When Mary (not her real name) befriended a boy in her village at the age of 15, she had no idea what lay ahead.
But that friendship would eventually change her life, as she became a single mother, was left nursing a heartbreak, was disowned by her family and her boyfriend went to jail.
In an interview with nation.africa, Mary says she was in Form Two in a school in Nakuru County and her boyfriend was 19 and in Form Four in a different school.
The two started a relationship, which left Mary pregnant two months later.
The early pregnancy forced her to drop out of school in the first term.
“I met this boy when I was coming from school. He approached me and promised that he would take care of my needs, since my situation was not good at all and I fell into that trap,” said Mary.
But Mary’s boyfriend was arrested when she was a month pregnant after being involved in a crime and was sentenced to seven months in prison.
Mary did not even get a chance to break the news of her pregnancy to him.
Her problems worsened when he was released from custody only to find out from his friends that Mary was eight months pregnant. But he refused to take responsibility and he fled, leaving her heavily pregnant.
She had not confided in her mother that she was pregnant all that time and that the man who was responsible for it had chosen to flee.
“I used to visit him in prison but I never told him I was pregnant. He refused (to take responsibility), saying that I was in another relationship while he was in prison and only wanted somebody to help me raise the child,” she said.
Mary remembers one Saturday afternoon in 2020 when her labour pains started becoming unbearable, forcing her to call his neighbour and she was rushed to the hospital.
The news of her giving birth to a girl reached her mother, who was at work at the time, sending her to shock as she was not aware her daughter was pregnant.
“The news broke my mother’s heart. She had not suspected that I could be pregnant and yet I was still going to school. There was a time she asked me, but I denied it,” added the girl.
Raise her child
The girl, now 17, struggled to raise her child alone after she was abandoned by her mother and only depended on friends and well-wishers.
She is lucky that her child, who is one and half years old, is healthy and that she went back to school after she found solace in a community programme that helps young teen mums in Nakuru Town East.
Her script is not different from that of a 21-year-old girl from Madaraka estate in the Free area, the mother of a one-year-and-two-months old boy.
She said she became pregnant when she was 19 years old and in Form One to a boy she had met while she was in primary school, forcing her to drop out of school to raise her child.
Her dream of becoming a teacher turned into a nightmare after the boy ran away, leaving her with the burden of raising her child alone.
“Due to my humble background, I was enrolled in school late. But unfortunately, I messed up. However, I learnt my lesson. I would never wish another girl to go through what I went through,” she said.
The mother is now a trained hairdresser having taken a course under the Haven of Dream programme.
These two are just among more than 50 girls from Nakuru town East who have been embraced by Haven of Dreams, a community programme that helps teen mothers.
Zipporah Mumbi, the founder of Haven of Peace, said she started the programme to offer psychological support to teenage girls and especially teenage mothers living in low-income areas.
The programme, which started in 2019 due to the increase in teenage pregnancies in the area, has helped more than 50 girls go back to school while others have acquired hand skills.
The programme helps create a safe space for young girls who have been left with scars and children to take care of and which sometimes lead to trauma and depression when they have no one to turn to or talk to.
“We started a programme called Okoa Kairetu (save a girl) to offer help to the girls who are mostly from low-income areas as the burden falls on parents and some are unemployed. We distribute diapers and sanitary towels, and help those willing to go back to school with getting bursaries,” she said.
Most teen girls, she said, are sometimes forced to turn to older men for food, money and other resources, which their parents cannot afford.
Because of this, teens are made pregnant by these men, who exploit them sexually, leaving them with the burden of raising children single-handedly.
She said the burden of raising kids always turns to their parents, who are mostly single mothers, adding that most are unemployed and depend on menial jobs to put food on the table.
However, she said, when the pandemic hit, the number of teen pregnancies rose because schools were closed and most children were idle, making it easier for them to look for something to do for money.
“Many parents lost their jobs during the pandemic, cutting their only source of income and leaving them to struggle to put food on the table. This has been a bigger challenge to the girls,” Ms Mumbi said.
She urged parents to develop a good relationship with their children where the children can be free and open up to them when they face challenges.