Stigmatised and disowned, Kibera’s young mothers find a place to call home

Young mothers still an issue in Kibera. Photo Joyce Chimbi
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Cases of early pregnancies in Nairobi’s informal settlements like Kibera are a cause for worry, especially among schoolgirls.

Getting pregnant before marriage or at a young age is not only a disgrace to the family but also a disappointment to the community. However, it also interferes with a girls’ progress to a bright future.

Too many girls who get themselves in this situation have to deal with the stigma from society and rejection from the family and sometime from the boys or men responsible for their pregnancy.

Many victims even attempt to take their lives while others go for abortion or flee their homes to avoid hostility and violence from family members.

Others opt to deliver the baby and then either abandon or give it away at an adoption centre. But the brave ones keep the pregnancy and face the world.

Indeed, many such girls are forced into early motherhood because of teenage pregnancy forcing them to take responsibility though they themselves are still minors who need care.

The number of girls dropping out of school because of teenage pregnancy increases each year with at least 13,000 according to recent statistics.

Many of these girls are victims of defilement, incest and or rape with the perpetrators being close family members, neighbours or caregivers who are notorious for walking away scot free.

Some of the accused end up settling the matter behind closed doors with the girl’s parents and or guardians at the expense of the victims who are forced to drop out of school and stare into a bleak future.

It’s for this reason that Uweza Foundation, a Non-Governmental Organisation, located in Kibra Constituency has come out to support these young mothers by taking care of their babies.

Betty Seda, a life skill instructor at the Centre has more than 15 teenagers under the programme dubbed “Young Mothers”.

Started three years, the organization supports girls who find themselves pregnant but don’t have any assistant and are rejected by their family and those responsible for the pregnancy.

Under the programme, Seda and her colleagues have been able to save girls who have been at the point of committing suicide or procuring an abortion due to a sense of frustration, stigma and hopelessness.

Seda doubles as a mother-figure, grandmother and mentor as well as mediator between the girls and their parents who want nothing to do with them.

At Uweza Centre, the organisation has been able to come up with income-generating programmes such as soap-making, mat-kneading and entrepreneurship courses that the young mothers undergo in order so that they can find a way of supporting themselves financially.

So far, scores of the girl-mothers have undergone many trainings and now have small businesses which they successfully manage. Some of them have landed jobs at the organisation.

In a recent interview with the Reject, Seda says they encourage the girls to develop a culture of saving their hard earned money in banks.

Some save between KSh50 and KSh200 every week and the money is later distributed among them after six months. The girls are also allowed to take loans from the organisation.

“I listened to their stories and felt empathy for them because there was a time I was in the same situation but fortunately my parents understood me,” explains Seda.

Other services offered to the girls are provision of sanitary towels as well as guidance and counselling.

Some have taken their plight positively and agreed to return to school.

Seda says they also provide medical assistance for the children whenever they fall sick.

For instance Mercy*, became pregnant at the age of 16. She was so terrified by the reality of what had happened that she became sick and depressed.

Mercy was afraid to tell her mother and step father because she feared the consequences and backlash.

After concealing the truth for some months, she had no option but to let the cat out of the bag. Though her mother did not overreact, she stopped supporting Mercy and asked her to get support from the man who was responsible. Unfortunately the man who was responsible for Mercy’s pregnancy was also a student.

She stayed at home trying to figure out what to do with her life and how she was going to support her child after giving birth.

Fortunately she met Seda who introduced her to Uweza Foundation. Today Mercy makes and sells soap to the public as she plans to resume her studies soon.

Ann* says she was raped when coming from a night club in Nairobi. It is an ordeal she doesn’t want to relieve as the scar is still there for all to see. Ann had to undergo a caesarean section due to the complications she experienced during her pregnancy period. She hated herself and hated the child even more. However, after several session of counselling, Ann is now proud of her child. The only thing she now wants is to give her child the best that she can afford.

Loreen*, an alumni of the Uweza Foundation and a mother of one has since resumed school. She is now in college studying finance.

When Loreen finished her Forth Form she dreamt of joining nursing but her dreams were shattered because her parents were not supportive.

After staying at home for some time Loreen decided to get married. However, life in marriage was not a walk in the park as she thought and that’s when she joined Uweza Centre.

Loreen has now found meaning in life and can support her child singlehandedly.

Apart from the young mothers, The Foundation also caters for young girls who Seda refers to as golden girls who are in primary school and aged nine to twelve. The generation stars are in secondary school from age 14 to 18.

All these girls seek refuge at Uweza Centre and usually open up easily to the instructor more than any of her colleagues.

The Centre is not limited to girls alone. It also hosts boys some of who have been victims of sexual violence including sodomy. The boys who are under the Uweza Football Team talk freely about their personal problems with Seda.

During the guidance and counselling sessions done on one to one basis, Seda encourages the girls to seek assistance first and not opt for it as a last resort.

She gives the girls the right information to make them understand why they should not repeat the same mistake of giving birth a second time while they are still not married.

Seda has her job cut out for her. “I regularly visit the girls’ homes in an effort of reconciling them with their parents, especially the mothers,” says Seda.

So far Uweza Foundation has done its best to rescue girls from being abandoned by their parents and the perpetrators.

However, Seda says there is hope for the girls despite challenges of funding, support by the community and lack of positive attitude by the girls.

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