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A girl? mother? student?

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.

Comments

Kizzie's picture

Dearest Sophie, I really

Dearest Sophie,

I really enjoyed reading this story. I've meet many mother students and it's the hardest things in the world. It was hard for them to go to university and not think of their children all the time. It takes a lot of courage to live through this phase, but I guess knowing that you are doing this so that you can provide for your child at all times is so motivating!
I totally agree with you, unprepared parenthood is difficult and draining in every single way.

Stay blessed,
love,
Kizzie

Sophie's picture

Unprepared and unsupported

Hi Kizzie,
thanks for your kind comments. it is true it is such a challenge for mother student even those who are lucky enough to get going with their schooling, especially at college level!! I am so annoyed to know the fathers of these kids normally go scot free.

Sophie Ngugi
Child of the Universe -www.sophiengugi.blogspot.com

Diane's picture

thank you

Wow. thank you Sophie. I have been with these girls for a long time......i have become part of them......reading your post makes me see that there is a need to take this project countrywide....we have it in our work plan and all......but it just shows that there is a great need.......great need. May God bless you and everyone who have come to the aid of these young mothers.

Sophie's picture

For the girls

Diane, Love your passion for these girls.
There has been some talk and even heard some news this morning of 'need for pg girls to be allowed back in school' and hopefully this will work. My concern is that not enough is been done to make sure that men/boys take responsibility, educate young ones to avoid unplanned pregnancy and make sure girls who get pregnancy have a second chance in life. Unfortunately most of these gate keepers like teachers and head teachers that are supposed to implement are the perpetrators!! However, a step at a time, a step at a time and we will make it.

Sophie Ngugi
Child of the Universe -www.sophiengugi.blogspot.com

Kizzie's picture

Sophie, I just read your

Sophie, I just read your profile and I wanted to say that your display picture really fits the way you describe yourself (energetic and assertive)

hugs,
Kizzie

Sophie's picture

Thanks

Thank you Kizzie

Sophie Ngugi
Child of the Universe -www.sophiengugi.blogspot.com

fatma's picture

UNFAIRNESS OF LIFE

dear sophie,
i am touched by your story deeply and i feel that its the unfairness of life that really put this girls in this situation..because when resources were scanty in thier family...they were the ones expected to bring in some money...and when they were raped or got pregnant they didnt have any social support...and just by being females,they experienced all the socioeconomic misgivings and the untamed, lust of men ready to have sex with underaged girls!!...
isnt it unfair to suffer all this just for being a woman??!!
these girls are not only lucky to have prospects and support but also lucky they didnt suffer from long term physical problems due to giving birth at such a young age....
thank you for enlightening us to think about them....
your way of writing is very informative and analytical.

love
fatma

Sophie's picture

Unfairness unfairness

I agree Fatma, it is so unfair for girls to keep going through this,and yet be judged harshly. The single motherhood is still another source of stigma even after all the other issues the girl has to face, we just have to do our best in small ways that we can.
Cheers

Sophie Ngugi
Child of the Universe -www.sophiengugi.blogspot.com

Saving Loans Association's picture

Sophies article

Dear Sophie,

As an African women led organization, we are familiar with your stories as well in Zambia. However, the difference is that you have layed out the story with such elegance and pefection that people out there can read and understand the situation most of our young girls go through.It is so painful and sad to see such talent and passion all drift away due to luck of education.

With our organization, Savings loans Association, education for women is also a pillar for our work and we do appreciate your echo on this subject matter.Thank you!

Mary Kombe
Chairperson
Savings Loans Assocation
www.sloansassociation.org

SLA

Sophie's picture

the girls...

Thanks Mary. In Kenya there are also some girls who get fistula, what with some communities still practicing FGM!!! Welcome other young women to share and be members of our young women's network on www.ywli.org where they can also do blogs.

Sophie Ngugi
Child of the Universe -www.sophiengugi.blogspot.com

Kizzie's picture

Fatma, I agree with you, we

Fatma,
I agree with you, we should be glad they didn't suffer from health problems due to early marriage (I think it's called fistula or something). I guess the work should be about preventing rape and early marriage as much as giving young mothers the chance to get an education. The roots of the problem should be tackled, it's going to be difficult!

love,
Kizzie

Kizzie's picture

Dear Mary, Your organization

Dear Mary,

Your organization seems like a great idea, I encourage you to spread the word through Resource Exchange

http://worldpulse.com/pulsewire/exchange

cheers,
Kizzie

jap21's picture

Hi Sophie

Reality usually overcomes fiction when we talk about teen age mothers. It is always unbeareable to see such suffering. None of us would believe what a mother can do in the name of her kids. Many things done by teen age mothers in order to raise their kids better can seem unbelievable when told about.

Apart from the wonderful job that is already being done, there is something I would like to add: education for the public. I think this project should be brought into the public eye to make these girls needs visible to society. It is so important that parents of young mothers understand that this is exactly the right moment of their lives when they need all the help they can get... and it happens to be exactly the opposite for most parents.

The way social change comes around is by repeating one slogan over and over. Do not hesitate to present this wonderful initiative into different media, engage it in every other activity you can adhere to, and raise your voices outloud.

Thanks for writing about this. We really need parents to help these kids more.

Hugs,
Jackie

Jacqueline Patiño FundActiva
Tarija - Bolivia
South America
www.jap21.wordpress.com

suziey's picture

WHO SHALL SAVE OUR GILRS???

Dear Sophie,
You have brought out some very pertinent thoughts here.
I appreciate the fact that, yes, there is a problem somewhere as we have an issue with teenage pregnancy in Kenya. I know we have apportioned much of the fault on poverty, lack of proper laws to prosecute the men and things like those…. Which I appreciate have their own weight of course.

