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Kenya’s first: School for teen mothers and their babies
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|Kenya’s first: School for teen mothers and their babies by Kenyans247(1): Mon 28, December, 2020 09:25am|
Homeless, hungry and pregnant.
That was the state of tens of teenage mothers before they were rescued and housed at Nyeri's Serene Haven in Chaka, Kieni Constituency.
On our visit, we find a teenage mothers sitting across each other engaged in chats and giggles, while a baby boy is lying on a mattress playing at their feet.
His mother, a 15-year-old girl, was rescued from the streets after she was abandoned by her family.
Another girl, who is pregnant, is cleaning dishes at the rear of the home.
Around the world, teenage pregnancy robs girls of their childhoods, their education and futures.
These pregnancies tend to be the result of having few choices in life.
It was this reality that nagged Kelvin Ndegwa and his wife Elizabeth Wanjiru to start the home and also serve as a secondary school for underage mothers 10 months ago.
The girls’ school, which is set to open its doors starting January, already has 32 students confirmed to enroll next month.
Ndegwa says 100 other girls are yet to make up their mind on their admission.
"I started this place because I know how it feels to need care when you're a teenager and pregnant... because I have been there," says Wanjiru, the proprietor.
She fell pregnant at 17 after clearing high school education. Gutted with fear, she broke the news to her parents who to her surprise nurtured her until she delivered a baby boy.
"They took care of me without reprimanding me for my mistakes and even went on to take me to university as they took care of my child," she recalls.
In an attempt to end the stigma subjected to girls who fall pregnant in their teen years, Wanjiru says the Serene Haven is an inspiration to change societal norms.
“I felt bad because my dreams had been shuttered because I had fallen pregnant. But I was supported and I owe it to the community,” she narrates.
Kelvin Ndegwa and his wife Elizabeth Wanjiru
Kelvin Ndegwa and his wife Elizabeth Wanjiru during an interview at Serene Haven centre in Nyeri on December 27, 2020.
Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group
To admit the children to the home, she uses court committal letters and children officers who identify destitute pregnant girls with no one to run to.
“We give them a week to settle in, acclimatise with their new home and then give them social-psycho support to cushion them from pregnancy traumas,” she says.
The main challenge that has rocked the home since she started it is transforming the mindset of the young girls to motherhood.
The establishment will provide special services for the student mothers to ensure they continue with their education without being separated from their children.
The school has hired matrons who will be taking care of the children at the daycare section while their mothers attend classes.
Currently, the school is only enrolling for students from Form One to Three and it attracts a fee of Sh25,200 per term, baby’s expenses included.
Teachers employed by the institution will also be required to undergo counselling monthly on how to handle the students.
Some of the girls are rescued from the streets, early marriages while others are victims of sexual assault.
Wanjiru says she sets herself as an example that despite being a teenage mum, she went ahead to attain a degree in social works from the University of Nairobi.
Barbra*,14, is seven months pregnant but it is hard to tell from her petite physique and the agility in her steps.
She looks collected with a smile that radiates across the room when she speaks despite going through a horrifying experience at the hands of her father.
Unaware and remorseful, the Form 1 student regrets reporting her stepfather to the authorities for defiling her at their home in Machakos County.
“He started sleeping with me when I joined high school, which was months after my mother died. He warned that if I let a word out, he would curse me. Besides he said he loved me,” she says.
This gave him a leeway to continue defiling her and taking advantage of her naivety.
Out of fear, Barbra obliged, normalising the act perpetrated against her, just to be in good books with her father.
Soon after she fell pregnant, he promised to support her by giving her money, buying her baby clothes and a smartphone— a promise that he never fulfilled.
“A few months into my pregnancy, I realized he had no intentions of supporting me with the things he promised and that is when I decided to report him,” she says.
In her naivety, she thinks her father does not deserve being locked up, arguing that “he was a good father that took care of me and my siblings.”
Barbra says she loves cooking and she would rather hone her culinary skills than go back to Machakos and continue with her secondary education.
Elizabeth Wanjiru of Serene Haven
Elizabeth Wanjiru of Serene Haven centre in Nyeri during an interview on August 26, 2020.
Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group
And Janice*, 15, delivered a baby girl two weeks ago at the Nyeri Referral Hospital after she was abandoned by her parents in Nyandarua County.
Having dropped out at Standard Three, she can neither write her name nor that of her child as school remained foreign to her.
At just 10, she was defiled on her way to the market by an unknown man and later married off to a man who would batter her endlessly.
“My father declined to take me to school and would have me do menial jobs for food. He married me off for a fee,” she says.
With no skills in being a wife, she could not cook or clean which earned her daily blows and kicks and when she reported to her parents, they remained unbothered.
“He would beat me every night after returning home drunk and he would come with other women and send me away,” she says.
By the time she was reporting to the authorities and being rescued she was seven months pregnant.
According to UNFPA, the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency, every day in developing countries, an estimated 20,000 girls younger than 18 give birth.
In Kenya, nearly one in five girls aged 15-19 have already had a baby or are pregnant, according to a 2014 survey.
Janice has no intentions of going back to school rather she insists on becoming a salonist.
“I am happy here and I would never go back to my parents’ house. However, I am passionate about plaiting hair and that is what I will do,” she says.
At the home, they navigate through daily chores indicated in a duty rota with future aspirations being a major topic.
The girls are expected to set realistic goals for themselves to take up after giving birth and weaning their newborns— mainly going back to school.
At the home, they have doctors and counsellors who have volunteered to talk to them through the pregnancy trimesters and mentor them after giving birth.
They are also able to access medical services at the Nyeri County Hospital at a fee that is provided for by Wanjiru who runs the home alongside her husband.
Wanjiru says often, they rehabilitate the girls and some manage to reconcile with their parents and are taken back home.
She prays that well-wishers would come on board and donate food stuff and other items for the girls, who are part of an alarming national statistic.
The State Department for Gender estimates that in Kenya, 45 per cent of women aged 15-49 have experienced physical violence and with 14 percent having experienced sexual violence.
In June, President Uhuru Kenyatta directed the National Government Administration Officers (NGAO) to act swift and avert a crisis after it emerged that tens of thousands of girls had been impregnated during the Covid lock-down.
“I am concerned by the increase I the teenage pregnancies desiring this period. We must bring these unfortunate trends to an end,” he said, ordering the National Crime and Research Centre to investigate the rising cases of teen pregnancy, and violation of children’s rights.
“I direct the centres to prepare an advisory to security agency and initiate the prosecution of violators.”
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