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CAMEROON: Sex Education Could Have Prevented My Unsafe Abortion

Sally maforchi Mboumien
Posted June 28, 2016 from Cameroon

Sally Mafor teaches girls what she wishes she had known when she was a teenager.

“I am working so that young mothers with unwanted pregnancy won’t have to follow in my footsteps.

When I was 14, being a virgin was unfashionable amongst my school peers. I started having sex out of a desire to belong. But it was also an abomination to my family and society to have a baby at that age.

Because sex was a taboo subject within our communities, most of us had no information about our sexual health or reproductive health rights. We used homemade contraceptives like hot drinks, highly concentrated salt or limestone solutions, vinegar, and herbs.

After gambling with these for five years, what I dreaded most happened: I missed my menses for six weeks.

My friends and I then embarked on a mission to bring my missing menses back. Oh! How I regret the nasty and risky things we did.

First I took a black tablet that did not do the job. Then I was given some injections—I never found out what they were. Nothing worked. My size was increasing by the day and so was my fear that my mother would discover my pregnancy.

I decided to settle on a crude, unsafe abortion. A young man who worked at a local drugstore was popular among our age group because he solved our problems. He made us look innocent in the eyes of our parents and wise in front of our friends. This drugstore was located across from a clinic, which is probably why we thought it was a safe place.

Once I decided to have an abortion (which we called a D&C), I couldn’t wait to be done with my problem. When I got to the drugstore at 8 in the morning, there were so many young girls buying one after-sex pill or the other.

The man waited until all the buyers had left and then put a stick across the door to indicate he was not available. He then prepared his “theater” by placing a piece of plywood on the same table where he had been serving people just moments before. He leaned another piece of plywood on the drug shelf to serve as a screen. He asked me to lie on the prepared table while he pulled forceps out of a big bucket.

Before he started the process, he convinced me that he had to have sex with me before the procedure to ease my pain and make the process go faster. I accepted because my only goal was to get that unwanted pregnancy out of my system.

After more than an hour, the fetus was out. The man put it in the bucket that had held the forceps. I paid him 10,000 Francs ($20 US). I couldn’t afford that amount on my own and neither could the guy responsible for the pregnancy. I raised the money by sleeping with other guys.

I left the drugstore with wrapped toilet tissue in my underwear. The blood continued pouring for two days and I became pale. When the blood luckily stopped flowing, I erroneously thought things had returned to normal.

A week later I started having some funny discharge, which degenerated into acute infection. The odor from this discharge was so pungent that I could not sit among people. I skipped classes, became an object of ridicule among my peers, and worst of all I failed the GCE Advanced level that year. Throughout all this, I never had the support of my parents because they never realized I had an unsafe abortion.

Seventeen years after this happened to me, the situation is still the same in my community. We still have many cases of unwanted pregnancy and unsafe abortions. Young people have no access to sexual health education or services for their reproductive health needs.

Talking to adolescents about sexual and reproductive health matters is still a taboo, and when it does happen, it happens in parables. For example, you hear phrases like: “If you play with a man you are dead.” “Don’t go near a man.” “Don’t allow your bananas to be touched.”

The girls hear these phrases when they have their first period and the boys get nothing at all. Mothers who do not have any sound information on these issues are left with the responsibility to educate their children.Even curriculum designers fail to give it serious consideration. Most of the information adolescents can access comes from their peers and is confused with myths.

This misinformation has led to a catastrophe within my community. Parents are crying while adolescent girls are either dropping out of school or dying because of unsafe abortions.

The young boys are not left out. Together with the girls they suffer from sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. My community in the North West Region of Cameroon has some of the highest rates of HIV cases in the country. In the current academic year, at least three girls have dropped out of each secondary school because of unwanted pregnancies and another girl died from an unsafe abortion.

If these are the recorded cases, we can begin to imagine the number of girls who attempt ineffective folk remedies to prevent pregnancy. What is most disturbing about this situation is the silence from parents and guardians.

Living with the guilt and the fear of barrenness in the years that followed my abortion was not easy on me. I secretly wished I could turn back the hands of time. I told myself, “No other girl should go through this experience”.

I eventually got married and had children. I became a teacher, which gives me an opportunity to fight against these ills. I exploit every opportunity to talk about sexual health with my students.This is not easy because many communities in my country are plagued with religious doctrines, cultural taboos, ignorance, and neglect from policymakers.

The myth that discussing sexuality with a child makes him or her sexually active has blinded most parents to the truth. This makes it really difficult for them to help their children. Policymakers take an unclear stance and school authorities, community heads, and family heads resist efforts at sexual health education.

There is little or no control on how contraceptives are sold or prescribed, which has led to abusive use of contraceptives. This has caused tremendous damage among young girls and women and made correct use of contraceptives a dreaded issue.

