School becomes safe haven for teen mothers
Purity Gikunda speaks on her journey to get teenage mums back to school
Joy Nasienya (not her real name), 17, gazes into the blue sky deep in thought as she reflects on what her life has become. Currently in form two, she has already been thrust into motherhood.
“My periods had delayed for two weeks and two close friends urged me to go for a pregnancy test at a nearby clinic.
That is when my worst fears were confirmed. I was four weeks pregnant,” she says. Out of fear, she kept news of the pregnancy from her parents, but not for long.
“A month after I resumed school, some teachers realised something was amiss. I used to feel sick all the time and had become sluggish.
During a counselling session, I opened up to a teacher about the pregnancy and the principal was fair enough to allow me to remain in school until I gave birth,” she explains.
Though her parents were devastated by the news, they chose to support her and ensure she got back on her feet again.
“It’s been a tough walk. The early months after I gave birth to my daughter were the hardest, as I struggled to adjust to my new role.
Thanks to my supportive parents, I was able to resume my studies. My mum helps in taking care of the baby while I’m at school,” Nasienya says.
Nasienya represents millions of girls in this situation. Globally, teenage pregnancy robs girls of their childhoods, education and future. Many are not able to fulfill their dreams, and are exposed to stigma and discrimination.
It is against this background that Purity Gikuda decided to start an initiative that would give hope and restore dignity to many teen mothers.
Purity is the founder Resurrecting the Dead Dreams For Teenage Mothers at Greenland Girls School in Kajiado County.Born and raised in Ngonyi, Meru county, Purity, the first born of six, always had a passion to serve the community.
“I have great passion for women empowerment and leadership. I grew up in a normal family setting and I am always grateful to my parents for the support and care they accorded us,” says Purity, who has a degree in development studies and diploma in governance and leadership.
It is through her experiences that her passion to assist vulnerable girls and women in society was fuelled.
“When Greenland Girls School was started, it mainly absorbed survivors of female genital mutilation and early marriages.
But in my line of duty as a social worker, I realised there was another group of girls totally neglected and isolated: teenage mothers.
I work with women and youth groups in the community and assist them to register groups to access the youth and women enterprise fund.
I realised teen mothers did not fit in any of the groups. They are neither in the youth nor women category,” she says.
Purity saw these girls needed help and the only way out was to get them back to school because besides having given birth, they are still children.
Baby care centre
That is how the programme was borne in 2018 on the International Day of the Girl Child.
“Together with my co-founder, Samuel Mukilya, we decided to make Greenland Girls School, a unique school for teenage mothers besides other girls.
We did this because when these girls go back to their former schools, they experience stigma and discrimination.
They are forced to hide their children for fear of being rejected and isolated. But at Greenland, theyls learn, share, encourage each other and thrive together,” says Purity.
Through the initiative, other girls in the school have had talks and counselling that have enabled them love and embrace their sisters.
Purity says the initiative has transformed lives of teen mothers who now know there is a place they can get a second chance to pursue their education and learn freely without fear of stigma and discrimination.
“The community feels this is the safest haven for teen mothers and have embraced the initiative.
The greatest achievement is that the programme has been an eye opener to teen mothers who thought having a child at that age puts an end to their education.
I am happy more people are now embracing education for teenage mothers after giving birth and offering them a chance to go back to school,” says Purity.
She, however, confesses it hasn’t been easy running the initiatives.
“Many teenage mothers come from very poor backgrounds, and some are orphans or raised by single parents unable to cater for the needs of girls in school.
We currently do not have any sponsorship from any organisation and rely on individuals and friends,” says Purity.
She adds, “Young mothers have no one to leave their kids when they attend school. They are willing to go back to school, but have no one to care for their babies at home.
That is why we are trying to come up with a baby care centre at the school where we take care of the children while their mothers attend classes,” she adds.
She also arranges for mentorship sessions for teen mothers who finished school to motivate the girls to push forward.
Are the lives of the young girls she is mentoring taking a positive turn?
“Oh yes. Our girls are doing perfectly well in class. They are committed and determined to make their dreams alive again.
More girls are also joining school and the number is getting bigger and bigger every day, something we are very happy about,” says Purity, whose dream is to have a school for teenage mothers in every county so that no teenage mum will be left behind when it comes to pursuing education.