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The Kenyan school where teenage mothers study with their babies

Nyeri (Kenya), Feb 23 (EFE) .- The sound of a bell announces a short break. A group of girls leave class on their way to the dormitories, where between bunk beds, those who are pregnant rest while others breastfeed their children. Since January, Kenyan boarding school Serene Haven has become an educational oasis for teenage mothers of the “covid generation.” “Most of the girls we host became pregnant during the pandemic, even small babies were conceived during confinement,” Kelvin Ndegwa, co-founder with his wife, Elizabeth Muriuki – more than a decade ago, also a teenage mother – explains to EFE. , of this new center that includes a nursery service, psychological support and weekly medical check-ups. In the first five months of 2020 alone, nearly 152,000 young people under the age of 19 became pregnant in Kenya, according to a survey conducted by the national Health Information System; This figure could have doubled since then given the prolonged period of school closings or the difficulty of affording contraceptives, among other factors. “Adolescent mothers are denied their education and education is a basic right. That is the void we want to fill,” sums up Ndegwa about the urgency of opening this kind of hybrid boarding school in Nyeri county (center). “We consider ourselves defenders of human rights,” he adds enthusiastically. According to his calculations, only at the end of this year the school will give shelter to a hundred students, “which translates into 200 people if we take babies into account,” he clarifies. While the Ministry of Education guidelines stipulate that any pregnant girl must “stay in school as long (as possible)” and sign a “letter of commitment” to return to school six months after giving birth, not all of them succeed in doing so. . Even before the outbreak of the coronavirus, there were 948 daily teenage pregnancies in Kenya and, each year, some 13,000 girls dropped out of school due to stigma, time incompatibility or lack of resources, according to government data. “When you are pregnant, your colleagues marginalize you. You may have had a group of five friends and you find yourself walking alone, with no one to talk to or who can understand you. You can even end up with depression,” Stacie, 17 years old and pregnant with five months, on the strong social stigma that makes many do not want to step into a high school. On the contrary, in Serene Haven (“Serene Refuge”) they feel that they are among equals, that no one is there to judge them or remind them of what they did or did not do wrong, and that with effort, they will be able to finish their studies year by year by time they watch their children grow up. “Unlike a day school, here I can breastfeed my baby until the age I want. Also, I know when he is sick, I have him close and our bond is strengthened”, reflects Rose, 17 years old and mother of a baby of almost five months. Although her case seems to be the most common – she got pregnant after having risky sex with her boyfriend – a few girls in the center were raped or sold by their parents. SEX BY NEED The fact that unwanted pregnancies increase when schools are closed is not new, and as Lisa Bos, director of government relations for the NGO World Vision, recalls, it already happened during the Ebola epidemic that struck West Africa in 2014, where only in Sierra Leone it is estimated that their number doubled in the eight months that there was no education. “Teachers generally monitor girls and can intervene if they detect signs of abuse,” Bos noted in a recent report from the World Health Organization (WHO), “when schools close, girls are left unsupervised, the worst case, exposed to predatory relatives and neighbors. ” In turn, in the case of the coronavirus and according to a survey carried out by the Kenyan organization White Ribbon Alliance from April to May 2020, there has been a marked increase in consensual sexual relations, with “idleness and boredom” the main ones motives pointed out by the young women. “I don’t think this would have happened to me if I had had a school,” acknowledges Stacie, who assures that before the COVID she didn’t even have time to interact with the kids in her area. In September, she was absent, took a positive pregnancy test and, shortly after, made an appointment for a clandestine abortion. He never showed up because of fear. However, for Susan Nyawira, a social worker at this center, on many occasions there is a fine line between a tacit sexual relationship and those born out of necessity. “During covid-19 even having food has been a problem, so many of these pregnancies are the result of poverty: the boyfriend gives you money to buy compresses, mandazis (typical Kenyan sweet), etc. but he hopes that you too give in return, “he explains. In the half-furnished bedroom, cries of babies mingle with the soft lullabies of Susan and Lydia Wairimu, matron and caregiver, who walk back and forth carrying – between African fabrics tied to the chest and back – a couple of babies each. There are no toys or children’s books, just blankets with drawings on the beds, plastic cups and some suitcases ajar with teenagers and children’s clothes. “(These babies) are innocent,” Wairimu, originally from Nyeri, confesses affectionately and who in January decided to dedicate her time altruistically -from Sunday to Sunday- to take care of these creatures. “I am excited to see mothers attend class: it is a second chance,” he adds. “They may not realize it now, but if they study and finish their education they will soon be aware (of what they achieved) and they will remember who their midwife was,” she is delighted. Patricia Martínez (c) EFE Agency

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