Working with girls: the challenge of teenaged pregnancy
Today, I’d like to share with you a story that is unusual in Tariro’s history. In previous posts, I’ve talked about the importance of acknowledging the challenges and limitations of development work, as well as celebrating our successes. In Zimbabwe, Tariro has faced one ongoing challenge in particular- that of preventing teenaged pregnancies in a conservative social environment where unmarried women are generally prohibited from discussing or learning about birth control.
While the majority of our students finish their O and A levels without falling pregnant, we estimate the one out of every twenty-five girls either drops of our program upon falling pregnant, or writes their O level exams pregnant, significantly affecting their exam scores. Girls who fall pregnant rarely return to school, in contrast to their male counterparts, who are more frequently permitted to complete their education even after fathering a child.
While roughly only 4% of Tariro students will become teenaged mothers, we still feel that this is too high! In response, Tariro’s program coordinator Fadzie worked with undergraduate student researcher Laura Tolosa-Leiva from Mount Holyoke College this past December, in order to figure out why girls seems to be at particular risk of becoming pregnant during the last year of high school, as well as what we can do to reduce their risk. In my next post, I will share an excerpt from her work.
Hope for a second chance: Rachel’s story
Today, though, I’d like to share with you the remarkable story of Rachel M., who is the first Tariro student to successfully return to school after falling pregnant during the year of her O level exams. When I first met Rachel, in 2008, she was one of our most promising students, with exceptionally high grades. Quiet, respectful, and studious, she was also a particularly talented dancer and musician, participating actively in our music and dance ensemble. In fact, Rachel often seemed to be the best and most dedicated at whatever she did, from embroidery lessons to attending church.
Given her outstanding performance both in and out of school, we were all shocked and disappointed when Rachel became pregnant shortly before she was scheduled to write her O level exams in 2010. Now married, Rachel has been a stay-at-home mom for the past two years. This year, however, she approached Fadzie to see whether there was any possibility that she could re-enroll in school. Rachel is the first Tariro student to express an interest in finishing her education after having a child, and given her academic potential, we were pleased to offer her a second chance. Now attending Success Academy, Rachel is re-enrolled in Form 3, and is preparing to write her O level exams next year.
We are proud of Rachel’s determination to finish her education despite becoming a teenaged mother, and we’ll keep you updated on her progress over the next few years. Development work offers no firm promises, and we can’t guarantee that Rachel will overcome the many obstacles to passing her O levels and proceeding on to A level study. However, her story offers an important ray of hope, and the unusual opportunity for one Zimbabwean girl to have a second chance at a better life.
I’ll leave you with an autobiography, written by Rachel in May 2008, when she first joined Tariro.
In this world everybody has a self. Even animals have selves too. Some people are tall, some are born crippled and some are beautiful on their faces but inside their hearts you don’t know what they are like. Here is what I’m going to tell you about myself.
My name is Rachel M. and I am a girl aged 14. I was born on the 24th of August in 1993 at Edith Opperman Maternity Unit in Harare. I live in Western Triangle in Highfields in Harare with my family.
I live with my mother and we are four children. My father died on the 3rd of October in 2007 after a short illness. I am the second born and I come from Murehwa in Chikwaka village. My totem is heart and I come from a tribe called Mutizhe. I am brown in complexion, black hair, I am not very tall and not slim or fat I am at a medium size. I go to Highfield High 1 school and I enjoy school very much. My best friend is Faith K., we like reading and watching t.v. I don’t like friends who have bad manners, cruel to other people, who do all the bad things, who don’t know God and friend who don’t like school. My favourite subjects are Accounts, Maths, English, Geography and History. My hobbies are reading stories and novels, writing, watching the television and hanging out with Faith.
At school I play tennis, basketball and I also like hockey and swimming although we don’t have such sports at school. I also like playing marimba and dancing traditional dances. I like these dances because they remind me of my father. He liked traditional music and he also liked rural things. My favourite musicians are Shingisai Solumo and Celine Dion.
I like eating rice, chicken, fresh chips, ice cream, sadza, okra, vegetables and sweet potatoes. When I am at the rural areas I like eating sadza, beef, vegetables and okra. I like to wear clothes and shoes which match and fit me. My favourite colours are pink, baby blue, red, luminous green, yellow, white, peach, apple green and all the colours which are light colours and not dark. My dream countries are Canada, USA, UK, Korea and Japan.
When I grow up I want to be an Accountant, to be a fashion designer, to help people who are in need and to do many good things if God helps me in my life. I love myself very much.
Reflecting on Rachel’s story…
Rachel’s story paints the picture of an average teenaged girl, whose father’s sudden death threw a stable family into significant financial as well as social distress. I’m so pleased that she has made the courageous choice to return to school. Rachel, we love you too!