A Guiding Light: The Men Supporting Adolescent Mothers

by Noah Wekesa

Unplanned and early pregnancies often deter girls and young women from achieving their goals. At a younger age, Riziki dreamt of becoming a nurse so she could help mothers and children in her community. At 14, just as she was beginning to prepare herself for the national primary school certificate examinations, Riziki discovered she was pregnant. The herbs the moran gave her every time they had sex had not worked. Too afraid to face her family, Riziki ran away from home and dropped out of school.

A long shadow of influence

In a report shared in 2018 by the Ministry of Health, teenage pregnancy is one of the major threats to the country’s development. Samburu County recorded high numbers with a prevalence rate of 26% putting it in position six among the top 10 most affected counties, eight points higher than the national average of 18%

Low rates of modern contraceptive use (20%) against an early sexual debut (median of 15.7 years) predisposes the youth to unplanned pregnancies. Key contributing factors to early sexual debut, the resulting high rate of teenage pregnancies and risk of HIV/STIs are the cultural practices of beading of young girls by Morans, early marriages and female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C).

“Our culture embraces rituals in the form of weddings, wetting of babies heads, circumcision, and moran initiation ceremonies all year round. Unwed mothers and adolescent pregnant girls are not invited to such ceremonies and nobody marries them,” explains John Lemuna, the headmaster at Logorate Primary School in Samburu. According to Mr Lemuna, the humiliation is heightened for school girls who get pregnant, because they are seen as failures both in the community, where the ideal would have been FGM/C and early marriage and in society as a school dropout.

Making a case for second chances

“Whenever a teacher notices that a female student has started missing classes, the teacher is expected to investigate what the problem is and report to the headteacher,” Mr Lemuna explains. The headteacher then reaches out to the area chief who identifies the family of the girl.

According to Mr Lemuna, most parents disown their daughters who become pregnant while in school, and in most instances, they are chased away from home. They believe that once a girl gets pregnant, she has no future. Nonetheless, through counselling from the area chief and headmaster, some parents like Riziki’s mother allow their daughters to return home on condition that the girls continue with their education after giving birth.

“Some parents do not take heed to the counselling given by the chief nor headmaster at first, especially, those who consider sending their girls to school a deviation from the customary practice,” states Area Chief Mr Lekamparish.

At this point, the headmaster or the chief reaches out to the parents of school-going mothers and other girls who have been in similar situations to intervene.

“When the parents exchange their experiences, it helps them understand that their children need their support to transition from teens to adolescent mothers and ultimately pursue and complete their education,” says Mr Lemuna.

These young mothers are Binti Shujaas.

Binti Shujaa which translates to ‘brave daughter’ or ‘girl warrior’ in Swahili, symbolizes a girl or young woman that takes charge of their health and stands against the harmful cultural practices in their communities such as early marriage and female genital mutilation. A Binti Shujaa pursues her dreams against all odds including completion of their studies beyond pregnancy. The initiative was created with the support of USAID through the Afya Timiza project to give pregnant school going and out of school adolescent girls and unwed mothers a sense of acceptance and belonging. Afya Timiza also engages both primary and secondary schools on sexual and reproductive health.

Community Engagement

In July 2018, Afya Timiza facilitated training on family planning for Community Health Workers that was also attended by the Chief and Village Administrator at Logorate Village.

After the training, the Assistant Chief in collaboration with Afya Timiza organised a sensitization forum for in-school adolescents and youth at Logorate Primary School on their sexual and reproductive health. After the forum, the Ministry of Health, Area Chief, Ward Administrator, and other community leaders continued to mobilise the community at a series of events including joint forums for morans and Binti Shujaas where peers exchange ideas on safe sexual reproductive health practices and rights.

As a result,

· There were no reports of teenage pregnancy in Logorate Village in 2019

· Eight of the Binti Shujaas identified have returned to school, six are transitioning to secondary school, two are set to join polytechnic schools for vocational training, one has joined college and seven are set to join college

· The Binti Shujaas have formed a self-help group that has been registered with the government to equip them with life skills to apply for business loans, start businesses and earning a livelihood to support their families

· Two girls who have graduated from secondary school have since started businesses and are using the proceeds to take care of their children and families.

The Binti Shujaa self-help group at Logorate established a kitchen garden from which they started selling vegetables and feeding their families. From the proceeds of the vegetables, they bought two chickens for each of the 28 members. They then exchanged their chicken with each other to prevent them from selling without permission and are only allowed to sell eggs while growing their stock.

Through the sale of eggs and the vegetables, the girls can make monthly contributions of Kshs 200 each to their kitty. So far, the girls have contributed Kshs 32,000 (USD 320) since September 2019 and intend to open a hotel or start a greenhouse to grow tomatoes, peppers, pumpkins, and watermelons for sale.

With funding from the American people through USAID, Afya Timiza is rolling out the Binti Shujaas program in the hard to reach areas of Samburu and Turkana counties for desirable outcomes such as:

• Prevent pregnancies amongst 10 to 14-year-old girls

• Planned and delayed pregnancy pregnancies among 15 to 24-year-old women

• Reintegration of school-going Binti Shujaas into formal school systems

• Increased equitable access and utilisation of family planning, maternal, new-born, child and adolescent health services for Binti Shujaas and their children through linkages with community health workers and health facilities

• Identifying, rehabilitating, and empowering the most vulnerable teenage mothers and ensuring they receive the support they need from their caregivers.

The USAID-funded Afya Timiza project aims to sustainably improve health outcomes for mothers, children, and adolescents in the hard to reach areas of Samburu and Turkana Counties and has so far reintegrated 56 school-going adolescents into formal education while empowering 697 out of school adolescents and unwed young mothers.

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