by Nicole Duciaume, Regional Sponsorship Coordinator, ChildFund Americas
“Teenage pregnancy is an epidemic,” Zoey tells me. “It is stealing our futures. It is the most important thing we need to prevent.”
Enrolled in ChildFund’s teen mother program in St. Vincent, Zoey also works as a project volunteer. The program focuses on self-esteem, self-worth and forgiveness, with skills development, material resources/support and awareness-raising components. In some areas where we work, communities are reporting that upward of 50 percent of women were age 15 to 19 when they had their first child.
Many factors are at play: extreme poverty that leads girls and boys to trade sex for food and necessities; rape and incest; abandonment of pregnant women by men; a law that sets the age of sexual consent at age 15; and single mothers raising children who grow up only to repeat the cycle.
When girls become pregnant, they often lose access to education, as both public and private schools tend to turn them out. Even if they manage to stay in school, other students and even teachers ostracize the young mothers.
Although Zoey speaks passionately about the mistakes she has made, she is equally vocal about the love for her son, Frederique, and her commitment to giving him a better life than she had growing up. She explains: “Just because I have a child, it cannot hold me back. I can pick myself up and dust myself off. I could go back to the bad decisions I made before, but I want to have a different future for myself and my son.”
Zoey’s had to pick herself up many times. She tells about being sexually abused when she was a child, about her mother kicking her out of the house, about the father of her child denying his paternity. She speaks about these hardships not to gain sympathy, but to share her story and bear witness to the power of change. “See the mistakes I made, and choose a different path,” she advises her peers.
The youth group includes male and female teens, both with and without children. Some are there to spread the word about pregnancy prevention, and some are seeking support from others who have traveled the same paths and borne the same scrutiny and judgment.
All of the teens are eager to transform their realities, the behaviors of their peers and the futures of their communities. They want to have an impact, and ChildFund is helping ensure they have a voice.
Next week: Nicole visits ChildFund programs in neighboring Dominica.