NYERI, Kenya — At my compound nestled into a hill below the cloud-covered slopes of mount Kenya, I listen to the sounds of baby coos and teenage giggles from Serene Haven Secondary.
As I enjoy the views of the great Mount Kenya, slowly my mind goes back to the days when I was young and naive. I sink into deep thoughts of how my life was at 17 as a teen mother to a baby boy.
Pregnancy robbed me of my childhood. Now, I fight so teenage mothers don’t lose theirs.
Life as a teen mom in Kenya
Four years into high school, my mother noticed I was pregnant. I didn’t notice it myself, as I had little knowledge about pregnancy.
I was six months pregnant and had no idea I was carrying another human inside of me.
After high school, my stomach grew and it became harder to accept my fate and my family’s disappointment. Thankfully, my mother stepped in to help me in my journey.
My child’s father, meanwhile, was 25 and unemployed. We chose to lead separate lives.
Despite the challenges I faced at home, I was ill-prepared for the stigmatization I would face from society. People wanted nothing to do with me. I was avoided in public and seen as a failure. My life, my childhood, my future, were all stripped from me.
The months passed, and I gave birth to a baby boy. With my family’s support, I worked hard, enrolled in university, and sought a better life not only for myself and my son but for women like me.
Hope for teen mothers
With the challenges I faced as a young teen mother, my aim has always been to provide young expecting girls a safe place for themselves and their young ones.
That’s why I started the Serene Haven rescue home: I know how it feels to need care when you’re a pregnant teenager.
It’s a time in life where it’s easy to lose one’s mind because of how society’s perception. Everything seems closed-in as if darkness surrounds your life and strips you of hope.
Serene Haven is home to 26 girls who either became pregnant or gave birth during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Here, the girls reside in a separate home within the school compound. Experienced staff and matrons support the mothers and their children as they continue their studies here.
Some were defiled by relatives, others raped in the streets, or forced into prostitution. These girls, despite their young age, carry burdens that weigh heavily on their shoulders.
Each woman at the compound has a different story. But, they view me as their mother and share their lives with me.
A place to heal and learn
With their often heartbreaking backgrounds, I must be sensitive during their healing process. We’re all human, and it takes time to move past one’s trauma.
That’s why every girl here receives counseling from in-house therapists and are monitored by staff nurses. Upon delivery, the mothers receive on-going medical care and their babies receive regular pediatric care by a pediatrician.
This haven is not only a refuge for them and their children but a place they can continue their education.
Like any other school, the girls attend classes taught by experienced teachers.
Their day begins at 5 a.m. when they prepare their babies and the caregivers who will attend to them while the mothers are in class. Classes run from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. with multiple breaks throughout the day to feed the children. After school, the girls rest before evening prep to end the day.
Teen mothers are admitted into Serene Haven by court committal letters. Officers help identify destitute pregnant girls with nowhere to run.
After admission, I give them a week to settle in, acclimatize to their new home, and provide social-psycho support.
Though they cope with their new environment, they face the challenging transformation from being a teenager to being a mother.
But, by hearing my story, they believe in a brighter future and work towards a successful life.
As long as I live, I will work hard to ensure teen mothers are educated and given equal care. I am a living example of success despite having a child at a young age.
We must work together so that young pregnant women do not fall behind in education or society.
“Significant levels of lockdown-related disruption over six months could leave 47 million women in low- and middle-income countries unable to use modern contraceptives, leading to a projected 7 million additional unintended pregnancies. Six months of lockdowns could result in an additional 31 million cases of gender-based violence,” The United Nations Population Fund reported in April.
Elizabeth Muriuki is the founder of Serene Haven, which focuses on rescuing teen mothers and young girls who have been sexually abused in Kenya.
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