At Mount Kenya East Institute of Agriculture and Development Studies in Meru, a group of teenage mothers studies and take care of their children.
At intervals, they are in class with other students and at specific times they breastfeed, cuddle and lull their babies to sleep and later, head back to class. Young mothers, in their teens and 20s have a tough task; juggling motherhood and studies.
In the morning, they hand over their babies to Hellen Wanja, a caretaker, and head to class. Wanja changes diapers and keeps an eye on them as they play and rest on their beds.
The mothers, who come from Meru, Tharaka Nithi, Kisumu and other counties confess the institution has given them a second chance to life.
Most, who was in primary and secondary schools, fell pregnant during the long holiday break due to the Covid-19 pandemic. They have enrolled in courses including Hairdressing and Beauty Therapy, Food and Beverage, Financial and Business Literacy, and Agripreneurship.
Nelly Mwiti, from Tharaka Nithi, has a nine-month-old baby and she divides her time in studies and taking care of him.
“I came here after a long stay at home. My parents are poor and after I got pregnant, I had to take care of myself. But all is not lost,” said Ms Mwiti, who is pursuing Cosmetology.
Gacheri Muthuri, the director at the institute, said Covid-19 was a major cause of early pregnancies which led to a high drop-out rate.
Muthuri said she could not just watch as teenage mothers lost hope, hence the decision to intervene. “There are many who dropped out. Some went back to school but because of many challenges including poverty, they did not perform very well in their final examinations and could not proceed to college. We have enrolled them in different courses to impact them with marketable skills," she said.
Muthuri, a nominated MCA in Meru Assembly, said the urge to help teenage mothers saw her establish the center.
“We are more than a rescue centre for young mothers. We integrate them with other students so that they are not stigmatized. You can see the transformation especially their self-esteem and desire to acquire new skills," she said, adding, “Society assumes a young girl has become an adult after giving birth, which is not true", she added.
Muthuri said the girls are counseled and offered health education. “We educate them on how to take care of themselves and their babies. We have subsidised their fees and we have a few sponsors who support them. Our goal is to transform their lives.”