What a contradiction! Mothers are not girls, and mothers are not students! But alas that’s the reality, in Kenya and other developing countries. I couldn’t help thinking about the contradictions in life where a child is supposed to be bringing up a child as I interacted with some teenage mothers mostly from Mukuru slums in Nairobi today. I got a call on Thursday this week (2nd July 09) from a Lucy a mother of over 100 girls, or is grandmother to as many children?
I met Lucy sometime this year when she visited us at Young Women’s Leadership Institute (YWLI). We discussed ways to collaborate between YWLI and her initiative called Hope for Teenage mothers’ in order to empower these young girls having known YWLI’s commitment in empowering young women. When she called me on Thursday night requesting if I or other YWLI staff and network members can give motivational talk to the young women it was not a hard decision to make regardless of the plans I had for the weekend. Another YWLI network member, Catherine also agreed to participate in the same.
While we interacted with these young women, or rather girls, many thoughts went through my head which I kept pondering about and posing some questions to the others as we did our best to have a few words of advice to these girls. Looking at the 50 girls, there was nothing peculiar or unique about them. They were looking smart, happy and they were no different from other 12 year olds that I know; except for one thing, the babies crying. I was touched by the courage the faces displayed. We were welcomed by a show of unique talents by the girls. There was acting, dancing, modelling and even a display of acrobats!!! I was so impressed by these as one of the volunteers in the program, Diane kept saying ‘these girls have so much talent and determination but lack the means’. Some of them looked so young that, I wondered if they had experienced the joy of being a protected child so that they can know how to protect their own child. They struggled to listen and scribble some notes, participate as they also attended to the children seeking attention. Some times you could catch some blank face of a child crying as the mother looked at her as if wondering what to do. “How does such a young mother love her child without thinking that the baby is to blame for her life’s obstacles? It must take a lot of courage and determination” I posed to Catherine, “and what could be the father of this child be doing right now Is his life disrupted in anyway?”. These are questions whose answers I may never knows. In a country where the laws are sometimes not implemented and even worse when it comes to laws related to child maintenance, the girl/woman carries the burdens alone.
We held an interactive motivational session where we shared tips on setting goal and clear vision for life, overcoming obstacles, learning from the past and moving on etc. These were just 50 out of the over 100 young women and girls aged between 12-22 years from Mukuru who are under the Hope for Teenage Mothers’ (HTM) project. They participated quite well displaying leadership skills and esteem they must have gained through the project. Some of the girls later shared their life experiences that left us just amazed and touched. All those who shared had one thing in common, they difficult circumstances that they had faced led them to engaging in unsafe sex ignorantly or as the only means of survival, discovering they are pregnant and dropping out of school. They were excited today as they were about to achieve their dream of getting an education through informal schooling that was to commence at the HTM centre next week!! One could not help but notice the excitement anytime the issue of school was mentioned. They looked so determined that I can only pray they will get the strength to complete the education at the various levels. They are required to have 2 hours of schooling every week day, not an easy task for a girl mother cum student!! A boy or girl at this age is meant to be in school for about 8 hours a day, in uniform, and do her/his homework in the evening, so how doest this girl compete with the others in the society?
As I quoted to them a phrase from my high school principal that has always spoken to me in different ways ‘there is no platform in life, where you will be able to give excuses as to why you didn’t succeed’ I could not help but add how unfair life can be/seem, yet there is always something at the end when we overcome the struggles.
The life these girls are facing is not unique to them. Many girls face dilemma everyday. Despite the laws allowing them to go back to school, many of them do not get the opportunity due to stigma or lack of family support and sometimes the family is not able to support the girl plus her child. Some girls are fortunate to get the support and empowerment that ensures that they do not find themselves in the family way. Others are lucky to have supportive family that supports them back to school. I am still awed by my uncle who in the 80s when a girl falling pregnant while in school was not only a disgrace to her family but also all her relatives; when a girl going past primary school was not such a priority, he went against the grain. These were the days when ‘punishment’ for the man responsible was to marry the girl (God help) or pay some cattle or cash. He didn’t do any of this, not only did he welcome the newborn (his grandchild) to be brought up as his own, but decided to transfer her daughter to a boarding school where she finished her education!!! However, to date some girls have to drop out of school and suffer the consequences. Still some of these are lucky to get supportive groups and get to informal learning and make better their lives.
As the girls from Mukuru start the tough task of being mothers and students, I can only wish them the very best and pray hope that this will be one among many other initiatives for the girls who have dropped out of school, the hope that more girls do not have to go through the ordeal of unprepared parenthood.