In Sierra Leone, the prevalence of teenage pregnancy is gradually becoming a crisis. A June 2017 report found that approximately 13% of girls become pregnant before the age of 15, and 28% begin childbearing between 15-19 years old. This has robbed many young girls of education and other development opportunities.
Burma is a small community on the outskirts of Kenema in eastern Sierra Leone with a population of 6,000. Here, 60% of girls became pregnant before the age of 15 and have never had the opportunity to learn a skill or trade. The young mothers, who are still children themselves, are often rejected by their partners and their parents who want to avoid family shame. As a result, they are unable to provide for their babies.
Many feel they have no other option than to turn to sex work to make a living. These girls are being sexually exploited and abused by adults, whose role should be to protect them. They face high risks of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, and violence. Their children are vulnerable while their mothers are working.
The objective of our project is to provide teenage mothers from the Burma community with skills so they are able to establish their own business or seek employment, meaning they are financially independent and better protected from these risks.
Our local partner is Future Focus Foundation, a volunteer-led organisation working in rural communities across eastern Sierra Leone. The Foundation promotes social justice and equal opportunities through awareness raising and livelihood programmes. All of its programmes are developed with the women and communities it works with and the majority of its volunteers are female. Future Focus Foundation runs a successful training centre which, since 2013, has trained over 200 people in marketable trades, all of whom are now in employment or running their own businesses. They have been a ChildHope partner since 2013.
The young women are receiving training in either tailoring, embroidery, hairdressing or cloth-weaving, depending on their interests. The course will include work experience placements. The majority of the women are illiterate or have extremely low levels of education, so they will also receive literacy and numeracy support.
Business development training will ensure that after the course, the women can become self-reliant and provide a stable income for their family. Life skills training will support them in areas such as hygiene and nutrition so they can provide a healthy environment for their children. The women will also be encouraged to join savings groups to save for their children’s education and plan for the future. The group savings scheme will also offer financial literacy training and in some cases small loans for business development and in emergencies.
This project will also support a childcare facility within the training centre for 10 children whose mothers do not have help with childcare. These children will receive meals, sanitary kits and toys so they can develop their basic skills.
At the end of the training women will receive ongoing support and mentoring for up to a year or until their businesses are fully established. Group savings schemes are also monitored to ensure the women are planning their safety net. To assess how well the mother’s improved financial security is benefitting children, social workers monitor children’s school attendance and their health and physical wellbeing.
“Today I have recognition in my family and my community.”
Marjorie was still in primary school when she realised she was pregnant. “I was driven away by my parents for what they referred to as ‘shame in the family,’” says Marjorie. “I stayed with friends until I delivered and started selling food for the upkeep of me and my daughter.”
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