Specioza Nirere, a resident of Akumuyange cell, Kimisagara, had just clocked twenty one when her life slipped into a troubled boat on a turbulent sea. She got pregnant in 2009. Fear and confusion gripped and clouded her young, inexperienced mind. Fate dictated that she drops out of school.
“Life became hard for me; surviving was more on God’s mercy. In most cases I had little or no money to take care of myself. When the baby arrived, the problems amplified,” she narrates.
She blames her slippery into the muddy ground to ignorance of matters sexual.
She believes that if she had access to right information back then about sexual reproductive health, her life would have been different. “I wouldn’t have fallen victim of an unplanned baby.”
Amidst starving and lack, luck struck her way and secured a job that helped her earn a living. She can now earn and able to take care of her child.
“Even though life seems to be improving right now, I still wish I had made the right choices. I believe life would be completely different today,” the now 29-year-old says.
Nirere is but one of the many youths who have made choices they later come to regret; uninformed choices that turn sour; unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections including HIV/AIDS, among other repercussions.
The worrying situation, (demographic and health survey 2014/2015) of teenage pregnancy increase from 6.1 percent to 7.3 per cent has to be tamed.
A United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) report suggests that making information and services more widely available and accessible will lead to better reproductive health outcomes.
The government of Rwanda has therefore come up with strategic interventions to save lives and secure the future of people like Nirere; building them a good foundation for making informed decisions, securing their health and of their children.
In a bid to create a platform that avails information on sexual reproductive health, several awareness campaigns have been implemented throughout the country. One such recent campaign was organized by the Ministry of Health in partnership with Imbuto Foundation and other stakeholders with the aim of promoting sensitization on reproductive health using technology called ‘Mobile For Reproductive Health’ (M4RH).
M4RH involves conveyance of reproductive health information to the youth through a medium of text messages.
Sandrine Umutoni the Director General of Imbuto Foundation says that the challenge of unwanted pregnancies is wide in range and effect that should be squarely addressed.
“These concerns arise because the youth are at times not educated enough to know how to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancies. At times the youth have their minds mired in myths that young girls cannot get pregnant. So what is required of us is to help the youth get the required information,” she says.
Umutoni said that the tendency of the community shifting blame of unwanted pregnancies on girls doesn’t help the situation. She advised that what ought to be done is to hold both parties responsible and warn them to be cautious because their actions have consequences.
“The present situation should be reason for us to strengthen the fight, work along with health centers and empower the youth with knowledge and information they need.”
Umutoni hopes for positive results citing the already existing strategies such as comprehensive sexual education that is carried out in schools, to continue yielding results.
“What we wish to do is to build a Rwanda safe for all citizens. This calls for empowering all people right from the young ones. This way, we’ll be building a strong foundation for our country,” she adds.
The State Minister for Health Patrick Ndimubanzi says that more efforts in educating parents on reproductive health of their children can bring about considerable desired changes.
“Parents should take the first initiative in helping their children address reproductive health challenges. The Mobile For Reproductive Health program should be a stepping stone in handling reproductive health among the youth. Parents should do their part and talk to their children on sexual reproductive health; it is a responsibility they have to fulfill,” he says.
According to the state minister, equipping someone with the required information is the best weapon.
“It helps them find the perfect means to handle themselves in whichever situation they find themselves in. I think that if the youth are given this weapon it will significantly reduce on the cases of unwanted pregnancies,” he says.
Even other programs at health centers such as Youth Corner can play a part in raising awareness.
Youth Corner is a platform established at health centers countrywide where the youth can access information on sexual reproductive health, get advice and have a chance to ask any questions on facts such as bodily changes, sexually transmitted infections, among others.
Nirere can’t help but recognize the impact of the existing programs on sexual reproductive health. She says that such initiatives are surely going to put the lives of adolescents at ease.
“With such programs, we, the youth, access information on our ovulation calendar, how to use family planning methods. Better still, we are taught to abstain which I think is the best method of all,” she says.
She however advises young girls that in case they fail to abstain, they shouldn’t hesitate to at least use protection or other family planning methods.
Diane Ingabire, a senior three student says the new initiatives have been presented at the right moment and will help her peers that have been facing unwanted pregnancies challenges.
She believes the problem stems from the fact that they had no access to information that could help them make informed decisions.
“Most of us had little or no access to relevant information on sex and reproduction. But with this new platform I think many challenges will be overcome,” Ingabire hopes.
“M4RH will help us know that if a girl is not cautious enough they can end up with an unwanted pregnancy. This will in a way help us understand how to protect ourselves from such dangers; refrain from temptations and do all we can to maintain our safety and a future,” she considers.
Revocat Murekatete, a community health worker in Huye district says that they always call upon young girls to embrace healthy ways that could help them avert teenage pregnancies.
“Teenage pregnancy is still an issue but we hope that with these initiatives a lot of progress will be registered. We will also play our part and continue sensitizing the youth about reproductive health for instance the changes in their bodies and what they mean and most importantly the effects they can lead to if one does not behave well,” she adds.
The poverty factor
21-year-old Clemance Mudahogora says that the current programs on sexual reproductive health hold a lot of significance for the youth.
“I have benefited a lot from such programs, they teach us on the prevention of pregnancies and STI’s; also with these trainings one can know how to handle a problem when they encounter it because you are informed,” she says.
Mudahogora thinks that one of the causes of early pregnancies is poverty. “There are times when a girl conceives by mistake because of involvement in sex for money simply for survival. Unemployment and poverty fan unwanted pregnancies,” she says.
Another youth, a 27-year-old Scovia Murungi is of the view that more education is needed to eliminate unwanted pregnancies.
“It’s not like teens don’t understand that engaging in early unprotected sex is dangerous, but such trainings help more in highlighting particular probable consequences. They also serve as a reminder on importance of behavior change. Youth at times respect the information depending on who tells or gives them the info, so I believe this will help,” Murungi says.
Nirere opportunities delayed but she has hope.
Although life has not been easy for Nirere, she is trying to survive, thanks to the Kimisagara Youth Center that provided her with a job that enables her support her child.
Lack of power to decide whether, when or how to become pregnant limited her education, delayed her entry into the paid labor force and affected her earnings. Nevertheless, she hopes to go back to school once she is able to find the financial means.