning their plans for the organization, “There is a gap between the older generations and the young generation at this time. We want to change the narrative.
We believe that the older generation did not pay due attention to mental health. We plan to sensitize on mental health issues, not just locally, but soon, we shall be working at international levels,” Omwenga says.