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A mother to children with babies

Achieving Woman
 Elizabeth Muriuki. She is the founder of Serene Haven Rescue Centre for teen mothers (Courtesy)

A safe haven for children with babies. That is the motto of Serene Haven Girls Secondary School in Kieni, Nyeri County.

The boarding school, located in Gatarakwa along the Nyeri-Nyahururu highway, doubles as a rescue centre for expectant teenagers and teenage mothers, and is home to 28 girls who live with their babies and attend classes.

“I wanted to help the girls live their lives and continue their education despite the burden of motherhood and stigma after being rejected by their families for getting pregnant,” says 32-year-old Elizabeth Muriuki, the founder of Serene Haven Rescue Centre.

Teenagers are forced to drop out of school when they get pregnant to look after their babies at the expense of their futures.

According to the Kenya Health information Management System, more than 170, 000 teen pregnancies were recorded in 2020 – with a majority of cases happening around when schools were closed in a bid to contain the spread of Covid-19.

The Kenya Demographic and Health Survey say that the most vulnerable group of girls are those aged between 15 and 19. At Serene Haven, all the 28 girls at the facility fall under this category. The oldest girl is in form three and the youngest is a 14-year-old in primary school.

Muriuki, who was a teen mum herself, knew too well the struggles of juggling motherhood and schooling. But first, she needed to find a way of helping the girls deal with the challenge that most teenage mothers grapple with – being shunned by their families.

That is exactly what she did when she moved to Nyeri as a social worker. In January last year, she founded Serene Rescue Centre with two girls who needed a place to stay, away from the harshness of their families after they got pregnant.

Muriuki had met a few more teen mums along her line of duty and she felt the strong urge to do something for them. But little did she know that a pandemic would mean she’d have to cutter for an even bigger number as more girls would be sent away, or run away, from their homes after getting pregnant with nowhere to go.

The girls in the programme have different stories of how they got their babies, but at least they are safe now. They cannot be stigmatized, and since they all are teenage mums (or about to be), they help each other cope and feel safe.

“We have girls who got pregnant after cases of rape and defilement. But we also have those who were victims of innocent underage romance and the boyfriends fled once they got pregnant.” Muriuki explains.

She adds that: “While here, we don’t allow them to have any romantic relationships. We want them to concentrate on their education and looking after their babies without having to worry or deal with new cases of second pregnancies.”

Some of the girls run away from their homes when they got pregnant and the facility offers them a safe place to deliver and get access to prenatal care. However, there are some who are in contact with their families and even get support from home.

“We have students whose families support and send in some little money. There are also a few with sponsors. However, some still don’t have any sponsors and we have to budget with the much we get to ensure that everyone at least gets covered.

“There is the case of one who is supported by an uncle after her parents disowned her. While he cannot afford to pay any money, he brings to school some of the produce from his farms and these help feed the girls,” Muriuki says.

The facility has a matron, two social workers and a counsellor. Other than being taught the subjects in the education curricular, they also get additional coaching on motherhood and psychological support. While most of them are in high school, four are still in primary school.

“Since we do not offer primary education at the moment, the four girls attend a nearby primary school.  They leave their children at the institution and come back in the evening. They can also pop in at lunch time to breastfeed their babies as the primary school is only a few minutes away.” Muriuki explains.

While the girls attend class, the matron and social workers look after their babies. But as soon as they are out, their babies are their responsibility. They feed, bath them and wash their clothes.  This, Muriuki explains, is to help them understand their responsibilities as mothers.

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