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Young mothers’ second chance

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By Isaac Salima

Atupele Jafalie still carries a smile on her baby face that conceals the pain within her.

It is only when you interact with her that you come to appreciate the bumpy road that she has and continues to traverse.

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At 18, she is already a mother and while her age-mates are busy with college education, Atupele, from Kawinga Village, Traditional Authority Machinjiri in Blantyre, is struggling to take care of her baby whose father denied responsibility.

She also looks after her two siblings.

Atupele does not have kind words for her parents who, she claims, had a big hand in her present situation.

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“For a long time, there were disagreements between my parents until they separated. After my father left, we stayed with our mother, but she also abandoned us. We don’t know where both are,” Atupele said.

Without a reliable source of income, she searched for a boyfriend who could support the family. It did not end well.

“I have been struggling to support the family because we are now five,” Atupele said.

In an act of desperation, she joined the dancing profession. She is hired by organisers of various activities and uses the money to support her family.

And Wezzie Banda from Mvula area in Bangwe Township is also an adolescent mother. Unlike Atupele, Wezzie admitted to having been an architect of her predicament.

“I was involved in a sexual relationship while in primary school and I ended up getting pregnant. Even though my parents tried to advise me against that, I ignored them,” she said.

She got married and gave birth to her second child after some years. Her husband then reportedly started engaging in extramarital affairs and eventually abandoned her.

Wezzie, now a mother of two, is back at her parents’ home.

Wezzie and Atupele say they would not have found themselves in their present situations if they had easy access to Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) information and services.

So, Young Women Christian Association and Regional Psychosocial Support Initiative (Repssi) decided to intervene to protect girls from falling pregnant without intending to and supporting those who already went through the experience.

The two organisations have, among other things, been engaging girls who are out of school and those in schools to impart them with messages on SRH.

Through a project aimed at advocating for improved delivery of life skills education in schools, the organisations have been bringing together the young mothers and girls to discuss issues that affect their sexual health.

“I cannot repeat the mistake that I made because now I know what it means to be in a sexual relationship. Now I know how to prevent myself from getting pregnant again. I am also aware of behaviours that can put me at risk of contracting HIV,” Wezzie said after one of the sessions in Bangwe.

The organisations have also been supporting those willing to go back to school by providing them with resources.

In the project, being implemented in Machinga and Blantyre districts, the organisations, according to Monitoring and Evaluation Officer for Repssi Constantine Mitengo, have been encouraging the teen mothers to be engaging in income generating activities.

Mitengo further said for the girls who are in school, their aim is to teach them advocacy skills so that they can engage relevant authorities on how best life skills education can be delivered in schools.

After introducing life skills education in 2002, the Ministry of Education incorporated comprehensive sexuality education to the subject to respond appropriately to specific gender, rights, health and SRH needs of young people in accordance with national laws and policies.

“It has been noted that there are some gaps on how the life skills subject has been delivered. This is contributing to high school dropout rates. We are preparing to have the students present their issues to relevant authorities who may help them,” Mitengo said.

He added that the project aims at responding to concerns from those in schools and at the same time, not ignoring those out of school.

Speaking during a meeting the organisations held at Ngumbe Community Day Secondary School in Blantyre to discuss issues needed to be presented to authorities, one of the students Novahiwa Kumtenga lamented that knowledge gap on SRH among learners remains a big challenge.

“Our teachers do not go deep to enhance our knowledge on sexual and reproductive health and rights. They leave it to our mothers and aunts to tell us more. And even when we go back to our homes, our parents do not come clear on sexual issues,” Kumtenga said.

A life skills teacher at the school, Charity Maseya, decried lack of resources to impart SRH knowledge to the students.

“The problem is limited resources to reach out to many learners but we have enough content in our syllabus. As trained teachers, we try to give them necessary information,” Maseya said.

Sports Officer at Blantyre District Youth Office, Eunice Mtifukanji, admitted that the gaps that the students highlighted were real.

“They are encountering these problems because parents are not free with them either. They delegate other relatives to explain sexuality issues to children. What the parents don’t know is that such agents are also not free with the children; they are likely to reserve some important information,” Mtifukanji said.

 

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