LWF helps teenage mothers finish high school

LWF helped Anek to return to school and pursue higher education while caring for her child. Photo: LWF Kenya
LWF helped Anek to return to school and pursue higher education while caring for her child. Photo: LWF Kenya

Combining education and protection for girls in Kakuma refugee camp, Kenya

(LWI) – It’s the beginning of a new year for Anek (16, name changed), a South Sudanese refugee in Kakuma refugee camp. As one of 4,000 secondary school students in the camp, 900 of which are girls, she has completed her primary education, passed the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education and will be going to high school in 2017.

One thing sets her apart from her peers: her three-year old daughter Kwichiang. Anek is the only teenage mother who has managed to resume education, finish primary exams and  even go on to secondary school. Protection and education assistance from The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) helped her achieve this.

Anek has little memory of life outside Kakuma. She fled the war in then-Sudan with her siblings in 2002, when she was only three years old. Anek does not know the whereabouts of her parents. She was raised by her older sister, who returned to Juba in 2014 – the same year Anek realized she was pregnant.

Vulnerable to further abuse

Teenage pregnancies are still common, despite campaigns by the LWF to prevent child marriage and reduce other factors leading to underage girls becoming mothers. The LWF also supports young mothers and their children.

Many of the teenage mothers in Kakuma refugee camp have experienced family rejection, and are exposed to further sexual and gender-based violence. Longer term effects of violence include depression and forced marriage, and social rejection. Often, teenage pregnancies already occur in an environment of poverty and alcohol abuse.

Anek does not talk about what happened. The man who had raped her was a 25-year-old from her tribe. When her pregnancy became known, he fled the camp before community members could arrest him. Although the case was considered a crime against the young girl, Anek was expected to marry. By not complying with that custom, she was left in an extremely vulnerable position. She had neither the support of other women, nor could she freely interact with other girls her age. Eventually she dropped out of school, and after delivering a baby girl, lost hope of finishing her education.

Support and encouragement

Anek was discovered during one of the community visits by LWF staff, and enrolled into a support program. LWF offered counseling and later placed her in a teenage mothers support group where she also received group therapy sessions.  The support does not tell the young girls what to do, but encourages them to find out what is good for them and start making decisions for themselves and their children. With that encouragement, Anek decided to go back to school in 2015.

Being a student and a mother was a big challenge. Eventually, Anek sat her Kenya Certificate of Primary Education in 2016 and scored an excellent 342 marks out of 500. She was 65th of 4,000 candidates in the camp, is the only teenage mother to ever finish primary education in the camp. She is now trying to get into the Morneau Shepell Girls Secondary School in Kakuma.

It’s not the end of life. You can still go back to school and you can make it. God has a plan for each one of us.
Anek, teenage mother in Kakuma refugee camp

“You can make it”

Anek says that it takes a lot of determination to do what she did. “I believe the attitude  towards education is an important factor to success. I made it because of a positive attitude and working hard despite challenges.  You too can do that.”

Anek is very grateful for the support she received. She can now see a bright future for herself and her daughter. “It’s not the end of life,” she says. “You can still go back to school and you can make it. God has a plan for each one of us.” Anek hopes for  a scholarship to go to Loreto Matunda Secondary School in Eldoret, where she could pursue her dream of becoming a lawyer. As a lawyer she wants to protect and defend girls and women.

Story by Sharon Kagweyi, Deputy Child Protection officer- LWF Kakuma refugee camp.