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Today, Winnie wishes everything had turned out very differently. “Without the care of parents, especially a mother, and without social education and openness, I was easily influenced as a 15-year-old. I got pregnant at an early age. There was a lot of peer pressure in my circle of friends. To belong, you had to have a boyfriend.” Sex is a taboo subject in Kenya. Therefore, there is a lack of education about sex and contraception. Intimate conversations between parents and children are not the rule, but the exception. If there are no more parents, it becomes even more difficult for the girls to differentiate themselves.
Unfortunately, Winnie’s story is not an isolated case: one in five girls aged 15 to 19 is pregnant in Kenya or already a mother. Every year, 13,000 young women leave school because of apregnancy. Winnie had to interrupt her education for three years because of the early pregnancy. “I became a mockery in my community, and they said I was a bad girl. The other families didn’t want me to have anything to do with with their daughters anymore.” Without a high school diploma and vocational training, girls like Winnie are trapped in a cycle of poverty.
In order to escape the social exclusion in her village, Winnie moves to a big city nearby. She has to make money. She finds a job as a cleaning lady in a hair salon. There she proves talent for the hairdressing profession and is promoted to hairdresser. But she earns little money and would rather go back to school. However, it will take a few more years before she succeeds in this with the help of DfA.
The vulnerability of young women
Actually, Winnie was lucky. The consequences of early pregnancies in Kenya are often fatal: 362 out of 100,000 women die from childbirth. Girls between the ages of 10 and 14 are more at risk of suffering severe complications at birth, or even dying, than older women, as they are not yet fully grown, and the strain on the body is severe.
And yet: No future without education
The school not only offers the girls better career prospects, but also a place of protection, education, safety and responsibility. During the lockdown months in 2020, schools were closed. During this time, the rate of teenage pregnancies increased by 40 percent.
However, a basic problem existed even before the corona crisis. Many Kenyan children grow up in financial uncertainty. 35 percent of children in Kenya work to provide for their families and themselves. Only rarely do they succeed in financing school education in addition to the money for food and rent.
Parentless, young girls and women like Winnie are particularly vulnerable. Often, they see no other solution in a financial and emotional emergency than to confide in supposedly responsible men. In the worst case, child prostitution occurs.
The young women end up being left alone with the pregnancy, the children and the responsibility and have to drop out of school. In most cases, the girls do not receive from the father of the child the support they are entitled to and that they urgently need in this situation. Not infrequently, they are also forced to marry and experience domestic violence.
Winnie knew that she could only escape poverty through education
”The poverty we lived in drove me to seek help elsewhere. He promised me so many things, even marrying me after school. This idea was heaven on earth for me. But when I told him about the pregnancy, he denied responsibility and turned his back on me,” Winnie says today.
She knew that if she wanted to escape the cycle of poverty, she would have to go back to school. But the hairdressing profession is not enough to provide for her child and at the same time to finance the school. In search of a solution, she heard from Sister Seraphine, who works for Dentists for Africa in Kenya.
Winnie went to her office and told the Franciscan nun her story. Sister Seraphine campaigned for DfA to support Winnie. Three years after the birth of her child, Winnie was able to resume her education. Meanwhile, Winnie has successfully completed school. What’s more, she was able to complete a bachelor’s degree in International Relations and History.
“As a young girl, you know nothing about motherhood. Now it is clear to me that I must not get involved in any relationships and disregard my goals. I have to advance my education and see how I can better shape my future opportunities and those of my child.”
Become a sponsor – provide a future perspective
Through a sponsorship, you can support a Kenyan girl in her educational path and prevent early pregnancies. The children of our sponsorship project go to boarding schools: Here, in addition to education, a sheltered environment is ensured. In this way, together we can prevent early pregnancies and the dire consequences for the girls and women affected.
More information about a sponsorship can be found here: https://dentists-for-africa.org/