Stolen youth, stolen dreams

Stolen youth, stolen dreams

BEREA – At 17, Moleboheng Lekhapetla* fell pregnant during a year she was writing her Form C examinations. She subsequently failed the examinations, dropped out of school and began life in uncharted territory.
Her dreams in tatters, the world had collapsed for Lekhapetla.
“We had neglected using a condom before and I didn’t fall pregnant. This time around when we decided not to use it. I fell pregnant,” Lekhapetla says.
Her boyfriend, a classmate, continued with his education.

But for Lekhapetla, this was the beginning of trying times.
“I was too afraid to tell my mother. She discovered that I was getting fat, always tired and very sick often times. She then decided we should go to the clinic and get tested for pregnancy,” she says.
She was six months pregnant.

Lekhapetla’s case is one of many involving teenage girls forced to abandon their education due to pregnancy, a trend one study described as having become “a social virus at the basic education level, particularly at the senior phase”.
“In most cases girls’ academic careers stop with their pregnancies,” says a 2014 study by a group of researchers led by Cecilia ‘Mamojela Molapo.
“Others who are fortunate enough to continue with school are faced with numerous problems. For example, on return to school most of them are rejected and ridiculed by their teachers among others,” the study says.

A 1993 study by Preston-Whyte et al says “in Lesotho most girls engage themselves in sexual activities to avoid being called mafetoa (unmarried women)”. Preston-Whyte and Zondi in a 1998 study says early marriage as a norm in different cultures contributes to the increase of early child-bearing because some of the girls engage in sex and fall pregnant in the hope that the fathers of their children would marry them.

“Rational choice to be pregnant by some teenagers is worsened by the fact that boys are no longer afraid of impregnating girls because they no longer pay compensation of six heads of cattle, unlike their parents who used to pay for impregnating unmarried girls,” states a 2002 study by Tiisetso Makatjane.

“The aftermath of teenage pregnancy and early mothering is dropping out to school.”
However, for Lekhapetla, now 19, another opportunity has beckoned.
The young mother is one of dozens receiving vocational training at the Good Shepherd Centre for Young Mothers atop Berea Plateau in Ha-Senekale.
The centre offers help to pregnant and teenage mothers from poor families.

Some of the young mothers trained at the centre are from abusive families where parents make it difficult for them to enjoy their youth.
Others have been impregnated by close relatives such as fathers, brothers and uncles and they find it difficult to live with the perpetrators under the same roof.

The centre provides young mothers who are battling poverty and illness with a safe and supportive place to live while they learn to care for themselves and their children. The Good Shepherd Sisters of Quebec, Canada, established its first convent in Lesotho in 1935. Initially, the Basotho congregation focused on providing religious instruction, education and other social services.

In the 1990s, the HIV/Aids epidemic – coupled with a struggling economy and high rates of youth unemployment – disrupted traditional family structures, increasing the prevalence of orphans and vulnerable children.

In response to these growing social needs, the Good Shepherd Centre for Teenage Mothers – situated on the Berea Plateau, some 20 km from Maseru City – was founded in 1995. Over 500 young mothers together with their children have been trained and looked after at the centre since its establishment.

The growth of the centre has immensely contributed to the development of teenagers whose futures were uncertain.
One of the proud recipients of help from the Centre is ’Mantoetse*, whose experience was published by WordPress.com.
’Mantoetse was interviewed during her internship at Avani Lesotho Hotel and Casino with three other mothers from the Good Shepherd Centre.
Their internship was focusing on banqueting, catering and event management.

“We have gained critical insights on the how to treat customers and serving people in the best way,” ’Mantoetse says.
“We have learnt the importance of time management, proper dress-code, and setting up and clearing the tables. We have learned the philosophy that the customer is always right,” she says.

’Mantoetse knew about the centre through her mother, who had heard about it from a friend.
Like Lekhapetla, ’Mantoetse was 17 when she fell pregnant.
She recalls the turbulent times.

“It was June 2009 and I was attending winter classes. I was in the same school as my boyfriend. It happened on a weekend, when he asked me to visit him at his mom’s place. His mom was away at a funeral so we had the house to ourselves,” she says.
“That was the day I fell pregnant. It changed everything,” she says.

Her boyfriend’s mother would have none of it, insisting her son was too young to be a father.
“My boyfriend also told my mom that I was pregnant. This is very unusual in our culture. My mom was hurt and disappointed,” she says.
“Adding to the stress, I had to give up my studies for one year. However, I enrolled again after that time in order to complete my studies here at the Teenage Mothers Centre. The centre took me in and housed me, despite the fact I had no funds. They also provided me with clothing, sanitary items, and food,” she says with an air of optimism.

The centre’s deputy director, Sister Philippina Hlobotsi, says the centre supports the young mothers “to become physically, emotionally and spiritually self-reliant by providing them with two years of skills training”.
Currently the centre looks after 32 young mothers. The youngest is 15 years old.
The Avani Lesotho Hotel and Casino’s Learning and Development Manager, Lineo Thaanyane, remembers a meeting with two Catholic nuns that ultimately changed lives.

The nuns approached her office regarding internship opportunities for their students.
“Unfortunately at that time the internship programme was not taking more students. We had to decline the request,” Thaanyane told WordPress.com.
“However, we inquired further and heard the amazing story behind the centre, and learnt about the good work being done,” she says.
“We knew instantly that we had to do something. Through our Learning and Development office, we arranged to meet with some of the young mothers face to face,” she says.

“We were impressed by how humble and passionate the young moms were. They politely requested two-month internship and we agreed. We are honoured to have such outstanding young women at Avani Lesotho Hotel and Casino.”
Social Development Minister ’Matebatso Doti visited the Good Shepherd Centre last week.

During the visit, Sister Hlobotsi requested that the government offers the centre at least two teacher grants.
“These children need assistance in their school work because sometimes we cannot do that,” Hlobotsi says.
“We want what is best for these children and doing well at school is the most important agenda, especially for those who are writing their exams,” she says.

However, more challenges await the young mothers after completing their training.
“Some of the girls we receive here were sexually molested by one of their family members or were forced into marriage and do not want to return to such a home,” Hlobotsi says.

Hlobotsi says the centre is not a home and this makes it even more difficult to accommodate those that do not have a place to go after training.
“It is disappointing to know that you have trained a young mother and she has become the best there is in decorations and catering but do not have capital to start a business,” Hlobotsi says.

“Those that did well in tailoring don’t have machines to start work. This talent and skills that we took two years to transfer to them goes to waste when it is not used to improve the lives of the girls,” she says. “The challenge then is, where does she go after the training because some come to the home and leave the home still under-age?”

* Names have been changed

Rose Moremoholo

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