However, we have also lost it as parents and as community members. Parents no longer know what their children are doing. Of course wayward men have capitalized on this and are seeking the young girls for sex and promising heaven on earth for them. The young girls are so naïve that they believe that the men will sure bring the heavens down… mark you this not only applies to the poor but also to the rich.

I was shocked one day when I happened to arrive late from a trip somewhere and on my way home passed by one prominent petrol station with this take away food courts, to fuel and was shocked to see a big group of boys and girls (ages about 13-16 years), drinking, smoking and chewing miraa at 1pm in the night. I was mistaken at first to think there was a teenage function there as the group was so big about 50 or even more and what they were doing… am sure would shock any sane parent to death if they were to find their child there.

Let me inform you that this is one place that looks quite ok for kids to be, it’s a place where usually no hard drinks are sold, no cigarettes or any kind of hardstuff… just take-away foods, sodas and petrol! BUT I had to stop and observe this scenario with utter shock!! It was not a party, as it was clear the teams as they had formed (like those you see in pubs) did not seem to know each other, the kids (I call them kids as no other name fits them), were being picked and dropped by MEN (fathers) in big cars (with tinted windows and all). I watched as the girls came with decent clothing and went to the toilets to change to more revealing clothes at the watch of the adults working there.

It will surprise you to know that this place seemed popular to both the rich and the poor kids as you could tell either from the mode of dressing, kind of drink being taken and of course those who seemed from rich families had flashy cars (beats you what an under age is doing driving a car in the middle of the night) and the best looking girls. Need you know that some of the things they were doing only left you with the imagination of what their acts would lead to next…..???
I leave you to imagine that and then think of the role that parents are playing in encouraging teenage sex and thus children rearing children in this era.

When it comes to targeting men, especially the so called sugar daddies that are seeking small girls for sex whilst promising heaven, we can borrow a leaf from Uganda which has a public campaign on this. I have no facts on how successful it has been but I have a feeling it is a starting point.

If we can reach the boys and men… and reach our girls early in life on the dangers of early pregnancies…. Then our girls may just have a ray of hope to pursue their dreams. For those who are already trapped….. its never too late for them, but lets look for ways to address the issue.

WHO SHALL SAVE OUR GIRLS??

Sophie's picture

We will save our girls

A step at a time, Thanks Suzzie for your comments and insights. The issues you raised are so pertinent. Many organizations and other development workers have realized the need to work with boys and men in addressing flawed masculinity in addresing these and other issues. As you say the whole community has a role to play, families have a great role to play for we all have to save the girls, a step at a time!!

Sophie Ngugi
Child of the Universe -www.sophiengugi.blogspot.com

Sophie's picture

Determination

I appreciate the comments i have received on the issue of teenage mothers. I talked with Lucy, from the Hope for Teenage mothers today and she told me the girls are so excited to be in school, they are actually going to school and arriving so early!! the excitement that in about 3 years or so they will have a certificate for Secondary or Primary school and feel like any of the other girls. It will not be an easy task, but they have to start somewhere. As they struggle to access even the basics like exercise books, they can only do their best, knowing that the challenges they face are enormous but yet they need what it takes to better their chances in life. The website is www.hopeforteenagemothers.org

Sophie Ngugi
Child of the Universe -www.sophiengugi.blogspot.com

Jade M's picture

It breaks my heart to read

It breaks my heart to read the story above. Its such a shame to know that we live in community that provides such little options or informations to our girls, and such blatant impunity to our boys. How can we cultivate the ethics of responsibility in our boys, how can we provide enough knowledge to our girls, how can we ensure that the choices that they want to make and those that they should make are known to them and most important of all are available to them.

lucyndungu's picture

Yes You can do something about it

There are millions of mind-boggling statistics, which clearly indicate that, the benefits of investing in girls far exceed the cost of not doing so. Cascading cost of intergenerational death of girls, illiterate families that translate into vicious cycles of family and community poverty, endless conditions that make women and girls vulnerable are reasons enough for shaming the world. However, shame is not an action. Empowering girls is about turning our shared values into collective and urgent change actions. There is a strong proponent of the theory that empowerment of children is intrinsically linked to empowerment of their mothers. The connection is more than umbilical. Empowered women often transfer their empowerment to their children, families and whole communities and they begin a virtuous cycle of empowerment.
Empowerment is a complex system configured to different degrees by economics, class, race, caste, gender, geography, ethnicity, religion, age, culture, and many other micro and macro factors. Empowerment cannot be perceived as a project for a given period, say one or ten years. It is a life long process. It is a strategy and a goal at the same time. Empowerment can never be one- dimensional. There are several levels and layers that lead to empowerment. Empowerment always begins with self.
There are no forests without individual trees. If you want to empower girls, begin by bringing a girl in the close focus of your lenses, name her, give her flesh and blood and a face; then take her to the future of how you would rather see her and then walk back to where she is and do what it takes to implement your vision. When an individual is empowered, she knows what is happening to her and she will use that knowledge for her good and for the good of others.
Sustainable empowerment is not about giving solutions to girls and women but rather enabling them to have what it takes to live empowered each day and to adjust to times and context without being victims of circumstances. It is about opportunities and choices. It is about negotiating and adjusting and using our stories to pass on the change to others.

Lucy Ndungu
Executive Director
Hope for teenage mothers
P.O Box 16692-00100 GPO
Nairobi,Kenya
+254 722712309
www.hopeforteenagemothers.org

Sophie's picture

Girl effect

Lucy thanks for your comments, remind me of 'The girl effect' model, focus on the girl and she can effect her environment!! See www.girleffect.org

We can not tire of this, and more so working at addressing the factors that lead to unplanned pregnancy in the first place.

Sophie Ngugi
Child of the Universe -www.sophiengugi.blogspot.com

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