At 19 years, Ann had just completed her secondary school studies and like most girls, she hoped to join college and study theatre. She loves acting.
At home, she was her parents’ hope – although they didn’t say it to her she says that she saw pride in their eyes when they introduced her to their acquaintances. She, therefore, understands why they were shattered when she broke the news that she was expectant.
“My parents had separated some years back and I was living with my dad in Eastleigh, Eastlands. My mother, who had moved back to her maternal home, was so disappointed in me that she didn’t engage me during the entire pregnancy period,” she says.
Her boyfriend, however, was more than willing to take up the responsibility of parenting so she moved in with him. A year after living together, sadly, he died- on her 20th birthday.
TEENAGE GIRL EMPOWERMENT
Ann, today at 26 is the founder of Young Mothers Africa, a community-based organisation in Eastleigh that seeks to empower teenage girls and young mothers to make informed decisions, chase after their dreams and take good care of their children.
She established the organisation in 2014 when she realised that there were so many young mothers who shared in her distress.
The society had been unkind to her – they talked behind her back and at some point, abortion had been mentioned to her as the easy way out. Thankfully, her best friend had offered the emotional support she desperately needed.
“One day I was invited for a talk show about teenage pregnancy at a local TV station. After the show, my social media pages flooded with messages from young pregnant girls and young mothers from different parts of the country. My mentor, who really believes in my capabilities encouraged me to start a support group for such women. That’s how this organisation was born,” she explains.
On a typical day, you will find her at Biafra Lions clinic Eastleigh where she volunteers at the postnatal desk and enlightens women on family planning. It is here that she identifies and builds a relationship with pregnant and lactating young women.
“I also partner with other organisations and on a monthly basis, we hold forums in different areas such as Eastleigh, Mathare, Majengo and Kibera.
When I travel to Tanzania to visit my mother, I pay neighbouring schools a visit and mentor the students. We engage youth on matters concerning abstinence, safe sex, family planning, education and life skills. Often, we also bring young fathers on board to share some tips with the young mothers,” she offers.
Within the last four years, she has guided more than 200 under 20 years old mothers and interacted with about 500 young girls through school and street mentorships. She is proud that most of the young mothers she has mentored have gone back to school and others have enrolled for training on life skills such as hairdressing.
DOESN'T SPELL DEATH
“One message that I keep sharing with young mothers is that having a child at an early age doesn’t spell the death of their dreams. I keep encouraging them to go back to school if they can or train on other life skills.
Although I haven’t had a chance to further my education, I attend auditions frequently and I have featured as a lead actress in Shujaaz, a programme that highlights the lives of young people in street and slums,” she explains, remembering that when she lost her husband, someone told her to forget about dating or marriage because no one would ask her out as a single mother.
She is currently in a fulfilling relationship.
When conducting forums, Ann depends on well-wishers to donate items such as baby clothes and food. This is a commitment to be a shoulder to other women and she doesn’t earn a dime from it. Rather, she makes a living from what she earns moderating sessions organised by different organisations.
Ann’s dedication has not gone unrecognised. Last year, she was nominated for the 120 under 40, a project of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
During the celebration of the Girl child day last year, her efforts were applauded by Melinda Gates, an American philanthropist and Co-Founder Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
“It feels good when one is recognised but it is also a challenge. I look forward to reaching out to more girls through our one-on- one sessions and through social media. I also hope that someday, we will cross the African borders,” she notes, advising that it is important that we all play part in curbing teenage pregnancies.
“Let’s not make sex talk a taboo in our homes, schools and churches.”