A group of about 30 young women gather outside the church. They are not here for prayers but have a common challenge that unites them. They all became mothers at a teenage age. At this spot located in Maranyundo cell, Nyamata sector in Bugesera District in the Eastern Province, they meet to share their challenges and to collectively seek solutions.
The young women claim they face hardships without any support from the men who fathered the children.
The girls, who are aged between 15 and 25, dropped out of school due to early pregnancy, and have since struggled to take care of the children.
For this reason, 19-year-old Florence Ingabire, was inspired to start the Ingabire Foundation, an organisation that aims at helping teen mothers who dropped out of school.
The senior five student of GS Nyamata High School says she was touched by the fact that many girls drop out of school as a result of teenage pregnancies. She believes that girls should be able to complete their studies, regardless of the circumstances that led to their dropping out of school.
“I started the foundation early last year, after I acquired skills in entrepreneurship, character development and leadership at my school by Youth Impact Mission Rwanda,” she says.
Youth Impact Mission is an association of young people in Rwanda who move from school to school giving opportunities to students to acquire certain key life skills through various trainings.
“After I got the skills, I wanted to put it into practice, and the first thing that crossed my mind was how to solve the problems of young single mothers,” she says.
She says that a number of peers she started with in primary never made it to the level she is at now.
“They dropped out after getting impregnated by fellow students and some, men much older than them.
“They had to drop out of school to take care of their babies by themselves as the men responsible for siring the kids vanished and the boys simply moved on in school.
“Although there is nothing I can do to reverse their situation, as a girl, I wanted to come up with something that would sustain them and hopefully, give them a better future,” Ingabire says.
Ingabire says that some of her friends are single mothers and are living in rejection, shame and isolation. All this made her think of something that could heal their suffering.
With the help of a local area leader (in charge of women), Ingabire started with three girls who would gather a couple of times every month. At the time, she would sit with the girls and try to advise them accordingly. They would discuss their hardships and also think of ways that could make things better.
Right now, the foundation has more than 30 girls who meet every Friday afternoon at Nyamata Shopping Centre.
What they do
During their meetings, Ingabire says she organises mentors and speakers from different organisations to talk to them.
“The mentors offer training in various income-generating activities that will assist them in providing for their children and, advice on how to overcome their situation,” she says.
According to Ingabire, through the trainings, the girls learn about kitchen gardens and every member has one at their home.
These kitchen gardens, Ingabire says, help curb malnutrition in both the mother and the child.
“Because most of the girls come from poor families, it’s hard to afford a balanced diet that is needed for their children. With the gardens, they can feed them as it also cuts the cost of buying such food from the market,” she says.
The gardens contain different types of vegetables and fruits.
Because of financial constraints, Ingabire says she wanted to start with something small but helpful.
“Since I’m also still in school, helping them financially is hard; but with this, part of their needs are catered for, and most importantly, the children,” she says.
Apart from that, during the meetings, each member contributes at least Rwf 200 which sometimes goes up to Rwf 20,000 per gathering.
The money goes straight into the group’s savings account. They expect that by the end the year, they’ll be able to start small businesses which will help members sustain themselves, as well as save to start something bigger that will see them become fully independent.
From the savings, the group has managed to buy two pigs which they expect to reproduce and sell some of them.
The money from the pigs will be used to add to their savings.
Apart from just financial projects, the group also benefits through sharing ideas from different members. They get inspired through each other’s stories. Ingabire says that sometimes, it helps to talk to others about the difficulties one is going through.
“It takes something off your chest, and sometimes other members can offer financial assistance where they can,” she says.
Members share their stories
18-year-old Jeanette Umutoniwase says she made a mistake and is learning from it.
She says she dropped out of school in senior one after being impregnated by a classmate.
“As the first born in a family of six, I felt like a burden to my parents. I decided to work as a housemaid to help save some money for the baby,” she says.
After being mistreated by her bosses, Umutoniwase returned to her parents when her due date was near.
After giving birth, she says life became hard and she would sometimes leave the baby with her mother to go and do small jobs to help cater for her baby.
Last year, when her baby was only eight months old, she heard about Ingabire Foundation and joined.
Her life has since changed for the better, and apart from opening her mind on how she can move on with life, she is now working and hopes to go back to school to complete her studies, something she didn’t think about before.
23-year-old Agnes Gatesi also found herself a teenage mother after her boss impregnated her.
Being an orphan, it was difficult for her in school due to financial constraints. She dropped out of school in primary five.
She started working for different people as a house help, then last year in January, her boss got her pregnant.
“After doing that, he told me to abort and never tell his wife or else he would kill me. I managed to escape, and to this day, he has never looked for me,” she says.
Gatesi now has a one-year-old child. She says that through the foundation, she has learnt how to save, unlike in the past. She can now face tomorrow with hope. Apart from that, Gatesi has learnt how to say no to what is not right, and is taking care of her child.
Angie Kirezi who got pregnant in primary six says that through sharing ideas, she has been able to know how to handle her own problems.
For instance, she says that before, in case of a problem at home, she would leave the baby with her mother and disappear for a while, hoping to find the problem solved.
Now, she faces her problems head on and finds ways of solving them rather than abandoning her own child.
“I’m grateful for this foundation because whenever I face any issue, I get help from the members either through advice or financially. I also have hope for tomorrow knowing that in the future I will have something that will support my child,” she says.
What the area leaders say
According to Leoncie Mukagasana, the in-charge of women in the cell, most of the girls who drop out of school in the area are primary six leavers.
“This is still a very real challenge for girls, especially in the pursuit of education. The main problem is that most of them come from a poor background and some of them don’t have any idea of what they want to be in the future,” she says.
She says a lot needs to be done to rectify the problem before it gets out of the hand.
The executive secretary of Maranyundo cell, Jane Mukakibibi, says that they currently have 30 school dropouts due to early pregnancies in the whole cell.
“This is a big number and we are trying to talk to some of them and find a way of helping them go back to school. It’s hard, however, because most of them are not willing to do so due to shame and lost hope,” she says.
She adds that it has been hard to convince them to go back to school, however, for those who refuse completely, they advise them to form cooperatives that can sustain them and build their capacity to raise their children. They also advise them to avoid making the same mistakes.
Mukakibibi says that due to shame and fear of rejection by society, after getting pregnant, some of them disappear and only come back when they have delivered. She says they try to help them engage in different activities so that they get their minds occupied.
Ingabire Foundation girls share their hopes for future
Before I joined the foundation, my child who is now two years, lacked a nutritious diet. With a poor financial status on my parents’ part, they could not afford the food on a daily basis. But now I’m thankful to this group because my child gets the required diet from the small garden I have at home.
Violet Mukangenzi, 23
I have learnt that we all make mistakes, and that without making any, one cannot learn. This gives me hope for tomorrow and that I should become an independent woman in my community. Also, through the training, there is a lot that has opened my mind to just think beyond raising a child singlehandedly.
Donatha Muhorakiye, 24
Through the trainings, I have learnt that children are blessings from God, and if we take good care of them, they can become great people in life. This changed my perception about my child; I used to think that it’s because of him that I am going through hardships. But now, I have learnt how to take care of my blessing.
I can now differentiate between right and wrong, and before I decide to do something, I take time to think about it and whether it is of help or not. Quick irrational decisions are what made me end up with a child before I completed school. Although I made a mistake, I now know what the future holds for me.