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Second chance as Kakamega teen mothers overcome shame, go back to school

 Kakamega County First Lady Prof Janet Kasili hands a gift hamper to a group of teenage mothers during mentorship program at Kakmega golf hotel on August 25, 2023. [Nathan Ochunge, Standrd]

Vivian Nafula (not her real name), aged 17, is a Form One student at St Elizabeth Girls Lureko in Mumias West sub-county. Nafula became pregnant a few months before sitting her Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCPE) examinations two years ago.

However, she could not proceed to secondary school because she was breastfeeding, and the baby needed proper care and attention.

“I had to stay at home and take care of my baby instead of joining Form One like my friends,” she said while cuddling her baby. She was barely 15 years old when she gave birth.

“When my classmates were joining Form One, I was forced to stay at home to take care of my child. I resorted to doing menial jobs in order to provide for the baby as there was no one to take care of us,” she added.

Nafula, burdened with remorse and the embarrassment she brought on her family after getting pregnant, thought it wise to go back to school a year later, but raising tuition fees became a challenge.

Luckily, she met Halima Wesonga, the Mumias West sub-county chaperone who works in the office of Kakamega governor’s wife Janet Kasilly, who has been running a special education programme targeting teenage mothers willing to return to school.

Wesonga then introduced her to the programme dubbed ‘Teen Mothers Scholarship’, and Nafula had her tuition fees paid, enabling her to join St Elizabeth Girls Lureko.

“We are giving young mothers a second chance in life to redeem themselves,” said Ms Wesonga, adding that Nafula has made them proud by the mere fact that she is achieving promising results in her classwork.

“In the first term, she used to feel out of place. Instead of condemning her for getting pregnant, we gave her hope, and last term she received a C+ (plus) in her exams. She has promised to achieve a B+ (plus) this term because her desire is to become a doctor,” she added.

Nafula is not the only beneficiary. 16-year-old Saumuh Abdallah (not her real name) is also a teenage mother and is currently in Form One at St Joseph’s Shibinga W. Secondary School in Mumias East.

Saumuh met her 18-year-old boyfriend while in Standard Eight, and one thing led to another, resulting in her becoming pregnant. At the time, her parents had separated.

The girl sat her exams while heavily pregnant and scored 236 marks in KCPE in 2022. A few weeks after the results were released, she gave birth.

Wesonga met Saumuh and encouraged her to return to school. She welcomed the idea, knowing that her tuition fee would be covered.

“It’s her mother who takes care of the baby when she is in class. She is a promising student whose performance is satisfactory,” said Wesonga.

Western counties lead in teen pregnancy and gender violence

The chaperone mentioned that before anyone is introduced to the programme, parents and guardians of the teen mothers across the county have to agree to take care of the babies to ensure their children can concentrate in class.

Prof Kassilly, the patron of the programme, said the first batch of 60 teenage mothers was selected early this year and will act as champions in raising awareness and deterring others from getting pregnant.

She said one of the teen mothers is a KCPE candidate this year, while 50 others are in secondary school, and seven have joined county polytechnics. Regrettably, three have dropped out of school and got married.

Kassilly, who spoke during a mentorship event for the girls in Kakamega town, said, “You have not gone to school to do anything but to study; you are a student first, everything else will follow.”

“Let not the pregnancy or the child you have pull you down. Walk with your head held high, just like any other student. In my house, I am the only girl, which is why I want you to succeed because all of you are my daughters,” said Kassilly.

She continued, “We are covering your school fees and are committed to providing for your basic and nutritional needs and standing on other people’s shoulders to do so. Focus on your academics and aim for a C+ or higher in the KCSE exam.”

The first lady mentioned that they are planning to enroll at least 50 teen mothers from each of the 60 wards in Kakamega and assist them in joining technical institutions.

“We are expanding the programme so that some of the girls can receive assistance to join county polytechnics and technical training institutions to acquire skills, enabling them to become self-reliant and responsible adults,” said Kassilly.

She added, “We want to show that teen mothers can go through pregnancy, deliver their children, and proceed to have successful lives after acquiring the necessary professional skills.”

Kassilly said if more donors and sponsors come on board, the programme will be expanded to accommodate more girls in secondary schools and technical institutions.

So far, The Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE), The United States Agency for International Development (USAid) – Boresha Afya, Programme for Appropriate Technology in Health, and Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) are among the sponsors of the initiative.

Kakamega reports approximately 12,900 teenage pregnancies annually, and on average, about one in five (19 per cent) of girls aged 15-19 years (12.3 per cent) in the county have begun giving birth, according to the Kenya Demographic Health Survey (KDHS) 2022 report.

The youngest girl to give birth in Kakamega County in 2022 was 13 years old.

Nationally, the KDHS report shows that 15 per cent of women aged between 15–19 years have ever been pregnant; 12 per cent have had a live birth, one per cent have had a pregnancy loss, and three per cent are currently pregnant.

In 2021, some 558 young girls aged between 10-and 13 years got pregnant in Kakamega County alone according to the statistics.

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