When I first started teaching and working with youth organizations, most of the discussions were on preventing HIV/AIDS through abstinence. This was supported by the religious doctrines around me. For the 10 years that I was actively involved in the abstinence crusade, the number of unwanted pregnancies kept increasing by the day.

I also realized that using only a few minutes of lesson time was just as bad as not talking at all. Acknowledging that the gospel of abstinence has failed, I started an organization to protect adolescent girls by respecting their reproductive health rights.

It is time to address the silent destroyer of unsafe abortions in our communities. All stakeholders concerned should reconsider their stance on abstinence. It is obvious this crusade is a wild goose chase. A clear policy to ensure adolescents’ rights to sexual and reproductive education should be enacted. We need to encourage and improve discussion amongst children and parents. Clinics should be created to make reproductive health education more accessible.

As a first step towards these objectives, my organization launched the Every Girl for Any Girl Initiative, which discusses these issues in school clubs. I am working so that young mothers with unwanted pregnancy won’t have to follow in my footsteps.Rather than holding on to beliefs and cultural norms that have failed, let us engage on realistic solutions that work.

Comments 32

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nsahmala
Jun 29, 2016
Jun 29, 2016

I am touched by your story Sister. Thank God for saving your life. Courage in your efforts! I am from Cameroon too, North West too.

Sally maforchi Mboumien
Jun 30, 2016
Jun 30, 2016

Hello Nsah

Thanks for sharing with me. I hope to meet you soonest. Are you in Bamenda?

helen.ng
Jun 29, 2016
Jun 29, 2016

Thank you for sharing your story. I am so sorry to hear of what you went through, simply because sexual and reproductive health were taboo subjects in the community. I agree with you in that this is a deadly silence and continues to harm women and girls to this day, despite the world having made great leaps in research regarding health resources and technology. I'm glad to hear that the Every Girl for Any Girl Initiative has been launched and that improvements are being made so that students will obtain knowledge that is essential and could affect their futures. I look forward to hearing more about your work in the near future.

With kindest regards,

Helen Ng

Sally maforchi Mboumien
Jun 30, 2016
Jun 30, 2016

Hello Helen

Thanks for stopping by. I hope the desired change in this too demanding area in women and girls empowerment be achieved. Let us continue raising our voices and in no distant time it will be a done deal. CHANGE WE MUST HAVE

nsahmala
Jun 30, 2016
Jun 30, 2016

Hello Helen!

I reside in Yaounde but will attend two conferences in Bamenda in July and August; presently out of Cameroon, in Dakar, Senegal, for Leadership Training. Connect with me on facebook.com/Nsahmala. Thanks.

stella Ndugire- Mbugua
Jul 01, 2016
Jul 01, 2016

Hi Masalien,

What a moving story! It an amazing turn around of a young girl who was easily influenced to a woman who is influencing others positively. The work you are doing with young people will save many lives.

I still think that advocacy to delay sexual activity among young people is worth a try in the African context, though; and does work in some parts of the world and even Africa ( I refer to the emotional aspects and responsibilities placed on young people as a result of misinformation. Perhaps as you have well put it, parents need to be more involved, strategic and perhaps educated on how to openly guide their children through adolescence to pacify its characteristic risky behaviour). I wonder if someone has done research that can inform us more...

Nevertheless, your work in your community is commendable, and very important. I  wish you the very best for the future.

Sally maforchi Mboumien
Jul 11, 2016
Jul 11, 2016

Hi Stella Thanks dear for your kind words. I equally think addressing the issue of poverty in Africa will help in upholding the abstinence crusade. We really need many economic empowerment program for girls in order to remedy the issue of poverty and lack.

Margaret Ngunang
Jul 01, 2016
Jul 01, 2016

Thank you for the wonderful work that you are doing on sexual and reproductive health.

Sally maforchi Mboumien
Jul 01, 2016
Jul 01, 2016

Thanks my dear.

LuxG
Jul 01, 2016
Jul 01, 2016

What an inspiring person you are and it warms my heart to see women helping young girls understand their own sexuality and help them to understand the consequences!  Keep up the good work!  

Sally maforchi Mboumien
Jul 11, 2016
Jul 11, 2016

Thanks dear for your kind words.

Enmita Marin
Jul 01, 2016
Jul 01, 2016

Masalien´s you are a strong, beautiful and amazing person! i really admire you. 

As a physician and as a woman i really support your cause, it`s necessary to give sexual education to young people to prevent unwanted pregnancies and a lot of sexual disease. Sexual education it is also a weapon of empowerment women, make them independent and carefully with their bodies. You are not alone in this struggle, are many persons in this world triying to work with young people as you do.  I give you a big ovation for your work. 

Sally maforchi Mboumien
Jul 07, 2016
Jul 07, 2016

Hello EnmitaMarin

Thanks very much for those words of encouragement. I am particularly elated because you share a view i believe in so strongly; "Sexual education it is also a weapon of empowerment women, make them independent and carefully with their bodies". It is for this reason that i do what i do.

i strongly believe together we will make a difference

Enmita Marin
Jul 01, 2016
Jul 01, 2016

I will share your story with young women trough EkpapalekProyect. 

