Empowering young mothers
Trained peer educators known as Binti Shujaa reach out to teenage mothers, link them to health and other services
Teenage pregnancy is a major health challenge in Baringo County. Many of these teenage pregnancies are neither planned nor wanted.
Girls who get pregnant in their teens face numerous challenges. Rejection by family and friends pushes some of them into depression. Social isolation makes it hard for pregnant teens to access antenatal services and the support they need to take good care of themselves and their babies after delivery.
Rhoda Chesire became pregnant when she was 19, forcing her to drop out of school. She decided to keep to herself. She planned to seek help from a traditional birth attendant so that she could give birth in the privacy of her parents’ home.
Luckily for Rhoda, community youth peer educators, known as Binti Shujaa, convinced her to visit the local health centre.
“I was informed of the importance of visiting the clinic regularly … I also wanted a healthy baby,” she said after her encounter with Binti Shujaa.
Rhoda attended all four recommended antenatal clinic visits. She gave birth at the health centre and started to attend the post-natal clinic.
With USAID support, Afya Uzazi equips Binti Shujaa with knowledge and skills to reach out to and mentor pregnant adolescents and young mothers aged 19 years or below. All Binti Shujaa are young mothers.
The Binti Shujaa model is one of Afya Uzazi project’s social and behaviour change interventions to improve access to reproductive health and other services for adolescent girls and young mothers in Baringo and Nakuru counties.
The volunteers work alongside Youth Champions, young men and women trained by the project to provide life skills education in the community. Together, they educate their peers and others community members on prevention of teenage pregnancy and other social problems facing youth.
Binti Shujaa volunteers organize group sessions that provide opportunities for adolescents to share their stories and learn from one another and from health care providers.
“Girls like me face many hardships, sometimes people say bad things about you,” says Rhoda, reflecting in her experience.
“I lost all my friends when I got pregnant,” says Rhoda. “Through Binti Shujaa, I want to be able educate and empower others,” she said.
Robert Kiae, a Clinical Officer at Mogorwa Health Centre Baringo County, says society often blames teenagers who get pregnant.
“Society has the notion that these girls are so immoral, and they are embarrassed,” he says.
Many teenage mothers are forced into early marriage, often to older men.
“I have seen numerous cases where girls as young as 13 years are rejected by their families, boyfriends and relatives,” Kiae said.
Health facilities in Baringo and Nakuru have partnered with Afya Uzazi Youth Program to educate and sensitize young mothers and girls on reproductive health and life skills so that they can make responsible decisions and seek health services when in need.
For instance, Mogorwa Health Centre provides youth-friendly services to adolescents.
Youth-friendly services are critical. One of the biggest barriers to adolescents accessing reproductive health services is a negative attitude among service providers.
Afya Uzazi works with county teams to sensitize and train community health and care providers in health facilities to provide services to adolescents in a friendly way and without judging them.
Many of the health facilities Afya Uzazi supports have set up special clinic days for adolescents and youth. Some have adjusted opening hours to accommodate youth, most of who prefer to visit the facilities in the evening or weekend.
Valentine Komen, a teenage mother of one, walks down the rocky and hilly road for more than two hours to access the nearest health facility.
She says the health providers at Mugorwa centre are friendly and do not discriminate against adolescents and youth.
Valentine first visited the hospital when she was three months pregnant. She was ushered in by Johnstone, a community volunteer, or Youth Champion, attached to Afya Uzazi youth program.
“When I came here, I was scared as I approached the reception, but my case was treated with confidence,” Valentine recalls.
The service providers reassured Valentine. They counselled and gave her information on how to care during pregnancy and to prepare her for childbirth. For instance, they told her how to make a birth plan to deliver in hospital and about the contraceptive choices available after birth.
During follow-up clinic visits, health workers assisted Valentine to register for the national Hospital Insurance Fund’s Linda Mama scheme that guarantees free hospital services for mothers.
The services Valentine and Rhoda received at Mugorwa are available in over 180 health facilities that receive USAID support through Afya Uzazi across six sub-counties in Baringo and Nakuru counties.
Besides improving access to health care for teenage mothers, Afya Uzazi works with local authorities and local partners to ensure girls like Rhoda return to school. The young mothers are also linked to interventions to empower them economically, including savings and credit schemes and government-run enterprise funds.
It the second year of implementation that ended in September 2018, Afya Uzazi trained 84 young mothers aged 20 to 24 to become Binti Shujaa mentors.
The mentors have educated over 1,600 adolescent mothers aged 15–19 about good nutrition, exclusive breastfeeding, family planning services and support to return to school.
Story: Denise Akun, Afya Uzazi Nakuru-baringo Program, and George Obanyi, Communication Officer, FHI 360/Afya Uzazi