Our first Young Mothers Summit held on Friday, June 9th 2017. Two weeks before then, precisely on May 27th, the Ask the Paediatrician Foundation had partnered with us hold a medical outreach Ijegun community in commemoration of the Children’s Day Celebration. The community chairman equally supported us by giving us free access to use the Town Hall for the event.
The outreach was to provide free medical services; basically consultation, tests, treatment and supply of medication, primarily to children and then some mothers. It also afforded some to get referral to teaching hospitals for further treatment.
Impressively, the turnout was massive; with over 400 children and 100 mothers registered and treated for free. The children also carted away with lots of gifts -foods, drinks, toys, fruits, candies and clothing. But in spite of all these, I was stunned to find that many of the women that brought their children were young mothers, mostly in their teens or early twenties; a further confirmation that Ijegun community is one area where teenage pregnancy and early motherhood is indeed very rampant.
Swinging quickly into action, I asked one of our volunteers to go round and get the contact details of the young mothers. Few days after the medical outreach, I called them up to intimate them with our special package for adolescent mothers. Unfortunately, very few showed interest; many were complacent and nonchalant about it. It soon dawned on me that for many of them, there was no big deal about being a young mother, except of course we were ready to dole out money for them to feed their families, do business and in very few cases, go back to school.
Undeterred by their response, I felt compelled to go ahead with our plans even though there was no cash at hand. I conveyed a meeting for Friday June 9th and out of the fifteen ladies invited, seven of them came.
Interacting with the young mothers (some of whom already had two, three children) made me realise that I was mistaken in my judgement. These were not complacent women; they were aspiring but struggling women who had given up and resigned to fate because they didn’t see any ray of hope that life could be more meaningful, purposeful and productive.
After exchanging pleasantries and telling them the essence of my mission, I gave opportunity to our first beneficiary; Olamide Etti to share her success story and how Girls Arise Initiative has impacted and given her a new lease of life. Thereafter, I asked a few questions in order to ascertain their areas of struggle and these were my discoveries:
- Almost all of them could not speak English, either because they had dropped out of school very early or didn’t go to school at all as they were given out early (by their parents) in marriage. So we had to communicate in our local dialect, which is Yoruba.
- Most of them also had young husbands, having been impregnated by young boys too; hence their children have teenage or young men as fathers.
- Some of these fathers are jobless and irresponsible; hence the burden of family rests solely on the young mothers.
- Some of these mothers are still with their parents since the man that fathered the child (children) is unable to cater for the family.
- Some of them are just live-in partners with the father of the child; there is no legal marriage between the duo.
- I was however impressed that almost all of them were engaged in one business activity or the other in their struggle for survival. These activities ranged from selling vegetables to sewing and petty trading.
It dawned on me that what they needed first and foremost was a re-orientation of their mind-set to be upward mobile and to believe that their lives could and should be better than it is now if they don’t want their children to suffer or sustain the vicious cycle of poverty and waste of potentials.
I stressed the need for creativity and purposefulness as young women that have a long spread-sheet of colourful opportunities before them, especially at this prime stage of their lives. I also emphasized that if well harnessed; the opportunities and youthful strength would not only help enrich their lives and families but also guarantee the wellbeing and success of their children.
The response I got was like igniting fresh fire, as one after the other, they began to talk about skills they could like to acquire so as to be economically empowered and improve the standard of living of their families. While some opted for Catering, others indicated interest in Cosmetology, Tye and Dye and production of Liquid soaps. One of them also stressed the need to make it a short-term skill acquisition training session, at least for now, because having to go for long-term training would mean having to put their babies in day-care centres and it would not be affordable.
Considering that liquid soap production is the cheapest of them all, we came to a consensus to get an expert to train the seven young mothers in attendance in July. I also promised to source for funds to empower them with minimal start up capitals.
The ladies equally expressed concern for many teenagers in the community and its environ that are either expectant mothers or already nursing babies, stressing that many of them are confused and depressed because they don’t know what to do with their lives and babies.
We agreed to hold a one-day Young Mothers Conference on July 27th and urged them to invite their friends and neighbours. The conference will amongst other things focus on health talks, skill acquisition and motivational talks to re-direct the mind set of adolescent mothers and also set the stage for society to give them a second chance to rebuild their lives.
The meeting ended on a very promising note as the ladies began to look at the brighter side of life. They also expressed eagerness to commence the skill acquisition training at once.
As parting gift, we gave them mosquito-treated nets to protect their babies from mosquito bites or malaria and also biscuits to take home. I am excited that the seven ladies that graced this inaugural meeting will now serve as Community Ambassadors to assist in our campaign to end stigmatization and restore hope to adolescent mothers.