Sally maforchi Mboumien
Jul 07, 2016
Jul 07, 2016

Hello EnmitaMarin

I will be happy since it might help one or many other girl to make informed decisions. just let me know what more i can do to be of help to that project

Enmita Marin
Jul 07, 2016
Jul 07, 2016

Masalien´s, trough Ekpapalek Proyect i give sexual education to girls in Perú (at a comunity call Huacho, where i live), so in the next class i will share your story as a example of power, learning and growing. 

Share your story is a such a incredible help that you are giving me. Thanks!

Sally maforchi Mboumien
Jul 08, 2016
Jul 08, 2016

You are welcome. I wish you the best

Jessica Foumena
Jul 02, 2016
Jul 02, 2016

Yes. It's important to educate our girls. 

Sally maforchi Mboumien
Jul 07, 2016
Jul 07, 2016

Thanks for adding your voice

leila Kigha
Jul 02, 2016
Jul 02, 2016

Masalien's my dear sister! 

Am so proud of you for speaking out the things we all have suffered in silence for fear of being stigmatized. Thank you for reaching out to our young girls. You inspire me to continue and don't relent efforts. Look forward to working with you sometime!

Cheers!

Sally maforchi Mboumien
Jul 07, 2016
Jul 07, 2016

Kariz dear,

Thanks very much for those words of encouragement. Sis you also inspire me together like Ch Urmilla says we will break the silence

Shilpa Balakrishnan
Jul 03, 2016
Jul 03, 2016

Hi Sister...

It's a great job. it shows how strong you have become after all those you suffered. The thought itself is should be highly appreciated. Even the name 'Every Girl for Any Girl' is brilliant which apt the situation. Thanks for sharing the story. Thanks for taking this step. We all are with you. 

With Love

Shilpa.

Sally maforchi Mboumien
Jul 07, 2016
Jul 07, 2016

Hello Shilpa

Thanks sis. Those words are really a source of strength. We are working with the gives until we succeed to make every girl stand up for any girl.

Sophie Ngassa
Jul 03, 2016
Jul 03, 2016

Hello dear,

What a great story you shared!!!

Education matters!!! Together we build our girls.

Warm regards.  

Sophie

Sally maforchi Mboumien
Jul 07, 2016
Jul 07, 2016

hi

Thanks very much for those words of encouragement.

PilarAlbisu
Jul 04, 2016
Jul 04, 2016

Hello Masalien's,

Wow!! I am honestly speechless! I had goosebumps all throughout. I cannot believe all of the things that you had to endure. Yours is a story that should send waves of shock and anger throughout the World Pulse community and the world at large. Shock at the desperation that leads so many young people to search for similar (and often deadly) 'quick-fixes', and anger at the archaic cultural stigmas that drive them to such tragedy. However, your story is without a doubt a positive one. You are doing the best thing you could possibly do: taking your experiences and the lessons learned to fight for sexual education, to ensure that no one ever has to suffer the horrors that you were subjected to. Keep up the fantastic work!! And thank you, from all of us.

Wishing you nothing but the best,

Pilar

Sally maforchi Mboumien
Jul 07, 2016
Jul 07, 2016

Hi Pilar Thanks for the encouragement. I hope my experience help many not to be victims

Avera
Jul 05, 2016
Jul 05, 2016

Hello dear sister,

    An amazing yet touching story. I am also from South West Region of  Cameroon so I know and understand exactly what you are saying. When I was growing up as a young girl, we lost so many young girls in my community due to unsafe abortions. you wouldn't believe that a pastor was responsible for one of such cases. At one point, a female principal was appointed to the Government Grammar School and she made it a rule that any girl who became pregnant didn't have to drop out but  had to sew her uniform differently to accommodate her situation and continued school. This reduced the rate of unsafe abortions and unwanted pregnancies in our community. 

Our policy makers should incorporate sex education in the curriculum of school to take care of this issue. 

Just keep up the good work and hoping that others will follow suit.

Cheers,

Veronica

Sally maforchi Mboumien
Jul 07, 2016
Jul 07, 2016

Sis Vero thanks for sharing the experience in your area. It is a day to day occurence which people pretend not to see. Change we must have!!!!!!

Celine
Jul 11, 2016
Jul 11, 2016

Hello there,

Thank you so much for sharing this experience. I appreciate your boldness and the works you do to educate younger women.

Blessings

Celine

Sally maforchi Mboumien
Jul 12, 2016
Jul 12, 2016

hello Celine

Thanks dear truly it takes courage to share. I just hope it gets to inspire and change many

In true sisterhood

Avera
Jul 27, 2016
Jul 27, 2016

Oh yes baby!!! That change we must have. We should  look at how we can partner to grow in the courses we pursue.

Cheers

Avera