After being given a warm welcome by the staff, we sat down in their office to begin discussing their projects. Their GlobalGiving project consists of providing three types of education and training for teenage mothers. One type is to teach them how to take care of their child, another is to improve their self-image in the face of much discrimination and stigma and finally, the mothers are also given skills training to help them become self-supporting earners.
SDI was going to begin working with a new community: the village of Tole. As we became more curious about the teenage mothers that they work with, they decided to hand over a few information sheets that are filled in for each mother that they enroll in their program.
You know how sometimes you need a trigger for the real meaning of something to sink in? This was one of those moments for me.
The sheet had her name.
Her date of birth: December 21st, 1994. This makes her 16.
Is she still in school? If not, why? "Because she got pregnant." (Almost all girls drop out of school if they become pregnant).
Her child's date of birth: February of this year.
Does the child have any developmental or health problems? Yes.
Please explain here: "The child has passed away."
For a few minutes I could not really listen to the conversation going on. My eyes could not leave the sheet sitting in my lap, and my mind was fixated on the realities of this teenager.
Soon, we were on a bumpy and crowded car ride to Tole through a surreal scenery of tea plantations, fog and heavy rain. We arrived at the local church, where we were to meet about 20 of the teenage mothers they were to begin working with. Due to the heavy rain, only three showed up at first. They were chatty and lively; aged 18, 19, and 20, they all wanted to be hairdressers. One had actually already started her own salon a year ago! They each had one baby, ranging from 2 months to a year old. Hairdressing is actually a very lucrative business in Cameroon, where the women are always perfectly manicured and groomed.
A while later, one small girl showed up by herself. She barely reached up to my chin, and I stand at a modest 5'6". She had a unique, playful fashion sense: her head was shaved, but topped with a red beret and on her ears were over-sized, fluorescent green plastic diamonds. The torrential downpour of rain on the tin roof of the church made it impossible to speak in a normal voice to anyone more than a foot away, which allowed for intimate conversation while everyone else was busy chattering away. She was shy, but coy and well-spoken.
Her name was Nadège. I asked her how old her baby was. He passed away, she said. My heart sank. I realized that this was the girl whose sheet I had read. I am so sorry, I said. It's ok, she replied. He died of anemia. We continued our conversation and became fast friends. She dreamed of becoming a nurse, and was going to go back to school this year.
One SDI staff member told us about the attitude of the father of one teenage mother: "Even if I had a million francs, I would still not send my daughter to school! She would just get pregnant again!" She also told us about how when SDI first approached these girls, they thought the program was too good to be true, and did not believe them. SDI helps these teens in ways that are essential to their wellbeing: in changing attitudes, and helping the teens become independent and good mothers.
After meeting all of the teens that SDI was going to help, I was inspired. I was inspired by their strength, by the work that SDI was doing, and lastly I was inspired to let people know that they can help these teens through GlobalGiving.