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Second chance for Covid-19 teen moms

Mary Mueni* (not her real name) had hit rock bottom trying to rebuild her life; her dreams of ever becoming a nurse had only been cut short four years ago when she conceived while in Form Three during the long school break occasioned by the Covid-19 pandemic that hit Kenya in 2020.

She had to stay at home when her friends resumed school after the break to take care of her young child. Alone and with no money, she resorted to menial jobs around her neighbourhood so she could raise some money for the child’s upkeep.

“It has not been easy getting a decent job because I do not have a Form Four certificate,” she says, “if the employer realises that I am not well educated they offer very little money.”

Her thirst for education has been insatiable ever since, not just because she cannot get a proper job, but because she desires to give her child a better life.

In her interaction with her friends, she has been trying to follow up on what they have been learning in school but that has also proven difficult. She often requires a home tutor to help her understand most of the things taught.

A few kilometres from her home is Maureen Mutheu*, who wanted to be a teacher and is also taking care of her child born during the same period.

Their stories resonate with the other 3,000 girls who were reported to have conceived or given birth during this period.

As Mueni narrates, her woes began when she had to wait for her elder brother to complete school as her parents could not afford school fees for both of them and while at it, Covid-19 struck just when she resumed school.

She has also been doing casual jobs around her home village to help raise her child and help educate her younger siblings.

Life has not been easy for these teen moms, and they admit that their lives will never be the same should they get another opportunity to get back to class.

This is why the office of the Machakos Women Representative Joyce Kamene Kasimbi has been going around the county in search of girls who had to drop out of school to offer them the chance to continue with their education.

According to Faith Joseph, an officer in the office of the Women Representative, they began by helping the girls take care of their young children when their story hit the headlines in 2020 after they identified a few from across the county.

However, they realized that helping them with clothes and food for their children would not be enough or sustainable, so they came up with the idea of getting them back to school.

“We initiated the programme ‘Second Chance’ to take the teen moms to school because we couldn’t continue giving them alms that would not be sustainable in the long run, so we decided to give them a fishing rod and show them where to fish,” she said.

They began by identifying girls from extremely needy families with the help of chiefs and sub-chiefs.

Joyce Kasimbi, the Machakos Women Representative, says that this programme will not end at ensuring the girls get to Form Four, but they will get further training to help them get jobs.

So far, 60 girls have been taken to school and according to Kasimbi, although it is a small number compared to those in need, the programme will continue to expand and take up more girls and also young boys who may require to be taken back to school.

She has also urged the community to embrace the teen moms trying to rebuild their lives, cautioning them against stigma.

“If we do not accept them into our community, it is like pushing them further away. I urge our leaders, including our religious leaders, to help these girls be integrated into the community,” Kasimbi says.

Apart from the reported cases during the Covid-19 era, there have been more reported cases of defilement and teen pregnancies where most cases have been resolved within the family set-up.

“Let us ensure we report the defilement cases to the police and follow due procedure in handling them because if anyone is found solving such in the kangaroo courts, they will face stern measures,” Kasimbi says.

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