NAIROBI, Kenya — It was a Saturday of learning for U.S. first lady Jill Biden in Kenya.
She praised young adults for learning about safe sex and dating practices, attended a meeting of women who created their own banking system, and chatted with local entrepreneurs who have been helped by a program that connects tractor owners and farmers.
All three programs aim to help women and young people take control of their lives so they can support themselves and their families. Biden has been highlighting U.S.-backed efforts to empower these groups during a five-day, two-country visit to Africa.
“These are issues that really all people need to talk about and yet, somehow, they don’t, and the consequences of not talking about it are so dire,” Biden told dozens of young people after talking with them about safe sex, condom use and birth control at the Shujaaz Konnect Festival, a local youth-empowerment event.
At a tent where young people were networking, they showed her a questionnaire they use to spur discussion. The first question: “What would you say if I told you I had a condom in my pocket right now?”
Biden laughed. “And this is the first time they’re meeting?” she asked.
A Shujaaz representative said such blunt propositions help teenagers and young adults overcome shyness, saying that it’s sometimes easier to ask strangers these types of questions.
“I’m surprised you don’t start with, like, ‘What’s your biggest achievement?’ rather than, ‘I have a condom in my pocket,’” the first lady said.
The festival is a collaboration with the MTV Staying Alive Foundation, which works with the U.S. Agency for International Development and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief to help teach young Kenyans how to avoid becoming infected with HIV, which causes AIDS.
Biden’s visit is part of a commitment by President Joe Biden to deepen U.S. engagement with the nations of Africa, many of which feel overlooked by the United States. Part of that effort is also about countering the influence on the continent that China has achieved through increased trade and spending on roads and other public works projects.
Biden was scheduled to cap her visit by traveling today to an area near Kenya’s border with Tanzania to raise awareness about a severe drought that is endangering lives and livelihoods.
Earlier Saturday, the first lady went to a government community center in Kibera, an informal settlement in Nairobi, to attend a meeting of women small-business owners who participate in the Joyful Women program. Founded in 2009 by Rachel Ruto, Kenya’s first lady, the program promotes women’s economic empowerment and financial inclusion.