My name is Orehmide, and I am a WeOwnTV Filmmaker Fellow. I am so pleased to be able to share some information about my supported film Teenage Dropouts.
Teenage pregnancy and early motherhood have been identified as one of the most prevalent child abuse practices in Sierra Leone. It constitutes a national and community-wide problem, with a prevalence of 68% pregnancy rate among sexually experienced teenage girls, with a mean age of 15 and 28% of teenage boys having caused a pregnancy.
Most people believe that the increase in the rate of teenage pregnancy was due to the Ebola crisis and the emergency measures put in place to respond to it. This resulted in teenagers having more spare time in their hands.
Port Loko District, which lies in the Northern Province, is the most populous District in Sierra Leone after the Western Area Urban. Though the problem of teenage pregnancy is widespread in Sierra Leone, the rate at which it is increasing in communities around Portloko District is alarming. With hundreds of teenage girls dropping out of schools, villages/communities around the Northern District is rapidly becoming a breeding ground for teenage mothers who are now languishing in extreme poverty, with little or no hope for the future.
The documentary project
Teenage Dropouts centers on the characters of two teenage girls whose untimely pregnancies lead to their expulsion from school, much to the anger and disappointment of their parents. These girls long to return to school but can not raise funds to support their education, but are, saddled with the burden of child responsibilities.
These girls strive for their livelihood on the farmlands and in the forest in conditions that are hazardous to their health. The plights of these girls mirror the lives of hundreds of their peers who are trapped in similar conditions in various communities in the Port Loko District.
Teenage pregnancy and early motherhood are on the increase in Sierra Leone, especially in the provinces, as it constitutes a social, community, and nationwide problem. It also poses health risks for the mother like fistula, premature labor; they are more likely to be in poverty, are unemployed, and have lower salaries and educational achievements than their peers. Their future should be addressed to bring about social change as it relates to women's empowerment.
Khadija is a suckling mother who now lives in Rolal village after her father sent her packing from Mathaska to live with the man who impregnated her just when she was about to take the Basic Education Certificate Examination(BECE) for entry to senior secondary school. She will not be accepted back until she takes and passes her Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE). The irony is that the father of her baby is a teacher. On leaving her village, Mathaska, with no relatives to take her in as instructed by her father, she had to relocate to Rolal and live with the father of her baby. Taking lessons from the father of her child and surviving in his meagre stipend as a teaching assistant, she has taken her pending exams and is now a Senior Secondary School student.
Isatu is a 19 year old mother of three, who had wanted to go back to school. At 15, Isatu was impregnated by her school mate, John, and had to leave school. This angered her father who drove her out of his house. She sought refuge in her Aunt's house. At 17, she had her second child and she is now 19 with her third child. After having her first child, she yearned to go back to school, but as the funds were not available, she had to concentrate on the farm work on her Aunt's farm for survival. She had her second and now has a third child at 19. According to her, going back to school is impossible with three children to take care of. She is, however, looking for a better means of survival as compared to her present farm work. It could be in the form of skills acquisition or petty trading, as life is very difficult for her in Mathaska Village.
We have completed the production stage of the documentary has been completed and are getting ready to work with an editor. Our distribution plan will focus on community events within Sierra Leone. We plan to screen the film in schools, mainly in rural areas, and each screening will be followed with a talkback session. If possible, the characters could also be present to share their stories. Community viewing would be an interactive session with youths, elders of the community and parents present.
We also are reaching out to the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, and the Health Education Department for possible partnerships. It could also be viewed through a YouTube Channel or our local TV channels.
My Motivation and Conclusion
As a Director, I consider film to be the most powerful medium of communication more than the print and electronic form of communication. Film is visual as it tells the story as it is rather than as it should be. My motivation for this story came about after my stay in Portloko. I worked with the Ministry of Health on a family planning and contraceptive program. During my stay in Portloko, I came across so many young promising girls who are pregnant, suckling mothers, single parents, who had dropped out of school. Engaging them, I learnt that after giving birth, they could not go back to school as they had either been thrown out by their parents or there is no money to take care of a baby and school financial obligations at the same time.
Alternatively, there is no other form of education or employment. They had to depend on farm work for survival. In the capital city, Freetown, it is different as there are informal and skills acquiring schools/centres available to map out a future for themselves. As a woman and a filmmaker, looking at the plight of these young girls, I want to use film to tell their stories and hope that it will have a positive impact in their lives. Whereby, government policies will be geared towards young mothers in the provincial areas and NGOs whose mandate might fall within this scope, could step in and help in alleviating the situation.