Friday, July 26, 2013

In The Field: Single Teen Mothers Workshop Series

Last week, PCI was asked to go to a small settlement called Olifants Drift to conduct a workshop for single teen mothers. The workshop was in response to the high rates of teen pregnancies, including a 12-year-old "falling pregnant" and a 14-year-old who had recently murdered her infant baby. In settlement communities like this one, where opportunities are few, this is a fairly common occurrence.

When PCI asked me to attend and help facilitate the workshop, I was overwhelmed and excited for the invitation. It would be my first official activity since starting with them and it would be my first workshop addressing this topic. We planned to discuss challenges of rural living and then train the teen moms on long-term planning (and the value of education), critical thinking, healthy relationships, risk reduction, and women's empowerment.

Seventeen single teenage mothers were in attendance. Their giggles and coy eye glances gave away the fact that they were nervous to be there. Introductions told me that the average age of the girls was eighteen and their highest schooling was the American equivalent of seventh grade. Most were mothers of more than one child.

As they warmed up to us (myself and the two other staff facilitators from PCI), they told us of their struggles - about being tricked into sex, about their perception of gender roles, about poor rainfall leading to few crops and less food, about the men who promised to marry them and feed them and care for them before running to the next girl, about the difficulties getting to villages with schools to continue their education, and about a mine coming into a nearby village (potentially creating even more problems). In between stories, they made jokes to cut the tension of the subject. They were coping the best they knew how.

After some time, the team of facilitators began working through the challenges one by one. Our team, made up of the Education and Gender Advisors, were a dynamic duo and the girls were soaking up the information. They were engaged in role playing and dialogue, utilizing PCI's GROW Model, which is geared at empowering them and helping them see their own value and strength.

One of the activities the facilitators had the girls do was to tell the room the one thing in their life they wished they could have. Saying it aloud was a form of personal commitment but also a way for their small community of teen moms to help each other achieve it. Almost all of the girls wanted to go back and finish school. Together they discussed the realities of that dream and how to make it happen. The girls seemed to be getting the information and were excited about the potential for the futures.

The two hours each way in the car through almost impassable earthen roads and the ten hour workshop seemed extremely valuable. If we could only reach a few of those girls, it would be worth it.

On our way out of the village, we watched as some of the girls rushed home to be with their children while others made their way to the local shebeen for a drink and to see what "their men" were up to. Behavior change takes time.

The one-day workshop will not be enough on its own. But at least someone had started the ball rolling - someone had taken the time to show they care about them and believe in them and want them to live better and more fulfilled lives. That was PCI, that was me, and that was the community who called to bring us there. In time maybe they will see it too. It requires a commitment from those girls and the support of the community. PCI has committed to doing more of these workshops to drive home the information and to empower these girls. I cannot wait to see it happen.

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